Dustborn hands-on preview

Dustborn hands-on preview

Dustborn makes a lot a points, but doesn’t make a lot of sense

Making a good show floor demo for a narrative focused game is tough, and Dustborn falls victim to that. The new game from studio Red Thread, published by Quantic Dream, is a narrative-focused experience that really, REALLY relies on the characters and their interactions, and how that story unfolds over time. But you can’t really showcase that at an expo, or at least it’s extremely difficult to do so. That was apparent at PAX East this year where the demo was a cross section of smaller, separate experiences within the overall project, from action to interaction, to narrative and exploration.

It was a setlist for a band, but with songs that we don’t know for an album that isn’t out yet.

Which is ironic, because this is a game about a band traveling around an alternate-history US.

Dustborn certainly looks interesting. The character designs are great and unique, the world is fully realized, there’s depth to everything and everyone. I immediately felt like everyone in the game, even side characters, had something important to say, and every place (even a bathroom in a cruiser) was someplace that I wanted to check out. But in this demo there’s just so much of it that it’s difficult to understand what the focus of the experience will ultimately be. Here’s a rundown of what I experienced in a short 15-minute span:

  • Rescuing a person trapped under a cruiser
  • Exploring said cruiser on our road trip
  • Rhythm-based gameplay where I played instruments with my band
  • Battling a horde of soldiers using superpowers
  • Talking to characters in a settlement in emotional heart-to-hearts
  • Exploring a map of the US and selecting destinations

It’s also going to focus on how some of them appear to have unique special abilities. In the battle that I was in, where I swung a baseball bat at the police-like “Justice” armored corps, I could use my superpowers of words and vocals to cause the enemies to turn on each other. I could also pair up with my teammates to do combo attacks. It’s neat, but it wasn’t really enough of a focus as within seconds we’re dropped back into a slower, more paced adventure portion.

It’s… a lot to take in during a short span. And a lot to formulate an opinion on.

There’s one thing very apparent and that it’s going to be heavy on narrative and storytelling — that much is appreciated. And I do want to know how this story unfolds, I just want to do it at the right pace, and not with a show floor time limit.

Dustborn releases August 20, 2024.