NIGHTMARCHERS is a post-apocalyptic, Hawaiian-fantasy RPG. Yeah, you read that right.

Describing itself thematically as “MOANA meets MAD MAX,” and mechanically as “FAR CRY meets ZELDA,” NIGHTMARCHERS caught my interest from the moment I heard about it. I’m someone who loves genre-bending, weird fantasy, and modern RPGs. So, on paper, NIGHTMARCHERS is right up my alley.

In light of this, I requested an early build of the game to study, and to my surprise, I actually got one. It’s pretty rare for a company to do this when their game doesn’t even have a release date. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

NIGHTMARCHERS
This looks so damn cool.

As you can imagine, the game is pretty broken. More broken than any game I’ve personally played. Early on, I couldn’t even get it to run. That being said, the game is in such an early form that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t a paid early-access situation. They’re not selling this game to the public. The folks at Wrymbyte were just nice enough to give us a glimpse into the game so far.

You may be wondering, how do you even talk about a game like this? Well, you need to adjust your expectations a bit. I can look past low framerates, texture pop-in, and laggy controls because this can all be conceivably fixed before the game releases. When reviewing a game this early, it’s best to look at intentional design choices, things that likely won’t change in the weeks and months to come.

So, the question we need to ask isn’t “is this a good game,” but  “can this realistically become a good game”? Think of this less as a preview, and more of an analysis on where the game is now, and where I hope it will be on release.

So, what exactly is NIGHTMARCHERS? Does the game show any promise? What can we learn from a game like this? Well, let’s take a look!

Generic Gameplay With A Twist

Imagine if FAR CRY was third-person, and shed any last semblance of realism. Now replace that realism with a Polynesian-themed modern fantasy. That’s NIGHTMARCHERS in a nutshell.

Now, on paper, this sounds like my perfect game. Despite its flaws, I love the FAR CRY series, and I’m excited to see another studio take a stab at the formula. The problem with NIGHTMARCHERS is that it hasn’t evolved past FAR CRY’s worst aspects.

“The Ubisoft Formula”: Repetition and Stagnation in Video Games

Like FAR CRY, you’re wandering through a wilderness dotted with lifeless villages. Your primary way of engaging with the world is through killing the armed men that wander around.

The developers actually boast about the number of outposts that dot the landscape: enemy bases for the player to attack. Ironically, this is one of the most repetitive aspects of the FAR CRY series. It makes me wonder if Wyrmbyte is learning the right lessons.

But There’s A Twist

But what sets this game apart are the fantasy elements. In NIGHTMARCHERS, you’re basically playing as a WARCRAFT druid. The player can easily and seamlessly shapeshift into spirit animals, like a bird or a shark.

Transforming is as easy as a button press and is designed for quick transitions. Even with the framerate as low as it is, it’s pretty satisfying to jump into the air, take flight, dive into the water and stalk the shore as a magical shark.

NIGHTMARCHERS
This could be fun if they get it to work.

It’s moments like these where I gain a glimmer of hope for the game. I can easily see this being a highlight of the title, both mechanically and aesthetically. The bird form could encourage guerilla warfare and rapid movement, allowing the player to get a few shots off before flying to another position. There wasn’t much to do in the water when I played, but I can see how the shark form might encourage underwater exploration.

In general, I’m a sucker for this sort of genre-clash, with realistic guns and soldiers fighting a magical shapeshifting shaman. The way they’ve merged magical mythology with modern mayhem is probably my favorite part of the game.

Even With The Powers, It Felt Derivative

But beyond that, the gameplay really isn’t anything special. When you strip away the Hawaiian theme, it’s just a third person shooter with powers and RPG-elements. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Not every game needs to reinvent the wheel, especially if they have an interesting setting or story to fall back on. The problem is that the gameplay isn’t very good.

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Setting aside the performance issues, there was nothing particularly fun or engaging about what I was doing. The gunplay felt bad, with little in the way of tactile feedback. The sound design is awful, even if you set aside the huge audio lag I experienced. The controls were pretty laggy as well, and I felt like I had little control over my character in bird form.

The world itself felt lifeless and artificial, which is the cardinal sin of any open world game. NPCs only seem to exist to give you a quest or to tell you to go away. They don’t talk to each other or seem to live any sort of life.

