This Morrowind-Inspired RPG’s 1.0 Release Was Worth The Wait

Image: Dread XP
Image: Dread XP

I first played the retro-inspired RPG Dread Delusion nearly two years ago in the first days of its early access period. I liked what I played in the handful of hours I put into it thanks to the throwback Morrowind-esque world and mechanics, as well as the hint of cosmic horror. But as someone who has a tendency to get burned out on titles before they even fully release if I play in early access, I put Dread Delusion away and told myself I would wait until 1.0. Well, that day finally came on May 14 and I’m happy to say the wait was worth it.

Dread Delusion is a game that will mostly exist in comparison. That’s in many ways by design, as the foundations of the game are so entrenched in the stylistic and mechanical elements of other titles. The game’s deep roleplaying mechanics allow for combat, magic, stealth, and more due to a reliance on skills that are pulled from Elder Scrolls. The slightly unsettling fantasy setting is reminiscent of Morrowind specifically. The polygonal graphics are inspired by the PlayStation 1 in the same way as the retro-horror trend is. But its character models feel lifted from Thief: The Dark Project. Dread Delusion expertly weaves these inspirations together into a wholly unique cloth. It’s a game talked about in comparison, that manages to be more than its inspirations.

The star of Dread Delusion is its setting, the Oneiric Isles. A floating archipelago under a menacing red sky filled with warring armies and cosmic mysteries. As a prisoner of one such army, the player is essentially deputized into the fight and tasked with the mission of taking down a rebellious woman named Vela Callose. Infiltrating her fortress and assassinating her is your first goal, which you won’t be able to complete and will send you down a dozens-of-hours quest to finish the job. Once you have your (conditional) freedom from your jailers, Dread Delusion sets you loose in its weird world.

Dread Delusion wants you to get lost. But don’t get so lost that you fall off the side of the map, these are floating islands remember? When the game warns you to watch your step at the start of your journey you, like me, might laugh and think that will never happen. Then you laugh right off the side of the island. It’s undeniably hilarious but also highlights that the world is in fact dangerous if you aren’t careful. Like Morrowind’s Vvardenfell or Elden Ring’s Lands Between, the joy of the Oneiric Isles is encountering its unique charms naturally along your journey. A pub inside of a dead god’s head, a castle haunted by illusions, a traveling college of wizards, all of these and more await the curious player. What makes all these discoveries so much more compelling is that they all have stories to tell—they aren’t just set dressing. Everything here has depth.

Image: Dread XP
Image: Dread XP

That narrative depth and sense of discovery tendrils out from the game’s mechanical intricacy that offers so much player freedom. Like in Elder Scrolls, players are able to tailor their protagonist to different styles of play. You can focus on combat, magic, stealth, or even charm, and unlock different ways to complete problems. Instead of fighting your way through, maybe you could just befriend the guards and walk right into your desired area. It all depends on what skills you are able to unlock with Glimmers of Delusion, the resource that gives the game its name.

Combat does remain perhaps the most silly element of the game, a feeling I had during early access. Here the game lacks depth, and in most encounters, I find myself circling enemies and slashing until they die, a surprisingly effective tactic. It makes it simple but not very fun. Sneaking, lockpicking, and charming your way through encounters is always more compelling.

Tying leveling into a sense of cosmic horror is a great tonal decision that supports the game’s low-poly horror aesthetic. Visually and mechanically the game is unsettling in the most enthralling way, perhaps taking further inspiration from Pathologic. But Dread Delusion shifts between so many different tones. It has cosmic horror and fantasy, but also comedy. The humor of the game feels especially well used in relation to its mechanics. Like in Elder Scrolls games, in which mechanical freedom often leads to hilarious unintended consequences, Dread Delusion’s freedom will make absurd scenarios occur regularly. It’s nice that the game’s inhabitants have a sense of humor about it too.

In an already overflowing few weeks of compelling indie games punching well above their weight, Dread Delusion is another fantastic game to put on your radar. Come for the deep skill system and the fascinating world, but stay for the unexpected adventures you’ll surely fall into. Just don’t fall off the sides.


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