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No Rest For The Wicked Early Access Impressions – Don’t Sleep On This

Sacrament, not Sanctuary

No Rest for the Wicked is such a sicko title to come from the studio that wowed videogame audiences with the wholesome and heartbreaking Ori series. While retaining its penchant for mesmerising art direction and presentation, this new early access title from Moon Studio is an altogether adult and unorthodox melting pot of systems. At a glance, No Rest for the Wicked resembles the darkly gothic top-down aesthetics of Diablo IV by way of painted animations in the style of developer Arkane or the beloved Netflix series Arcane.  But look beyond its aesthetics and you’ll find a kitchen sink approach of trendy action game systems under the fabulously engrossing veneer of an isometric Souls-lite adventure. While it is understandably early days for this Steam Early Access launch, the vibe is extremely nailed and the messiness of some extraneous design choices are easily overlooked in favour of the game’s atmosphere, exploration, and core feel.

No Rest for the Wicked sees a player-made character of the thiccest proportions bound aboard a ship. They are known as a Cerim, a seemingly immortal humanoid bearing markings that ostracise or celebrate them depending on their audience. The ship is seized upon by rebels called the Risen, who see the ship wrecked on the isle of Sacra. While it’s still too early in the build to expect much in the way of a coherent plot, the story moves fast and is complimented by some of the best in-engine cutscenes I’ve seen this year outside of the AAA sphere. 

Refreshingly, other than a few made-up nouns, No Rest for the Wicked isn’t too frontloaded with lore and is very much player-forward in how the game leads us through its world full of pestilential worms, corrupted fighters, and imaginative horrors waiting to be discovered. This is a far cry from Ori and the Blind Forest and shows off enough weirdness, dismemberment, body horror, and dark humour to satiate those Souls fans who might check this out.  

For an Early Access title, it is brimming with tantalising mystery

So yeah, I best start by explaining what makes this game a Souls-lite. Borrowed is the weighty, tactical combat that emphasises measured attacks, parries, and evades against a limited stamina meter. Characters can be built around a familiar set of stats that differentiate between strong and deft weapons, magics, and utilities like equip load. There are three tiers of weight, meaning that the nimblest characters are virtually naked. Attacks pack a sharp heft between the harsh haptic feedback, punchy sound effects, and camera shakes. Charged blows land with the sound of clanging gongs and the clash of metals. It is visceral while remaining focused on communicating every movement of the player and enemies, remaining readable and refusing to throw cheap tricks at the player.

The Souls DNA this game wisely omits for not serving the tempo of its adventure are things like enemy respawns and experience point preservation. Death sees a simple degradation of equipment condition, easily repaired in town or with items. Checkpoints are called Whispers and can be used to teleport to and from said towns, although you can only teleport from your last registered Voice (checkpoint). Health is fully restored upon revival. There is a day/night cycle which, when paired with the game’s dynamic fog-of-war system, means that enemies will only respawn in areas you’ve not explored for a while after some time has passed. And as I mentioned at the top here, your experience points are not forfeited upon death. I commend Moon Studios for tactfully picking the elements that serve their design here, rather than bending to the many genre conventions required to ride the wave of being another interpretation of the Souls-like. 

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It should come as no surprise that No Rest for the Wicked’s art direction is impeccable. The team that made the Ori games gives us a fixed bird’s-eye view of the player and action, with a scripted camera that the player cannot toggle or adjust. A lot of weight is placed on this camera to guide the player without explicit signposting, make sure the action is not obscured and is helped by textures that go translucent when the player might be obscured. It’s a bold move in such a twitchy, tactical action game to completely remove camera control, but personally I love it for how it frees up the player’s focus during combat and exploration. After seeing this become more commonplace with Diablo IV and The Thaumaturge, I’m rooting for more of these fixed-camera adventures. 

There’s a fishing mini-game, because of course

Some adoptions from other popular genres are a little odd, though. Survival crafting is available from the get-go, complete with degrading tools you can find washed about the beach. The game prompts you to start chopping trees and farming rocks, holding a button and watching a health meter deplete on the inanimate resource. Only then, there’s no way to use any of that stuff for the first few hours until you reach the town. There are also odd choices also carried over from the Souls tradition, such as being unable to pause in what is currently a single-player build. It’s not like there are dynamic threats to worry about, so you just kind of leave your hero idling after a fight in lieu of the absent pause. 

Comparisons to Souls-likes aside, the gameplay secret sauce here has to be its explorative platforming. Taking cues from fixed-camera 3D platformers like Super Mario 3D Land, the game gives you the tools to sidle, jump, and swim your way fluidly behind and through the environmental foreground. Finding opportunities to then wander behind a bush or obvious waterfall facade and discover a hidden path or dungeon sparks joy. Precariously clambering across the rafters of a fallen fort that seemed innocuous is always met with a chest and sense of reward, if not danger. The actual boons gained so far have been gear that isn’t worth shit but the experience of always having the game acknowledge my curiosity is a huge step in the right direction. 

This kind of player acknowledgement and reward system extends to other design elements too. Every enemy and NPC, every guard and stray peasant is a fully voiced character with their own little bit to add to the appropriately weird world-building. As the game is light on the contextual frontloading, players will be hungry for the morsels of story they can trace down. Fortunately, none of it is esoteric despite the mystique of this unique world, and the opening town of Sacrament is full of character and reactive to your presence. Guards and townsfolk are even split on how they feel about you slaying the abomination at their gate, the first boss you encounter. It is said to have been warding off outsiders while held at bay, and now you’ve declared open season on the supposedly inviting enclave by slaying it.

Sacrament is a stunning little town

One of my main gripes with this Early Access launch is its balancing, the delicate tuning of difficulty in proportion to the player’s progression. Not long after players have reached Sacrament and gotten to grips with the various vendors and crafting systems, as well as done a few side quests, they’re likely to hit a wall. Very quickly, the main quest path that leads players further into the island of Sacra is astronomically difficult with most enemies able to maim, disable, and swiftly execute you within moments of venturing into this zone. Players might be tempted to trek back to the swamps and beachfront where they began for a bit of grinding, but there’s little XP or worthwhile gear gain here. 

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There is a series of side quests with major narrative consequences for the town, culminating in unlocking a dungeon in the starting area. This, too, is deemed “challenging” in red text by the game but is somewhat surmountable but suffers no fools. At this time, the grind for resources to get potions, health items, and even weapon upgrades is far too high for this sharp spike in challenge. The survival crafting need to chop wood and mine ore is also frustratingly stingy. That first ten hours before this wall of time-draining survival crafting systems and insurmountable challenge hits, though, is pretty damn satisfying. 

With four-player co-op coming in the next big update, it remains to be seen how this tailored and precise world, one that claims to react to the player through things like town development, handles the increased player count. The survival sandbox elements don’t yet feel as meaningful in their inclusion as the myriad other borrowed elements in this game, but the masterful confidence on display has me throwing caution to the wind and watching this title with naive, bleeding heart enthusiasm. No Rest for the Wicked is the most exciting, daringly artistic action RPG to come out of a boutique studio in recent memory and deserves to at least be on your Steam Wishlist.

Backstab criticals remain a reliable way to dispose of trash

No Rest for the Wicked is currently available in Early Access on Steam.

Previewed on PC // Preview code supplied by publisher

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Written By Nathan Hennessy

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