Granted, a lot of these issues can be fixed before launch, but even then I have to ask, “What does the game do better than others”?

It Looks Awful

Let’s be frank, I don’t understand how this game can run so poorly and look so bad at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t entirely an issue of competency. I love the design of the animal forms, the swirling designs on the UI, and the tattoos on every other character. It’s clear the artists behind the game have the potential to capture Hawaiian folklore and morph it into a modern fantasy setting.

But there are two major problems here:

  1. This game looks like an early 360 title
  2. They went for a realistic art style

The Graphics Are Distractingly Bad

So let’s tackle these issues one-by-one. I’m not someone who typically cares about graphical fidelity. But if the graphics are bad enough, they become a distraction, pulling the player out of the experience and removing the sense of immersion and grandeur that comes with an open world game.

This is more than just an issue of low settings for NIGHTMARCHERS. Unless they’re planning on replacing every model in the game before release, it’s just plain ugly.

NIGHTMARCHERS
Dear God.

This is especially disappointing given the setting. Hawaii is a beautiful place. It deserves more than muddy textures and washed out colors. NIGHTMARCHERS is wasting the potential of its own setting.

The Art Style Is Uninspired

But not every game can have high-fidelity graphics. There’s no shame in that. A good game compensates for this with a creative art style. BORDERLANDS looks like a living comic book; OVERWATCH looks like a Dreamworks production. Neither of these games have the most advanced graphics, but they’re beautiful in their own way.

Unfortunately, NIGHTMARCHERS  tries to look realistic and fails spectacularly. Because the graphics don’t support the style, character models end up looking goofy at best and horrific at worst.

What could have been lush, verdant jungles are reduced to dark, boring plains with a few palm trees. Even if the gameplay is stellar, even if the performance issues are fixed, this art style will hold the game back.

NIGHTMARCHERS
Welcome to Hawaii, I guess.

This is a rookie mistake. You don’t opt for realism if you can’t handle it. Not only does it draw attention to the poor graphics, but it’s just uninspired.

As I said earlier, the game describes itself as “MOANA meets MAD MAX.” Well, imagine if they truly embraced this ethos. Combine the colors and innocence of a Disney picture with the morbidity of the apocalypse. Imagine the gorgeous, haunting Hawaiian landscapes. Imagine how flora and fauna could twist into beautiful, terrifying forms. Think about a fantasy-apocalypse based on Hawaiian folklore. Wyrmbyte can do better than this.

MOANA NIGHTMARCHERS
Imagine this, but with guns. I can’t be the only one who wants this.

Not only would it look better, but it would enhance the sense of genre-bending the game is already going for. We have enough “realistic” shooters out there. It’s just a missed opportunity.

The Point

As of now, NIGHTMARCHERS is a wonderful premise held back by its own mediocrity. I’ve done my best not to judge it in its current state, considering how early in development the game seems to be. That being said, certain things likely won’t change, or at the very least will take a considerable amount of effort to fix.

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If I had any advice to give the developers, I’d tell them to lean into what makes their game unique. Sure, FAR CRY and ZELDA are good series, but how are you making them better? Don’t fall into Ubisoft’s trap of shallow, repetitive gameplay. Focus less on how you’re like other games and more on how you’re better than them.

Right now, the only thing keeping me interested in this game is the Hawaiian theme. It’s creative, unique, and no one is doing anything like it. I wish every game had the guts to push forward with such an unconventional premise.

But we need more than that. Slapping some cool powers on a mediocre game doesn’t make it less mediocre.

Lessons To Learn From NIGHTMARCHERS

If nothing less, I hope this serves as an object lesson for the industry. An interesting backdrop isn’t enough to make a good game. A creative premise only works if you fully embrace it. There is a market for strange, unconventional settings. There’s a niche out there waiting for anachronistic, genre-bending adventures. Don’t be afraid to go all out with it. If nothing else, you’ll stand out.

A few weeks ago, NIGHTMARCHERS failed to reach its funding goals on Fig. This is never a good thing, but maybe it will give them some perspective? Some time to go back to the drawing board? I’m pleased to say the folks at Wyrmbyte are already taking this feedback to heart.

If they tighten the gameplay, overhaul the visuals, and embrace what makes their game unique, we might have something special on our hands. Otherwise, this game will be remembered as an interesting idea, but nothing more.

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