This dreamlike indie RPG is a dense, perfectly refined bite of Elder Scrolls

The Emberian in-game standing next to machinery with red sky in background
(Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)

Dread Delusion vexes me. It's maybe the perfect game for me, one I really want to keep digging into, but like Gloomwood before it, Dread Delusion might be too good to play unfinished. I've come to the conclusion I can't keep playing it in early access. You play it now if you haven't, precisely once, but then you gotta wait. 

This first-person, open world RPG started life as a Haunted PS1 Demo Disc⁠—a regularly-released compilation of horror-adjacent retro 3D indie demos⁠—entry in February 2020. Like Disco Elysium before it, it does a phenomenal job of hinting at a much larger world from the perspective of an utter backwater. You're a recently-released prisoner exploring the Oneiric Isles, a collection of asteroids orbiting a remote, blood-red star in a medieval society that took to the skies in magical airships after an ancient calamity on the planet below.

some manner of homunculus floating with Dread Delusion's neuron star and machinery in background

(Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)

Like Planescape Torment or The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, Dread Delusion mashes an utterly alien world with some of the comfortable trappings of fantasy roleplaying to great effect. It's a shattered landscape under a blood-red sky with the "neuron star" hovering uncomfortably close by, but that landscape is dotted with wattle and daub ye olde buildings inhabited by cor blimey peasants. The airships are made of wood and piloted by pointy-hatted wizards, while the classic fantasy inquisition is being waged by atheists seeking to slay the last meddling gods.

After releasing into early access last summer, Dread Delusion has received periodic updates inching it ever closer to 1.0. The latest, The Emberian Update, finally adds more material to the game's main quest, introducing the first members of an NPC crew you assemble to take on a dangerous fugitive with utopian dreams.

And you know what? The quest rocks. Most of Dread Delusion's meatier content so far has focused on dialogue and exploration, but developers Lovely Hellplace and company have really flexed their dungeon crawling muscles, narrowing in on what I crave out of an Ayleid ruin or Dwemer city. The newly-added, bandit-ridden town of Rustberg is almost like an FPS level dropped into Dread Delusion's open world (I love how they keep expanding this map by just adding more floating islands). It has a verticality I always appreciate, this sharp climb through raggedy, empty houses doing battle with bandits through Dread Delusion's recently-improved melee combat and expanded ranged arsenal.

Dread Delusion also continues to excel at offering Deus Ex-style multiple choice problem solving based on your build. The road up to Rustberg is infested with hostile goblins, and while you could always just hack your way through, creative solutions present themselves. Passing a persuasion check on a nearby roustabout reveals that there's an invisible bridge around the rear of the town. Drinking a special perception potion will reveal it to you, allowing you to pass over the scarlet void below, but you could also always cut the Gordian knot: just cast the super speed spell and jump over the gap. Better yet, I used a goblin disguise acquired elsewhere in the game to just walk past the buggers.

airship holding course over town of Hallow

(Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)

I like a little bit of classic dungeon crawling as contrast for the philosophical, dialogue-heavy stuff, but I can't praise the Planescape Tormenty missions it launched with enough. One of them involves retrieving a cursed idol from an airship doing donuts in a far off corner of the map, and it's a masterclass in doing great storytelling and effective horror with relatively few resources. There's another one where you have to investigate the truth behind a zombie civilization's "ethically-sourced" humanlike meat, and it ends with legitimately one of the most affecting ethical dilemmas I've ever faced in a videogame.

But I really just can't keep playing Dread Delusion like this⁠—it's already well worth playing start to finish in early access, but I have to put it down until 1.0. That first playthrough is sublime, but enjoying what comes after in drips and drabs is not for me. Another problem is that my end-game Death Star character with a weapon that seems to have been since dummied out (or at least made much harder to acquire) was a bit of a mismatch for the sort of early to mid-game content added in the Emberian update. 

It's also not yet in a fit state on Steam Deck⁠ despite its verified rating—30 fps performance would be acceptable to me, if a bit low for a retro-styled game, but my framerate was careening down to the mid-20s and below just moving the camera around in the starting area, and no amount of resolution tweaking or custom Proton versions seemed to fix it.

So, what I'm saying is: play Dread Delusion in early access now, and then tuck it away from sight. It's one of the best $20 gets in PC gaming, but after that you just gotta join me in the long, lonely wait for its full release. Dread Delusion is so good I didn't mind playing it unfinished, but I can't keep playing it unfinished.

Bureaucratic functionary with messy desk in Dread Delusion

(Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)

looking into town square with bandits in Dread Delusion

(Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)

taking aim at a bandit in Dread Delusion

(Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)

Scenic view in Dread Delusion

(Image credit: Lovely Hellplace)
Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.