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Dustborn Opinions

Opinions 25 June 2024, 03:41

Dustborn Hands-On: People to Get to Know

Red Thread Games’ new game is what you would expect from an action-adventure game where your choices can impact your experience. Just add some comic book visuals and an interesting relationship system and you won't be able to look away.

When I first played Dustborn back at PAX East, the game felt like a mixture of various genres all coming together to make it a fun experience, but I didn’t know much about what was going in. The latest preview I had the chance to play filled in some of those gaps and put me right in the middle of the game’s action. It brought me closer to the game’s diverse cast of characters and helped me figure out how introspective the game lets you make it out to be.

Road Trip Buddies

My preview build lasted about two hours and started off by summarizing some earlier conflicts and action in the form of a cool interactive comic book. In fact, the entire game has this colorful and stylish comic book theme that is easy on the eyes and provides an impressive amount of detail to your surroundings. Plus, it’s a nice touch considering Dustborn is a narrative-driven action-adventure game whose plot revolves around a group of friends on a road trip across the United States to deliver a package from Pacifica to Nova Scotia. However, this America is different and set in the future where robots are sentient and certain humans have special powers.

Dustborn, Quantic Dream, 2024

Led by the protagonist named Pax, your road buddies are essentially a diverse motley crew of people from different walks of life. One character has vitiligo, one suffers from anxiety, one uses they/them pronouns, and one is a robot. The demo portion of the game didn’t push rigid political viewpoints into the story, but it’ll be interesting to see how far the game goes in feeling inclusive without coming across as too one-directional. What also makes each character unique is that each one is an Anomal, special beings that possess a special power they can use during both exploratory moments in the game and during battle. Ziggy, for example, can shift through objects while Sai has superhuman strength. These powers add a touch of fantasy to the game and encourage you to call upon your friends for help.

Dustborn, Quantic Dream, 2024

In fact, one of the core themes in Dustborn seems to be fostering relationships with your friends and getting to know them a bit more. Throughout your adventure, Pax can start conversations with her crew and chit-chat about random topics or discuss the current objective. It’s what you would expect from this genre so you’ll get dialogue trees and even some quick-reaction responses you need to select, and it certainly breathes life into everyone you interact with. Even the robot cashier at the gas station you pull up to seems like he has an interesting story to tell.

Choices to Make

The start of my demo started me off inside the tour bus to catch up on the previous mission and to decide on where to go next. Because the game is linear, it seemed odd to be able to choose your next destination unless you’ll get the option to make detours in the full game. Here, however, all you could do is select your next stop and proceed with the story. Unfortunately, the bus was running low on fuel so the robot driver had to make a pit stop at a gas station where everyone got off only for him to drive off and leave everyone stranded in the middle of the Nevada desert. With no form of transportation, the next task was getting some wheels and locating the bus.

Dustborn, Quantic Dream, 2024

Here is where the game gives you some liberty in figuring out how to solve this problem. How you get to certain areas or what scenes you witness can change depending on your choices. Granted, I picked one option and then restarted the demo later to see this alternate path, but each one has unique dialogue options and tasks you need to complete to solve them. I won’t spoil too much of what you need to do, but this task also involve solving some simple puzzles, exploring your surroundings, and using your friends’ abilities to help you along the way. These different avenues open up new cutscenes, which shape your story. Again, while the end-game is the same, each chapter finishes off with a comic book that recaps your choices so you end up with a customized copy of the story you just helped craft.

Combat Woes

The next part of the demo took me to an underground facility and paired me up with Ziggy. This was a more linear portion of the game, but it involved plenty of exploration, some personal chats about Ziggy’s anxiety and past with Pax, and plenty of fights with bad robots and raiders. The conversation portion of the game was great: you learn about Ziggy and Pax’s relationship and the struggles they had, and you get to make some conversation choices to put Ziggy at ease, patch up some miscommunication issues, or leave things as they are. The combat portion, however, left much to be desired.

When you get into battle, Pax can attack enemies with her trusty bat and the game feels like a 3D beat ‘em mixing in combos, blocking, and dodging to avoid getting hit. You can also utilize Pax’s special power which allows her to shout out commands for enemies to follow which can stun them, confuse them, or toss them around. The more you attack, the more your power meter fills up to allow you to do more of these abilities, and you can even call upon your friends to help you combo attacks together using their own abilities.

Dustborn, Quantic Dream, 2024

It all sounds great on paper, but battles basically feel like you’re just mashing the attack button without much impact. You can increase Pax’s abilities as you play by collecting spare scraps and you can also unlock new special powers by hunting down collectible “echoes”, but even your attacks still feel clunky and they all seem basic when you think about how cool they could be with an Anomal boost.

Final Impressions

After finishing my two-hour demo, I definitely want to learn more about what previously happened and what will happen to these characters in the full game. I’m also looking forward to more of the rhythm game segments that allow you to write new songs and then perform them for a crowd of people. Dustborn still feels like a bunch of genres mixed in together, but if the story is as good and enthralling as it felt like in the demo, the game has a promising future as long as combat is a bit more refined.

Be on the lookout for Dustborn when it launches on major platforms on August 20. Preview completed on PC with a PS5 controller.

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo grew up playing video games and finally started writing about them on a blog after college. He soon began to write for small gaming websites as a hobby and then as a freelance writer for sites like 1UP, GamesRadar, MacLife, and TechRadar. Giancarlo also was an editor for Blast Magazine, an online gaming magazine based in Boston where he covered various video game topics from the city's indie scene to E3 and PAX. Now he writes reviews and occasional previews for Gamepressure covering a broad range of genres from puzzle games to JRPGs to open-world adventures. His favorite series include Pokémon, Assassin's Creed, and The Legend of Zelda, but he also has a soft spot for fighting and music games like Super Smash Bros and Rock Band. When not playing Overwatch after a long day at work, he enjoys spending time working out, meal prepping, and discovering new international films and TV shows.




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