Nowhere Prophet (Switch) Review
Nowhere Prophet enters the increasingly popular roguelike deckbuilding genre, where games such as Slay the Spire and Monster Train reign supreme. What separates Nowhere Prophet from genre compatriots is a clever resource management system, alongside a brilliant thematic connection between its story and gameplay elements. This addictive deckbuilder is as compelling as it is brutal.
Hinted at by the title, you play as a prophet leading a caravan of people towards the Crypt, where technological salvation potentially awaits. However, this journey is perilous and fraught with danger at every step, with warring factions, wild beasts and lawless bandits threatening to end your pilgrimage in a heartbeat. Should you fall, so do your followers, forcing you to begin anew.
From a gameplay perspective, Nowhere Prophet leans heavily into an equal combination of deckbuilding versus resource management. Food is required to move between locations, and followers’ hope also needs managing. If either of these resources drops to zero, it’s game over. If you lose a battle – game over. Threw your Switch out the window after yet another game over? Permanent game over. While Nowhere Prophet is punishingly tough, even on the lowest difficulty setting, it still feels largely fair, as there’s usually some room for you to improve. Sometimes, you just get done over by a bad hand – or series of bad hands – but this is the nature of the genre.
Even before the card-battling begins, plenty of time goes into navigating the map, choosing from forks in the road, trading batteries for goods and new recruits at markets, and making choices in scripted encounters. These encounters range from choosing how to approach a bandit camp, through to deciding whether to sacrifice some resources to help others in need who may help in return. Or they might take advantage and rob you blind overnight – it’s a tough gig, being a prophet trying to turn a profit in this economy.
When combat commences, Nowhere Prophet employs an actions system, not dissimilar to other popular digital card games, where your capacity for taking actions increases with each turn. Initially, you begin with three energy points, which is replenished plus an extra point each subsequent turn, maxing out at 10 points. Energy is spent across cards drawn from your two decks, consisting of Convoy, your deployable follower units, and Leader, made up of various active and passive effect cards. Ultimately, the aim is to reduce the opposing leader’s health to zero, while avoiding the same fate yourself. Refreshingly, most card battles are swift, rarely needing to go up to the limit of 10 energy points beyond the big battles against major enemies.
Each run of Nowhere Prophet feels satisfyingly different due to a great variety of cards allowing for flexible playstyles. Beyond the initial Convoy and Leader decks are plenty of additional unlocks to begin new games with. These decks are unlocked by reaching milestones or completing a series of in-game events, adding plenty of incentive to engage with different approaches. Each deck feels tangibly different to play with; some specialise in low-cost units designed to overwhelm opponents early, while others encourage grinding out wins with debilitating effect cards. Before long, you’ll find a deck suited to the way you like to play, which is a testament to Nowhere Prophet’s versatility. Additionally, Nowhere Prophet’s playing field smartly adds plenty of strategy beyond just accumulating the biggest and best deck. All battles have slightly different playing fields, littered with cover and obstacles to navigate – where you play your cards is just as important as when.
One of Nowhere Prophet’s greatest strengths is in how tightly interwoven its gameplay and narrative themes are. From the locations depicted, through to challenging card battles, Nowhere Prophet is a harsh game. This is best realised via the fact you can permanently lose followers in battle, destroying their respective Convoy card in the process. When a Convoy unit is defeated in battle, they become ‘wounded’, resulting in a health penalty. However, this means they require fewer energy points to summon – a tantalising trade-off. Wounded cards can be healed at settlements, or used in battle, where a subsequent defeat equals death. This clever system adds yet another layer to Nowhere Prophet’s strategy while doubling as a thematically appropriate method of increasing dramatic tension. Do you shield wounded cards, preserving them for the next healing opportunity, or take advantage of their reduced summoning cost and risk losing them forever? Managing this risk-reward balance is essential to mastering Nowhere Prophet.
Furthering Nowhere Prophet’s strong relationship between themes and gameplay, I initially didn’t like the levelling system. As you win battles, your prophet gains experience points, but gaining a new level isn’t automatic once you reach the points threshold. Instead, levelling up costs batteries, the very same currency used for nearly everything of value in Nowhere Prophet. At first, this felt like a cheeky way of artificially increasing difficulty and further diluting your already-limited resources. Especially considering level increases boost health, add another valuable card to the deck, and opens up additional equipment slots. However, the more I played, the more I felt it was incredibly appropriate within Nowhere Prophet’s cruel setting. Everything has a price and nothing comes easy – not even levelling up. Carefully rationing resources is equally as important as building strong decks, after all.
In fact, only one thing consistently bothered me throughout Nowhere Prophet, and it’s a common issue I encounter when playing Switch ports: sometimes the text is too damn small in handheld. Mostly, the UI is clear and legible, but card description text in menus is painfully small. Handheld is easily my favourite way to play most Switch games, including Nowhere Prophet with its touch screen capabilities, so some sort of text-scaling option would only enhance the experience. Visually, everything else looks great; Nowhere Prophet’s terrific art direction yields a graphic novel feel, showing a certain beauty to its desolate locations and rugged characters. Additionally, its synth-Indian hybrid soundtrack is a brilliant touch, building urgency and mystique in equal measures.
Far from being yet another deckbuilder, Nowhere Prophet cleverly innovates on established gameplay elements to produce a heartily challenging and compelling card game worthy of standing alongside the best of the genre.
+ Clever fusion of deckbuilding and resource management elements.
+ Plenty of different strategies and unlocks to entice replays.
+ Strong thematic connection to overall design.
- Small text in handheld.
- Even the base difficulty is a brutal challenge.