Nightingale: A Card Deckbuilder Meets Survival Genre

By Shaan Khan

Screenshot Courtesy of @PlayNightingale on Twitter

Trying something new in the survival genre, instead of the same-old ‘shoot, kill & loot’ formula, is ex-Bioware devs who worked on creative classics such as Dragon Age, Baldur’s Gate and Mass Effect.

Banded together under the game studio Inflexion Games, the team are throwing all their creative marbles at Nightingale, a PC-exclusive survival game coming to Steam in early access in Q4 this year.

How creative does Nightingale get? We’re talking ‘interdimensional and portal hopping levels of weird and wonderful creativity. It’s clear Nightingale doesn’t fall far from the tree of influence from past Bioware titles based on the trailer announcement at the Summer Games Fest 2022, with many gems of creative elements worth looking into.

The Premise

In an interview with Inflexion Games, the team revealed the key inspiration behind Nightingale was the alternative-history novel, Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004), set in the Victorian Era with a gaslight fantasy story centred around rekindling magic.

Nightingale borrows the premise of the story concept to the novel and applies it to the interactive medium of video games. Nightingale takes place in a world where humans live alongside magical creatures. A powerful & intelligent species of ancient creatures is the Fae, who shaped the world with their advanced magic and were the first to create portals, allowing them to build an interdimensional civilisation.

Forwarding the timeline to when the game takes place, it occurs after 1889 when the portal network had collapsed and displaced humans in Fae realms where alien creatures roam and remnants of Fae civilisation still remain. Players take the role of humans and must secure Fae magic to create portals and find their way home to Nightingale City.

Nightingale City Concept Art Courtesy of @PlayNightingale on Twitter

You can’t help getting Bioshock or Dishonoured vibes based on the steampunk art style and even story ideas like drawing comparisons between Bioshock Tears with Nightingale Portals. Also, the Fae’s background presents a fascinating lore you want to delve into, akin to the ‘once high & mighty’ Elves in The Witcher and Elder Scrolls universes.

RPG Elements

Speaking of RPG franchises, the team’s roots in Dragon Age and Baldur’s Gate are fully displayed with the implementation of RPG elements in Nightingale. You have NPCs to interact with to learn lore, progress story, take quests or hire as workers to help operate and construct your houses, farms, and even towns— ‘taking a page’ from Fallout 4 & 76’s ‘book’.

The character designs of monsters are creepily creative and scaled in ways to offer players unique challenges in combat, as seen in games like Eldon Ring. There are swamp and tree creatures similar in art style to Witcher 3 monsters. Then you have hill giants reminiscent of giants in Skyrim.

Screenshot Courtesy of PlayNightingale on YouTube

There’s a fair amount of choice when it comes to shaping the story’s narrative and interacting with NPCs. For example, you have the option to kill a hill giant or make an offering to the hill giant, securing them as your temporary allies.

You will have to spec your builds optimally for each monster battle, which is why Nightingale has a deep loot selection and crafting system for weapons, gear and building items that players will progress to obtain. For instance, you would work towards securing defensive items for your basis to stop Harpy creatures from breaking in and stealing your stuff.

With all the different enemy types and gear, combat is varied enough to where it’s hard to get stale. There are even class types to spec your builds towards, such as assassin or ranger types.

The ultimate avenue to go down if the RPG aspects of the game are your cup of tea is to take on epic boss battles by yourself or with friends against the apex creatures that are gigantean in size and look like something out of The Shadow of the Colossus video game.

Adventure

Nightingale is brimming with adventure with no single map to explore, but an endless selection of open worlds to enter through portals. Having no straightforward cap on world scale is an exciting idea for players. It is achieved through procedural generation, where AI automatically generates a world for you to explore once you’ve opened up a portal.

Procedural generation has been used before in games such as Minecraft, No Man’s Sky and soon to be implemented in Bethesda’s Starfield. However, many players have been left underwhelmed by their experience with procedurally generated worlds. The point of confliction is their lifelessness, feeling hollow where it’s clear assets were just thrown onto the screen to say, ‘here’s your map, now give me your money!’

Players want handcrafted open worlds designed by passionate humans with attention to detail. Inflexion Games have addressed that, while procedural generation will be deployed, they will be combined with handcrafted elements. Also, some realms exist temporarily to aid in the survival elements of the game, such as collecting resources, valuables, items and increasing your skill level. 

There will be persistent realms that are mostly handcrafted where you continually return to and set up your bases. One such example is Nightingale City which will be the game’s urban landscape which you can imagine will have the most content to engage with, as seen with other RPG or Survival games.

Screenshot Courtesy of PlayNightingale on YouTube

Biomes are incredibly diverse, from forests and jungles to deserts and snowy mountains. Sprinkled on top of these biomes are mysterious Fae architecture, abandoned towns, ceremonial grounds and dungeons.

A quirky feature about exploring realms is that you’re limited to how much of a realm you can explore based on your skill level, gear and experience, so this sense of ‘unlocking adventure for new discoveries’ is an excellent incentive to have players progress their characters to become more powerful.

A Survival AND Card Game?!

The most unique component to Nightingale that adds some refreshing appeal to procedural generation and survival mechanics is the realm card system.

The realm card system is a meta-game within Nightingale that’s similar to the hit-success, Deckbuilder Slasher game ‘Slay The Spire’, where the meta card game influences the core gameplay. However, In Nightingale, you search for resources to craft cards. Once you obtain a selection of cards, you can combine them to create a portal into a realm.

Screenshot Courtesy of PlayNightingale on YouTube

Each unique card you use in the spell will shape the realm you want to enter. These cards can influence the weather, biomes, creatures and resources of the realm—allowing for a great variety of challenges and rewards you can get out of a realm.

The realm card system adds a whole new layer to the survival element of the game, where your chances of survival are strongly dependent on the cards that you play.

A large portion of the game will be to experiment with cards, gain experience using them and build up a collection to manage your realm exploration objectives better to get what you exactly want.

Another important reason you’d want to experiment with cards is that some card combinations will cause unexpected side effects that will raise the risk of realm exploration, so you would want to learn about which card combinations create specific side effects.

Conclusion

Screenshot Courtesy of PlayNightingale on YouTube

The Nightingale trailer starts off like any innocent survival game with your handy tools like a pickaxe chipping into rocks, picking berries, sitting by a fire to stay warm and hunting bore, all with impressive animations akin to The Forest survival game. The narrator even makes it apparent that ‘giving how fragile you humans are, I suggest staying fed, dry and rested, should be your main priority’.

However, the survival elements are only the tip of the iceberg with what Nightingale has to offer. The trailer then branches off into all the different absurdities with this creative ‘mess’ or ‘masterpiece’ that we shall all determine and find out when the game officially launches.

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