Dustborn Preview – A comic book masterclass of superpowers, puritans and punk rock

Dustborn header artwork

The world of Dustborn is a beautiful, but distinctly dangerous, dystopia. Set in an alternate-history America where California has become a superstate called Pacifica, and where ordinary people have developed a variety of special powers, you take on the role of Pax, a disillusioned Anomal who decides it’s time to find a way out, fighting the system that ignores and constrains people like her. You face the Puritans, a group that is less than happy that you’ve stolen a mysterious item known as The Cargo from them, and who’ve given chase as you embark on a road trip across the country to deliver it.

We hopped into the fourth level of the game, joining our gang of super-powered peeps as they found themselves abandoned at a lonely gas station. It’s an area that’s rife with Riders, a group of despicable ne’er-do-wells that want nothing more than to beat you up and steal all of your stuff. And probably kill you. It’s not a great place to be stuck then, so it’s up to you to puzzle your way out of a sticky situation.

You do that by exploring the area, locating key items, and following the narrative threads that will help you to a solution. Here it was all about finding a way to carry on with your journey, with at least two options available to work towards. I, naturally, went for one that saw the gas station set on fire and an angry batch of Riders arrive to knock my head in. It was lots of fun.

Action levels are interspersed with Telltale-style moments of familial bonding, and you’re able to chat to each of the central characters, building a broader picture of who they are, what’s going on with them, and why they’re there. Or just discover that they enjoy knitting. That continues through your exploration, and you have to utilise each of the character’s special skills or knowledge in order to move forward. It’s all about getting to know your travelling companions – I’m willing to bet that knitting will turn out to be helpful at some point, though whether it’s to distract an old lady or to tie up a gang member remains to be seen.

You also make decisions along the way that will influence the ongoing narrative, all of which are reflected or retold via comic book recaps. The first of these serve as a prologue to the game, and then for each of the separate chapters as you progress, giving you the sense that this is a wider cross-media creation that just happens to all be in one place.

Dustborn certainly looks phenomenal. It’s little surprise that it turned heads at the Xbox showcase, and when you see it in action it just cements that initial rush of endorphins. This is a comic book come to life, but it’s not a gaudy, technicolour blockbuster, it’s a piece of deftly crafted artwork from a characterful indie.

When you find yourself embroiled in a spot of combat, that comic book aesthetic continues to shine. You can use your skills and those of your friends to knock a few heads together, and Dustborn does a good job of making you feel powerful, even if the combat feels a little clunky right now.

Just like the Telltale games it so closely evokes, some of the interactions between the cast and the different elements of the world don’t always work smoothly, and there’s a lack of pace to the puzzling/exploration sections such as getting Sai to follow Pax as she carries a huge tyre around that limits her vision. Giving Pax’s speed a little nudge wouldn’t hurt, that’s for certain.

I’m thoroughly sold on the story and world that Dustborn are selling us. It looks and sounds incredible, and while the pacing currently feels a little slow at times, I think the end result is going to be a surefire winner.

Dustborn releases for PC and console on the 20th August 2024.

Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.

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