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Prelude Dark Pain may look like isometric Darkest Dungeon, but its influences run deeper

So far, it's got the style and substance required to make a splash.

A cluster of heroes stand in front of a 2D art battle scene from an isometric game.

Last weekend, I spent far less time than I'd have liked checking out cool indie games at Guadalindie 2024, a little but hard-hitting event in Malaga, Spain, which I wholeheartedly recommend if more editions are happening in the future. Coming out of this celebration of indie games and devs, Prelude Dark Pain was by far the coolest, most impressive title I could play.

At first glance, Seville-based Quickfire Games' debut may look like a straightforward take on Darkest Dungeon and its sequel, and they're more than willing to admit that influence, yet the whole packs more ideas and sticks closer to classic tactical RPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics. Beyond that playable core also lies a more ambitious structure tying it all together.

The preview build I was able to play featured two different missions, one designed to be a tutorial of sorts and another quest which was wave-based and took place on top of two moving carriages drawn by armored tusked beasts. Prelude knows how to make a first impression, that's for sure; the art style is familiar, but also packs a number of graphical peculiarities that mesh well with the isometric view and overall design of the levels I was able to conquer.

Prelude Dark Pain screen1
Image credit: Quickfire Games

The fact it's a dark fantasy game through and through doesn't mean it's depressing to look at either. Much like in Darkest Dungeon, Prelude Dark Pain is full saturated colors and hard lines. A common mistake among indie games going for a grim aesthetic is turning the whole screen into a grey or brown sludge with few sparks of visual joy, but that's not the case here. Personally, I was also curious about how the visuals featured in the demo translated to the larger, non-linear open-world that serves as the overarching structure of Prelude, but I wasn't able to experience that layer of the game.

Speaking to Nacho Requena — lead writer, designer, and project manager on the game, and also a games media veteran — about the game before I played through the demo, Quickfire's ambitions were crystal clear: The studio isn't aiming to reinvent the wheel of the tactical RPG genre, instead opting to pay tribute to all-timers, but that doesn't mean they don't want to give it a unique voice. The bread and butter of it all, tactical combats, didn't disappoint me and handled fine on a controller. I also appreciated the fact it was easy to pick up and play, much like FF Tactics. While there are some advanced tactical elements to the system, Prelude seems to be more focused on onboarding new players and reminding veterans of simpler times... but on a larger scale.

Prelude Dark Pain screen2
Image credit: Quickfire Games

According to the game's Steam page, "30 playable heroes" will be included in the game, "each with two talent branches and 24 selectable skills." Moreover, the characters won't be limited to player-controlled squads, as they must also be sent out on errands or assigned tasks which aren't related to the combats at the center of the experience. In the demo, I was able to discern a tanky character with healing capabilities that seemed quite useful in most scenarios plus a rogue capable of inflicting heavy damage thanks to deception and backstabbing and flanking bonuses. On top of those two familiar archetypes, an archer that could hit several enemies in a straight line and a gunslinger that could create an automated turret and shotgun fools apart added spice to the ensemble. Also: No mana system as far as I can see!

What about the story? In the demo, it was kept under wraps, but the official synopsis reads as follows: "In a world destroyed by war, plagued by disease and decimated by a reality tearing apart at the seams, you will assume the role of a local blacksmith named Soren. On the brink of revolution, you will take on the leadership of an uprising against the Order of the Ash Crusade." Decision-making is also promised in the trailers with an emphasis on non-linear progression, something that recently paid off greatly for Unicorn Overlord in this same space.

Prelude Dark Pain screen3
Image credit: Quickfire Games

All in all, I walked away from the Prelude Dark Pain booth quite impressed, but more importantly, anxious to learn more about the larger picture and to play a deep preview that answers the question of whether the other parts of the game works in synchrony. There were a number of graphical glitches and small control annoyances that took some polish off the demo's striking presentation, but it otherwise was a robust playable build that did a good job of setting the mood and catching most bystanders' attention. We'll keep an eye on it.

Prelude Dark Pain's release window has yet to be announced, but it's confirmed to be coming to Steam, EGS, GOG, Nintendo Switch, PS4/5, and Xbox consoles.

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