by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Nowhere Prophet is a roguelike card battler RPG that’s coming to PC this summer from No More Robots and SharkBomb Studios. It takes place in a ruined, post-apocalyptic world, where hope and resources are both fairly scarce. You are a Prophet, leading a caravan of entities across this hopeless land. Since this is a roguelike, you can expect to perish often, and start over, even on the Easy difficulty. I tried all three difficulties and all were pretty punishing. Even Easy was pretty damn difficult to get through. The game will have five “worlds” to traverse, though the closed beta only showed the first one was shown off here in the beta. It was definitely enough to hook me on the concept of the game though. You are the leader of a tribe that just wants to get somewhere safe, to have hope and peace again. Which of course means, you’re going to have to slog across the worst, most treacherous and dangerous terrain that the world has to offer you. So, roguelikes and card battlers aren’t really all that new, so what makes this one so interesting?
Your followers, the people you’re trying to lead to safety are your deck. That’s right, your flock is your deck, and you make them fight for you against bandits, wild animals, and even another prophet. As new followers join your party, you can add them to your deck, and as battles invariably happen, you’ll play them on a battlefield that’s divided into two sets of columns – yours and the enemy. The number of columns will change, and there is also the matter of obstructions that can deal with the row they’re in damage. So that means you also have to juggle where to place people, and if it’s worth the time to deal damage to opponents obstructions or to just focus on their leader. The longer a fight goes on, the more dangerous it is. If a card is defeated, it receives a wound, and if it receives another, then it dies. Should they die forever, they’re removed from the convoy and have a skull marking them. You have to be incredibly careful, which is hard for me – I tend to play card games in a pretty aggressive manner. It really made me rethink everything I did, as I tried and tried again.
The world is a map where you start at one end and are working towards the opposite side, where you will generally fight a boss to reach a Milestone. The map is broken up into paths that have Hexagons of varying color on them. The bright blue is where you start, and also where you want to get to. Dark blue are tiles you’ve already visited, Brown denotes places to camp, trade, buy materials, or gain more followers. Red is a guaranteed fight (but I believe I did get around one of them with groveling and begging), and green are places to gain food. Food is incredibly important, because each time you move to a tile, it has a Food and Hope cost. The longer you travel the wastes, the lower your Hope gets. Food is pretty easy to acquire – you can go hunting in events and sell junk to buy food. But Hope is a little harder. To gain Hope, you have to share luxury items with your followers at camp. These are things like Dyes, non-essentials. These also sell for quite a bit of money, so you have to consider what you need more: to eat or to have hope. Running out of either while traveling to the end is dangerous because your followers can lose faith in you as their Prophet.
Since this is a Roguelike, you can also expect events! They occur while you’re on the path between areas, and come in a variety of flavors. Some of the choices can only be accessed if you have a certain amount of followers, certain types of followers, or particular traits/mindsets at a certain point. Mindsets are Altruist (how open/giving your convoy is), Believer (How spiritual they are), and Scholar (How given to seeking knowledge they are). You can receive more followers, you can get into fights, more food, you can wind up giving up food, all manner of them. I’m sure I didn’t see all of them, and they were pretty even for me in terms of good/bad events. I’m glad they revealed three of the factions in this beta too – to get them, all you have to do is complete the first map! This was much more challenging than I thought it would be. The first time I got to the end, I had 6 hp left, and the enemy Prophet was loaded down with rare and powerful followers, and plenty of health. Each of the factions plays differently, and when you begin a playthrough you choose two decks. A Convoy Deck (The Forgotten, The Horde, The Explorers, which are unlocked as I said above), and your Class Deck (Only the Firebrand is available now – Echo, Banshee, and Tower are to come).
Though that leads me to battle. You do not regen health between battles but can rest at camp to take some of that away. As you get into battles, you also gain experience – and batteries can be used to level up and increase your overall health. This is another fun dichotomy because you really have to be careful where and when you fight. You can’t just grind this game, because then you’ll have no food, hope or followers. You can gain more followers, but that’s not always a sure thing. Battle, as I said earlier, takes place on a series of columns and rows. The goal is to kill the other person, by dealing damage with Leader Cards or attacking directly. Both sides start with 3 energy (the cost to play cards), 3 Convoy Cards and 2 Leader Cards. You do get an option to mulligan, which is nice. Now, here’s the tricky part. Your Convoy cards are your creatures, but only the unit in the first slot of a row can attack the enemy directly.
If there are 4 columns, and you have a unit at the very back, they can still attack directly, until you place a unit in front of them. That had me a little confused in the first battle or two. Enemies come from a variety of tribes, each with their own playstyle. I think the hardest ones for me to deal with were the ones that drop tons of armor and taunt because it was almost impossible to break past their defenses in the position I got to the battle in. You do not want the battles to drag out, because units dying is bad, but also consider which unit gets the killing blow – those units become blessed, (signified by a golden mark), and gain +1 attack. There are plenty of CCG-style keywords, which are in the game’s rulebook (which is in the in-game file – thank goodness for that). The cost for a card is displayed in blue, and you can play as many cards as you have the energy for. You can only hold 6 Convoy Cards in hand though, and 4 Leader Cards (each are displayed as separate hands). If you need to draw and have no cards in your deck, you take 2 damage each time, so be careful.
All told, I think this game has a lot to offer the roguelike/card battler communities. The visuals are amazing, the challenge is definitely there, and it has a lot of replay value in different tribes, convoys, classes, and overall difficulty of fights. There will be five worlds when the game launches, so count on there being plenty to see and do. Even on Easy, this game does not hold your hand, but you can at least see what each card in your collection is in the main menu, and you do not go into classes/tribes blind. You can clearly see every starting card you have, their cost, their keywords (it also explains what those do), and more. It’s not too hard to figure out what tribe is going to be best for you, and what their general playstyle is like. It’s challenging, it’s frustrating, but that’s what you expect in a roguelike. I think the story is what compels me the most. You’re a Prophet trying to coax your band of followers across a wasteland, trying to bring some hope and survival to them. Nowhere Prophet is a beautiful, but a tragic story well told, even in these short play sessions. I think the most frustrating thing was how incredibly quick it seemed like even a random fight could overwhelm you. Suddenly, thanks to one object on the field my opponent had several 4/5s with Taunt (you can’t attack the leader until you kill the Taunt creatures first). It can feel very hopeless sometimes, but that ties into the story neatly at least. It’s coming this summer, so don’t miss out on it.