Walking through the deserted fields of Nowhere Prophet can be lonely, and oppressive, despite the company of dozens of followers in your caravan. You are all scrapping to get by, rationing food, trying to plan ahead. But it’s almost impossible to prepare accordingly. An ambush, a person in need, a power dispute between two groups. With every choice there’s a consequence, and the cost can be huge.
In this deck-building roguelike, cards aren’t mere actions under your sleeve, but actually represent the people are that tagging alongside you in your travels. Following a similar fashion to others in the genre, you’re tasked with going from point A to B choosing between branching paths – a random event, a tougher battle, the promise of much needed loot – trying to survive for as long as possible until you ultimately meet your demise. And then you start over. But the interesting bit here is that if you lose many cards in battle, you’re actually losing units for future encounters. Units that need patching up for their injuries, food to survive, and care when it comes to the general morale of the group.
Some of these elements reminded me of The Banner Saga, a trilogy I adored, and one I don’t recall as often as I should. I was excited over a similar prospect with one of the my favorite subgenres (is this a thing yet?) of roguelikes, giving a meaning to deck-building by not choosing cards merely for their attributes, but also for their conditions – shifting them when they get injured to prevent them from dying, or picking one or two favorites to give them all the items you find and have them leading the pack. To some extent, it works. But it was hard for me to get attached to them aside from pure gameplay advantages.
As it turns out, combat encounters are brutal, and you’ll have many casualties in each of your runs. Management and planning is crucial, and there were many times where I just sat down looking at my board for a couple minutes thinking about the best possible move that would annihilate the opposite team before mine without losing many cards. There’s a tactical sense that I came to enjoy a lot, and these moments were by far the most interesting during my playtime.
Cards are placed in a board, and in a regular deck-building faction, you need a certain amount of energy to summon them. Your leader card is always present, and at risk, too, since you can easily ignore all enemies and just focus on that particular unit (unless one or more has a Taunt, á la Hearthstone). There’s a grid as well, and all units are placed as tokens in each slot. I admittedly didn’t pay too much attention to it at first – I would just place cards wherever and take it from there. But over time, certain conditions began to materialize, and the grid itself came to life in unexpected ways. At times, these were as simple as boulders in the first row, but others involved attacks and effects from the opposite side. You can take advantage of them to, say, protect a unit that mainly focuses on healing nearby units, but it can also put the line of sight of your enemies in jeopardy, and the priorities shift. And while you’re trying to get rid of these blockades, your enemy is getting extra turns to keep summoning cards. It’s really interesting, and particular cards can also bypass or find shortcuts around these.
From there it’s all rather common if you’re into the genre. There’s several resources to keep an eye on, and every time you move in the world map these will decrease for a certain percentage. If any of them get to zero, your whole party gains a debuff, and it escalates from there. If your leader card gets killed, however, that’s an instant game over. There’s towns and shops you can visit to replenish these at a cost, trade scraps for items, and recruit more cards to join you. Aside from these stops, you will encounter several random events, and at times take part of short choice-driven stories, exploring ruins or structures and trying your luck to try and get the best outcome.
But for much novelty that there is in Nowhere Prophet’s, I didn’t get too attached as I was hoping to. The world is interesting on its own, and the cards are all beautifully drawn. At times, the arenas where combat took place were also embedded in their surroundings – the gentle presence of wind, storms, droplets all over the screen. Playing this on Switch, it feels like a living board game at times. It’s really stylish, and everything does a great job when it comes to presentation, but the writing just couldn’t grab me, despite how much I wanted for that to happen.
And yet, the luring thought of grabbing my console and going for another quick run hasn’t left me. While the game doesn’t break any molds, it recognizes its strengths and focuses on them. It’s also really tough, and I don’t see myself unlocking all of the leader cards in the game. But despite some of its shortcomings, it managed to capture my attention even long after I put it down.
Standing out in a genre as convoluted as this ain’t easy, and Nowhere Prophet certainly manages to do just that – one move in the grid at a time.