HIGH Intricate, polished systems. Excellent style and worldbuilding.
LOW Enemies whose troops abuse the “Taunt” ability.
WTF Why are Slay the Spire and Monster Train fans not talking about this?
Nowhere Prophet is a roguelike deckbuilder that pays great attention not only to its combat systems, but also to thematic concepts, narrative and worldbuilding. Such broad focus is rare in the genre, but the effort put towards polishing each aspect results in an exceptional experience.
In a post-apocalyptic world, a character hears the voice of a satellite falling from orbit. Before it expires, the AI implores them to travel to the Vault – an ancient crypt full of secrets that lies across rusted wastelands and the territories of warring factions. Driven by this summons, they start on their journey while gathering followers and defining their legacy along the way.
Mechanically, Nowhere Prophet starts the player with one (of eight total) characters and a small number of followers. The goal is to travel through a series of maps and reach the Vault at the end. Each map is dotted with various locations connected by multiple routes, and as they travel, the player encounters numerous situations that require either combat or narrative decision-making.
The deckbuilding combat is superb. When battles occur, the main character has a life bar and slots for equipment — guns, shielding, drones and more — and they’re placed on the left side of the screen. Adversaries are on the right, and the middle section is a battlefield divided into slots where cards, or ‘followers’ go.
Each side starts with a small pool of energy used for summoning followers or performing actions, and this pool both refreshes and grows each turn, allowing for more moves and more powerful summons as matches progress. Each follower has stats for attack and health, and many have abilities like shielding the player from damage, sniping from the rear lines, trampling over enemies to deliver overkill damage, self-repair and so on.
As in any deckbuilder, the key is in assembling the correct array of cards – a good mix of low-cost for the start of a match, some high-cost/high-power for knockout punches later, some utility, and of course, not too many in the deck or else the ones that are needed won’t come up in time.
Nowhere Prophet follows most others in this respect, except that when followers are defeated in battle, they become ‘wounded’. They can be healed at certain locations for a cost, but these places are few and far between. Without healing they can still enter battle, but if they’re downed one more time, they’re killed and removed from the player’s deck. Playing conservatively means constantly rotating wounded followers out and changing the makeup of a deck. Playing recklessly means losing followers permanently, and possibly weakening a deck past viability if replacements can’t be found.
While there are several high-quality deckbuilders available (Slay the Spire, Meteorfall, etc.) few make much effort towards creating a world or even a narrative past ‘beat the boss’. In contrast, Nowhere Prophet employs a sizable amount of narrative in small, bite-sized chunks before each battle and at decision points that paint evocative snapshots of a wasted land populated by people struggling to survive.
Between map points, the player might come across a group of stragglers – ignore them, give them aid, or suspect them of being an ambush? When given work by a local ruler, is it wiser to follow unsavory orders, or to choose a course of action that might earn their ire instead?
These situations aren’t just window-dressing, though – by making choices, the player will not only earn resources or followers (or perhaps get into an unexpected fight) but also be awarded three kinds of ‘personality’ points that accumulate during a campaign and affect the actions that can be taken when meeting new people, or when offered opportunities in towns or elsewhere. These steer the course of the story and paint the player’s character as one sort of leader or another. Branching story paths and an honest-to-goodness narrative aren’t common in deckbuilers, so not only is Nowhere Prophet notable for attempting it, they deserve high praise for nailing it.
The gameplay is tightly-constructed, the narrative elements add a layer not often seen in deckbuilders, and both halves are wrapped in a fantastic, semi-abstract art style that recalls elements of cyberpunk, collapsed civilizations and Indian theming with bright strokes, chunky colors and bold lines. Visually, conceptually, and in its gameplay, Nowhere Prophet is gorgeous.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Sharkbomb Studios and published by No More Robots. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed with the starting character. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Violence, and Use of Tobacco. This is a cardgame at its core, so tagging it with ‘blood’ and ‘violence’ seems a little silly. There’s hardly any animation, so it’s not graphic or gory in any sense. I think one character may have a cigarette in their mouth, as far as ‘tobacco’ goes. Some of the text situations involve slavery and the overall tone is a bit bleak and serious so I guess the T is appropriate, but more on theming than anything visual.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no issues. Text cannot be resized or altered, but all information is presented via text or icons onscreen and there are no audio cues necessary for play. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.