Dread Delusion Review – Shocking Systems, Sublime Stories

Activating the magical elevator, I rise from the swamp, over the mushroom forest and the other floating islands. The branches of the giant, red ball of in the sky feel ever so slightly closer—it always reminds me of the history books. Of the cataclysm known as the World Rend. Of what is at stake if I fail. Arriving at my residence, I rush towards the newly renovated library building. It likely holds the final piece of the puzzle. Why are my dreams haunted by the same nightmare each night I spend here? Why is there a person living in front of the house dissuading me from entering the basement?

My boots of speed carry me as if I were floating, and I get ever so close until… the ground beneath my feet disappears. The game teleports me over a pit next to the island and I fall to my demise. It likely tried to load the local area and did not know where to place my character. I reload the game and try to avoid the loading zone trigger three more times until I reach my destination. Fellow RPG enthusiasts, I mean it when I say this: we are so back.

The island in the distance as the player character falls down
Can’t say I didn’t find this teleportation bug weirdly charming, but I do hope it is fixed sooner rather than later.

There are many other bugs I encountered in my time with Dread Delusion, mostly related to the aforementioned loading zones (the objects used as replacements to be looked at from a distance—which are meant to disappear when you get close—caused a plethora of issues in my case) I want to state that this will likely be fixed at some point. I played it in this state, and I loved it to pieces.

Furthermore, I was severely disappointed with my first two hours. Not only did I encounter so many issues on the technical side, but even Dread Delusion’s systems proved underwhelming. Split between four upgradeable skills and eight attributes governed by them, I found myself baffled by how strict the game was with their usage. Locations I would be excited to discover would prove to have absolutely nothing for me unless I had a high enough “Lore” skill to interact with a magical, hidden contraption I found there. Yet I stuck with Dread Delusion for twenty-five hours.

A selection of skills, all with yellow colors
Late game stats, yellow color indicates something is boosted, showing that the toolkit becomes quite expansive

The abilities are not even consistent, as lockpicking, one of the other similar roadblocks, could be overcome with luck and time. Lockpicks are an unlimited resource that drops from enemies, and the act of unlocking doors is based on a dice roll that is merely influenced by the skill. And how do you upgrade attributes? Well, mostly by finding such secrets! Not all are blocked off, but typically in such games these systems offer roleplaying possibilities, and different routes, but here it quickly becomes apparent that until you spec into everything, you will have less fun exploring. Despite that, I would still call Dread Delusion a masterpiece.

Truthfully, when building a game as grandiose as Dread Delusion, things fall apart. These systems are, ultimately, passable. Following my first play session, I quickly began to find consumables and pieces of armor that provided bonuses to skills I omitted when creating my character. They become redundant, giving off the idea of performing an action without the depth. Even the combat, which is largely built around stunlocking enemies in place, lacks it. I never lost more than half of my health during any encounter, and my only deaths were to gravity and bugs. But the game overcame it all.

A darkish blue creature with a red mask and a mouth underneath it, on its chest region
Ever seen a goblin that looks like this?

Roleplaying is achieved not through systems or different styles of gameplay, but instead the questing, exploration, and dialogue. In all these aspects, Dread Delusion can proudly stand among the greats. Each area has a questline that will rock your world, a faction that can change your perception of the game’s core themes and a choice that will shape the rich history of the universe.

Everything gains speed the more you play. Fewer roadblocks mean that each of its incredible locations, each unbelievable view, and each emotional moment begin to quickly overwhelm. Investment rises and emotions swell. A lesser game would crumble, and all these pieces would begin to blur together. But not Dread Delusion. That is what puts it among the best out there.

A weird goop vat of flesh with eyeballs and teeth detached in different places, with a crane over it
When you find this during your playthrough, make sure to examine it up close. You won’t regret it. Or maybe you will.

Its world is wonderful, layered, palpable. Just like its inspirations, it manages to make relatively tiny spaces and few interactions feel massive in scale. Exploring every new area feels like a monumental task, yet piece by piece they become familiar. Perhaps part of it is how the entire world is rendered at all times, and the fact that it is made out of floating chunks of land with vastly different elevations means that you can always see them in the distance. They never disappear as you use a fast travel system or choose a location from a map. You walk it all, you live it.

You experience generational pain, centuries of mistakes, oppressive authority, devilish miracles, gods that function like the Faustian devil, and much more. What kind of moral code will you form in such a complex reality? Will you care to ruin the status quo when the possibly faulty robot dictator is the only one able to cure the incurable and change the unchangeable?

A ghost describing how the ones ruling the world right now want to worship nothing but money and order
The everpresent question, what are you even fighting for?

It was a joy to live in this incredible world for as long as I did, and there are still many things left to discover. As a lover of all things weird, I could not help but marvel at the kinds of insane environments you see so rarely today. Mushroom forests, a clockwork kingdom filled with spider train war machines, and a magic academy at the world’s highest point. Filled with illusions and ugly truths, the world is nevertheless an absolute treat for the eyes.

Even the vibes were not free of the bugs, however. The music tracks would double on themselves or play over one another. Certain textures flickered endlessly. Ingredient gathering proved to be quite a chore considering how abundant most other resources are, and the day and night cycle seems a bit underutilized, especially visually. That being said, I must once again reiterate: I believe Dread Delusion is a masterpiece.

An armored person looking over a cliff
I have been waiting for a game like Dread Delusion for too long, and am unbelievably happy to see it return

My favorites do not reach their status because they are flawless. They reach it because their flaws cannot even begin to compete with their strengths. Dread Delusion will go down in my mind as a classic. A janky, beautiful, heart-wrenching classic that did not reinvent the wheel, but put together the best hits compilation of all that 2000s RPGs had to offer and then some. The real ones will know. You better hope you are one of the real ones.

Mateusz played Dread Delusion on PC with a review copy.

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