Personally, I didn’t know what to expect from Dex. The game advertises itself as a “tribute to the classic RPGs from the ’90s, updated for a modern audience”. I simply could not describe this game any better myself. Dreadlocks (developer of Dex) managed to capture a wonderful mix of hand drawn and old school visuals. The sound isn’t necessarily the best, but it fits without being any bit distracting. I mean, I’ve been playing games ever since I could wrap my hands around an NES controller. I think it’s fair to say I’ve played a lot of games. Dex handles every element with such care and thought, it’s clear that it is a passion project. It may have it’s glitches and a few faults, but if these insignificant setbacks are enough to stop anyone from enjoying this game, they simply were not going to enjoy the game in the first place. Before I go much further, I just want to say that if you are interested in the game in the slightest, you’re more than likely going to find something you’ll enjoy in the game.
In this futuristic cyberpunk title, you play as a blue haired female character named Dex, sometimes called Blue by NPCs. At first, it is a little difficult to figure out exactly what your goal actually is. The thing is, this is completely okay. The reason this is okay is as soon as you get out of the kind of long tutorial, you’re allowed to explore as much as your heart desires. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find plenty to do and explore across Harbor Prime (the city the game is set in). In fact, I found out that I had managed to do every possible side mission before doing even the third main mission. It’s just so easy to get wrapped up in Dex’s world that you simply forget there is a main story.
Since Dex is an indie title, it is expected to be a bit on the short side. Strangely, I think this works in the game’s favor. Dex manages to have the ‘Elder Scrolls’ effect where the world is the most interesting part of the game without over staying it’s welcome. There’s actually only around a half-dozen main missions while there are many, many more optional side missions that reward with great gear, experience, and other goodies for finding and completing them. The player has the chance to choose how to level up Blue. This choice can really impact how a player makes their way through Harbor Prime. Personally, I levelled up lock picking and charisma as soon as possible so I’d have the chance to go everywhere and explore every available option. This meant that fighting and working through hacking sections were much more difficult for me than they would be for a player that chose to upgrade Blue’s combat or hacking abilities early on.
Nearly all of the missions are connected and have multiple ways to get through them. One example of this is found early on. You meet a boy, seemingly down on his luck, talks to you when you approach him. He tells you about his mother and their troubles. After this first conversation, you meet his mother, where you can decide what you’ll do. The choices are simple, you can give them 500 of your own credits, you can walk away and do nothing (leaving the quest open), or you can tell the boy to steal what they need from a local doctor. This is where the connectivity comes into play. This doctor is actually one you have a lot of interaction with, Dr. Niles. If the boy steals from Niles, you have the choice to tell Niles or to keep the boy’s thievery a secret. If you keep the secret, nothing happens. If you tell Niles, he finds a way to get back what was lost and even offers you a 100 HP upgrade if you’d like to buy it. This is the dilemma of this game. Do you help the boy pay for what he needs? Do you help him steal what he needs and let him get away with it? Do you give the boy the idea to steal and then turn on him? Do you do what’s best for other people without a physical reward or do you do what’s best for you while others suffer for your actions?
The game never forces you to deal with the consequences of your actions. I think this is wonderful as it means the only reason the player will feel bad is because they know they are supposed to. It’s simply nice to see a game not saying ‘You’re bad because this arbitrary meter says you’re bad’. There are some other topics lightly touched on throughout the game. Some of these tackle how truly human a person is when they add implants and other technology to their body, what to do about corrupt corporations, and how one decides if they’re acting out of their own volition and not being led on by someone else. For such a small game, it sure feels vast and filled to the brim with things to do and think about.
I mentioned combat and hacking earlier, these are important gameplay elements as well. I personally found myself less than impressed with either to be honest, but that’s because I was always so excited to go back to combing through Harbor Prime. Combat feels a little clunky but is made much easier when the player takes advantage of implants, usable items, and the very quick save system. As for hacking, the player takes control of a ship-like avatar of our main character. This avatar is used to explore cyberspace while fighting off enemy viruses and dodging obstacles like firewalls and black holes. Hacking can be made much easier (much like combat) by simply upgrading it with your level ups. Some upgrades include shooting multiple projectiles and having a larger health pool for the hacking sections. Like I mentioned before, upgrading one portion of Blue leaves other portions rather lacking. I tried to get as much experience as possible but could not find enough throughout the whole game to max out my stats. This fact is something else I really like about this game. Since Blue isn’t given a ton of extra experience, we as players have to decide what kind of hero Blue will become in the end.
To be sure I’ve covered everything, I’ll touch on everything once more in this final paragraph. Aesthetically, the game looks great, sounds alright, and is very engaging. The story in the game feels a little generic, but the side missions is where the engagement truly takes hold. NPC interactions are generally very enjoyable and rather memorable. I only have one issue with talking to NPCs. Since you have many options for what to say to them, Blue doesn’t actually speak to NPCs. This wouldn’t be a problem but everyone else does and Blue does speak in cutscenes. This simply didn’t make sense to me but I’m no developer, I’m sure there’s a reason she doesn’t speak outside of cutscenes. As for actual game play, I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed with either the fighting or hacking. Exploring and reading the item descriptions (seemingly wrote by Blue herself) was by far the most interesting part of Dex. If you enjoy exploration (either environmentally or through dialog), Dex will keep you very busy and engaged the whole time.
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