It’s been a while since I played a game with such a boisterous clash of genres and influences as Nowhere Prophet. Imagine an Indofuturistic dustpunk deckbuilding card game with convoy management on top. It’s as if Slay the Spire had raised the bastard spawn of Borderlands and The Oregon Trail. You can't get more of a wild pastiche of elements and genres than this, and yet somehow, it stands on its own. Based on a few hours of relentless punishment at the hands of raiders and slavers, I believe its challenge could even equal that of Slay the Spire.
When it comes to challenge, developers are probably safer to err on the side of "too difficult." Even when a game is unfairly difficult, players will try to push through the punishment to achieve a triumph against all odds. That's how I felt playing a few runs of Nowhere Prophet. I knew I'd likely not make it very far every time, but there was a part of me that kept pushing. Even if I die every single time, it's a thrill to go through the ordeal. It's hard to say how much of the gameplay needs balancing, and how much is really supposed to be brutal, but so far I'd say it's probably equal parts.
Venturing Into the World of Nowhere Prophet
Nowhere Prophet takes place in the world of Soma, a dustpunk space western planet. It's like a Bollywood version of Borderlands. There's that whole far future post-civilization off-world colony with a dash of Mad Max, but all of it steeped in Indofuturism. And India is one of those Eastern countries that's truly wild and strange. It lends the world of Nowhere Prophet a unique perspective on the struggle for the bare necessities of survival. It's in this lawless world that a technological orb coming from the stars appoints you a prophet. Your pilgrimage begins, and your followers are behind you.
That's where Nowhere Prophet stands apart from Slay the Spire in particular. The journey in Spire is more or less straightforward, though there are some random encounters and interactions. In Nowhere Prophet, the journey is more like the eternal classic The Oregon Trail, with all the convoy management that entails. Your unit cards aren't just abstract entities, they are your followers, and once they suffer two strikes during battles, they die. You must also feed them and give them hope, both resources which they consume as you blaze your trails through the arid wastelands of Soma.
Building Your Deck in Nowhere Prophet
The deckbuilding elements are also somewhat more complex than I expected. Your prophet will level up, and with each level, you can choose new cards. And to remove cards you must spend some of the resources you gather along the pilgrimage. You can also set back unit cards before battles, in case they need to recover from a wounding strike. They are still part of your deck, they just won't be part of that battle to avoid suffering another strike. This lends another strategic element to how deckbuilding and convoy management can work.
The battles themselves are very different from what you'd expect based on Slay the Spire. First off, you and your opponent have a grid where you will play your units. The grids can also have items and obstacles, some of which can be destroyed. Placing your units takes some planning, otherwise, they will die very quickly. Most units can only attack from the frontline, the frontmost grid. You can use the grid in your favor once you get used to it. It definitely feels more tactical than simply playing a card and not having to worry about positioning.
Nowhere Prophet Preview | Final Thoughts
The units themselves have plenty of unique skills and effects that reminded me vaguely of Magic: The Gathering. There's "summoning sickness," in that units cannot attack right from the get-go; Charge, which is the same as Haste in MTG, allowing them to attack the first round; and even First Strike, which works exactly the same way. Units have different types and classes, for example, Snipers don't have to be on the frontline to attack. All of this adds a lot of tactical depth and richness to the battles, making them extra challenging.
The developers in Sharkbomb Studios refer to Nowhere Prophet as a "living game," in that it's still in ongoing development. There will most likely be a lot of changes and new content to come. After a long pre-alpha period on itch.io, the game seems ready for an Early Access release. Hopefully, this new phase will work as a crucible to bring out its best, just as it happened with Slay the Spire. I definitely intend to keep an eye on Nowhere Prophet in the coming months. This is a unique deckbuilder that is able to fascinate and innovate equally both in terms of worldbuilding and card game mechanics.
TechRaptor previewed Nowhere Prophet on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.