Preview: Nadir

14 May 2021

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the Kickstarter demo of Nadir, made by Polish developer Shockwork Games. Promising to be a mix of Slay the Spire’s gameplay with Darkest Dungeon’s aesthetic, it sounded nice on paper. Assembling a group of avatars tied to one of the classical sins, our skeletal warriors face grotesque abominations on their descent into Hell. The trailer promised a wide variety of customization options, picking what warriors you would go with, leveling up with skill trees, skill customization, and a huge host of enemies to challenge. What I got in the demo was… well, I just hope it’s not indicative of the final product.

What I got was a pre-selected group of three characters, leveling and the skill menu not implemented, and a choice of three enemies to select to fight until I worked my way up to the singular boss, all of which fought very similarly. Nadir plays very similarly to Slay the Spire, which for those unfamiliar deals you a hand of cards with a cost and effect on them and you play those until you run out of resources. Then the enemy takes their turn, you get a few new cards, and your resources restock.

A key part of both games is that while your actions are randomized, you know what the enemy will do and can thus use what fate has given you to the best of  your abilities. To Nadir’s credit, they actually put an interesting twist on this by having you control a party of three rather than one lone adventurer.

Each of your avatars contributes their own cards to your hand, and your current avatar rotates through as you play cards. Cards one avatar contributes can be played by others, so party choice may likely be important as a result, and having one of them knocked out will reduce your drawing potential. Each avatar also has different stats and buffs are plentiful, so you may want to have weaker avatars buff your stronger one before using an attack with it, or you may wish to use a taunting skill if the enemy is about to attack a squishy unit.

It’s not all sunshine though. There was sparse documentation on what stats and buffs actually did or whether they persisted beyond the immediate round, along with the occasional typo and what I’m pretty sure were bugs where some skills just didn’t do what they advertised. I am aware that this is an early build of the game, but as a demo meant to build excitement, the developers really ought to put their best foot forward. With how little content the demo contained (I was able to beat it in maybe 20 minutes tops, far less if I took advantage of XP being useless and skipped all the earlier fights) I am uncertain how much was held back due to it being a demo, and how much just hasn’t been implemented yet.

If the latter, I’m wary about the projected Q3 2021 release date. A cursory glance at their previous game, Alder’s Blood, doesn’t help matters much. Like Nadir, it has a striking artstyle and dark themes, but the actual gameplay has been criticized for being repetitive and buggy, and that reflects what I see in Nadir. No matter what foe I faced, it didn’t really change my strategy, even to the point of “harder” enemies and even the boss just all feeling the same. I fear this may be what the finished product will look like unless they push development back and really focus on the gameplay experience.

Preview copy provided by Shockwork Games for PC. Images provided by Shockwork Games.