HIGH “Taking heart.”

LOW The lack of options and paucity of general anxiety.

WTF Selling what was previously a demo to people who already own the full game.

Back in 2016 when development of Pathologic 2 was still underway, developer Ice-Pick Lodge offered eager fans a glimpse of their progress in The Marble Nest. It was a ‘vertical slice’ demo that offered an introduction to the mechanics and themes through a short, standalone story featuring a separate protagonist and only a small portion of the town to explore. The full title finally released earlier this year to a rave review from me, and now Ice-Pick Lodge has elected to update The Marble Nest with the finalized engine and UI and release it as a downloadable add-on.

It’s a bit of an odd choice. I never played the original build, but I can see how it would be effective as a microcosm of Pathologic 2’s surface-level qualities without the slow-building anxiety of the final adventure. As a post-script likely only experienced by those who have braved the full campaign and come out wanting more, it feels mellow and anticlimactic in comparison.

The Marble Nest takes place over the course of a single day and centers on a doctor named Daniil Dankovsky, a key character from the main game who will (supposedly) be getting his own full campaign at some point in the future, as he did in the original Pathologic. The plague has already taken its toll, but it’s supposedly been contained in the eastern portion of the town, and the surviving residents are celebrating a happy ending. Dankovsky isn’t so convinced that the battle has been won yet.

The DLC begins just as the main game did – at the end, with the protagonist having failed. The plague has moved into the western district and a physical manifestation of death arrives at the doctor’s quarters, asking if he’s ready to submit. Dankovsky requests another try, which is a sly reference to the fact that Pathologic 2 openly invites players to load earlier saves if they reach a problem that they can’t solve. He gets his wish and wakes up at dawn with the residents of the Stone Yard still safe and healthy. From there, it’s a mad rush to prevent impending tragedy.

Pathologic 2 was so famously unforgiving that the developers later patched in difficulty sliders for the survival elements. In contrast, since The Marble Nest only spans a single day, much of the pressure just isn’t there. As long as players find a few bites of food and take regular sips of water, they’ll make it through without much trouble, and there’s no stress about having to prepare for whatever the next day will bring. As a demo, The Marble Nest’s lax difficulty makes sense. As an add-on, it feels soft, and even a little dull.

That also goes for the limited number of options players have in approaching various problems. There are no weapons that I could discern, no trading with NPCs except in scripted circumstances, and most of the buildings are locked off. In a nearby pharmacy, there’s a panacea for the illness, but the building is guarded and the soldier outside confiscates any items that players attempt to sneak out. In the main campaign, I could just kill the guy and deal with the consequences. In The Marble Nest, the cure is permanently, frustratingly out of reach.

While Pathologic 2 is a marvelous immersive sim, it also told one of my favorite stories in the history of the medium, and The Marble Nest at least feels consistent on that front. The writing is as sharp and darkly humorous as ever, and while I’m disappointed in how non-interactive it all feels, it at least uses that to reinforce one of the central themes – the inevitability of death. I mentioned in my Pathologic 2 review that simply giving up felt like a canonical conclusion in and of itself, and in this DLC that’s literally the case, since one of the “endings” is to submit to death in the opening minutes.

Again, though, that’s a lesson we’ve spent a couple dozen hours learning by the time we play this DLC. As an introduction to the harsh realities of Pathologic 2’s world and rules, The Marble Nest is succinct and to-the-point. As a footnote, it’s underwhelming.

Given that The Marble Nest tells a standalone story and features some isolated gems in its script, I totally respect Ice-Pick Lodge’s decision to preserve it. That said, I maintain that it would be best experienced as a demo and as a self-contained preface, as it was originally intended. Selling it exclusively to people who already own and have likely finished Pathologic 2 feels counterproductive. While I didn’t dislike my time with The Marble Nest, it just made me hungrier for the next full campaign that the developers have been promising.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Ice-Pick Lodge and published by tinyBuild.It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately three hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. The base game is definitely not for children, and even within the more limited scope of this DLC, I encountered some pretty gruesome violence.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Audio cues already played a significant role in the base game, and The Marble Nest adds a one-off sequence in which directional sound is explicitly used to avoid becoming infected by the plague. The game remains inaccessible.

Remappable Controls: All of the controls are remappable save for the run, attack, and block functions (bound to left shift, left mouse and right mouse, respectively).

Mike Suskie
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