Steam Next Fest 2024 is here! We'll be covering a handful of demos for games big and small that we think you should be watching closely. As with every Steam Next Fest, we encourage you to wishlist the games we cover and try some out for yourself from February 5 - 12.
You can think you've got a good handle on the indie scene. That you've got at least a general knowledge of most indie titles and even a cursory grasp on the obscure stuff. But indies will always humble you.
Especially when you stumble on something as immediately beautiful and fascinating as Death of a Wish... only to find out it's a sequel to a similarly brilliant game — Lucah: Born of a Dream — and suddenly you feel like you know nothing. Let's remedy my ignorance with this look at Death of a Wish's excellent Steam Next Fest demo.
Just the Facts
Publisher: Syndicate Atomic LLC
Release Date: March 11, 2024
Demo accessed via Steam Next Fest 2024.
melessthanthree's work is focused on liberation. On directly confronting oppression with reckless abandon and finding a way forward through even the most dire of circumstances. Death of a Wish, and its predecessor Lucah, are stories about religious trauma and the ways it can permanently alter your identity. Playing their work feels revolutionary in a way that feels necessary in the living nightmare that is existing in 2024.
Speaking of living nightmares, Death of a Wish exists in its own nightmare world, Paradiso, the same one that its hero Christian was left behind in at the end of Lucah: Born of a Dream.
In this realm, trauma and other painful emotions come to life in the form of horrifying monsters known as Nightmares. But even worse than these are the people that rule this land, the members of a group known as The Sanctum. The Sanctum are the religious order who force their oppression onto the land, a group led by Christian's father, known simply as The Father.
It's a lot to follow, and it's delivered with a poetic dreaminess that even at its most mystifying still feels right. In Death of a Wish's demo, you're given a fairly chunky 1-2 hour look at its narrative, where you're introduced to a collection of Christian's new allies and thrust immediately into the action as Christian chases down The Father and sets out on his journey to destroy The Sanctum.
Especially with the demo's immediate chaos, it took a while to get my bearings. Having not played Lucah, it's hard to tell how much of the world and story is set up there in a way that's a little clearer. But once I sank into the dark and gloomy atmosphere of Paradiso and felt Christian's pure fury... I bought in. melessthanthree knows how to make it personal, too, as the game starts by asking you to enter the name of someone you would die for, implementing it in key moments to add personal stakes to the journey you're about to embark on. Playing Death of a Wish already feels like peeking into someone's digital diary, and the simple way they assimilate you into the narrative is brilliant.
And that's nothing to say for the game's Devil May Cry meets Souls-like combat and incredible style.
It's easy to call any difficult action game a Souls-like these days, but Death of a Wish certainly toes the line between the dodge and poke Souls-like experience and the combo-heavy aggression of something like Devil May Cry. With the power of Christian's Aria — a floating pal who can completely alter Christian's move set or simply add elemental flair to his moves — you'll be asked to keep the pressure on by attacking at just the right time to parry enemies, taking risky pauses in your progressions for hold moves that do heavy damage, and otherwise generally encouraged to take an aggressive playstyle.
One of the most interesting systems here is the Corruption mechanic, a meter that constantly builds over time that promises a dangerous end if it reaches 100%. The only way to push back against it is to get high grades in combat, to mix in a variety of attacks and keep your combos high. Enemies hit hard, sure, but you have to risk tanking a few hits to keep your combos up and keep corruption low. Fight beautifully and thrive. Style is king. Dante would be proud.
Death of a Wish starts in an interesting place in comparison to the first game (and the usual character action game). Because Christian spent the entirety of Born of a Dream fighting against Lucah and honing his skills, you enter Death of a Wish at a much higher skill level than the first game's protagonist. Christian dodge-rolls like a champ, bashes enemies with a surprising strength, and feels like a fully realized character action hero from the jump.
In reading through melessthanthree's various newsletter pieces for the game, freedom of expression in the combat is a key tenet of their design ethos, and you get a nice glimpse at that in the demo. You can swap through entirely different move sets on the fly, you can reset combat encounters at any time if things aren't quite going your way, and there are gameplay modifiers you can tick on and off on the fly (via the unlockable Virtues and accessibility-driven tech toggles) to cater the play experience to your liking. Freedom of expression in character action sometimes can read as "you'll do cool things but only if you're good at this," but Death of a Wish manages to feel like something that plays well at all skill levels.
And regardless of skill level, the easiest thing you can do is appreciate Death of Wish's unique aesthetics. There's a DIY zine-like vibe to the game's scratchy and constantly shimmering line art, something that feels lifted directly from the team's sketch book and brought to life in the game. Toss in some incredibly bitcrunched sound effects and an industrial electronic soundtrack that matches the grungy vibes of the world you're in and you've got an incredibly stylish and cohesive piece of art.
I want to extra shout out the fact that, despite the layers of style and abstraction to its sketchy art style, Death of a Wish maintains a surprising clarity. You never lose track of your character, you can easily see moves telegraphed by each enemy, and it never feels too overwhelming. Games that lean on style tend to forget the importance of keeping things playable, especially in the indie space, so kudos to melessthanthree for finding that balance.
Death of a Wish is a fascinating character action game whose expressive combat system is only matched in beauty by its brutal tale of revenge and generally scratchy aesthetic. Fans of character action games, queer narratives outside of visual novels, and incredibly cohesive art projects... well, I've got TWO games for you. Check out Lucah and wishlist Death of a Wish to support their push to launch on March 11.
Read more February 2024 Steam Next Fest demo impressions.