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Nowhere Prophet plays like a cyberpunk Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire masterfully fused deckbuilding with a roguelike structure, giving us one of the best games of the year so far. It’s great to see more games bringing their own takes on a similar formula. 

Like Slay the Spire, Nowhere Prophet has you moving between nodes on a map to trigger random events and fights, but instead of building one deck full of abilities and attacks, in this game you build two. One represents members of your convoy, the other the skills of its leader. There’s also a spatial element to battles. You play convoy fighters into slots onto battlefields where only the front row can attack.

I’ve played through the first of the game’s five acts in this weekend’s beta period and enjoyed the game’s fresh ideas. Warriors have familiar attack/defence stats that Magic the Gathering and Hearthstone players know all too well, but the cards carry their wounds between battles and need healing at rest sites to come back to full effectiveness. 

The battlefield allows for neat ability modifiers that might affect an entire row, or buff adjacent cards that come into play. It's nice to see some new special card effects in addition to archetypal MtG/Hearthstone effects like a 1-cost +1/+1 buff or Taunt, which forces your opponent to attack the taunting character. There’s also terrain, which can block parts of the battlefield and create awkward situations. If you have a mountain on the front row, you can be denied some damage output until you zap it with an ability.

There’s a lot to think about, but the angular art and big, chunky UI smooths things out. There are lots of nice visual flourishes, like the way unit portraits flinch and change as they take damage. You’re traversing across a wasteland, but it’s a colourful future that’s full of flavour. In one encounter I was ambushed by an army of taunting lizards who were particularly tough to shift.

My only problem is the AI, which sometimes makes some odd choices. I fought one battle where my opponent had me beat if they just attacked my prophet directly—I used that turn of grace to win. There will be 300 cards in the final game, which means there are a lot of potential synergies for the AI to process. Hopefully this beta catches most of the quirks.

In the final version of the game the maps will be procedurally generated to encourage lots of runs. Based on my brief experience with the first area I'd like more ways to earn cards so I can take my decks in a different direction sooner, but there are a lot of other features to experiment with, like gifts that give your convoy extra 'Hope' (which you spend to move around the map). Your decisions in text adventure skits also earn you morality traits that unlock new decisions further along the map, and nodes sometimes reveal new adjacent locations, which creates a stronger sense of exploration than similar systems in Slay the Spire and FTL.

Nowhere Prophet is due out this summer, and there's more about the game on the official site.

Tom stopped being a productive human being when he realised that the beige box under his desk could play Alpha Centauri. After Deus Ex and Diablo 2 he realised he was cursed to play amazing PC games forever. He started writing about them for PC Gamer about six years ago, and is now UK web ed.