Nightingale Preview: A Compelling, If Confusing, Game

Ahead of Nightingale's trailer world premiere at The Game Awards, which presumably you all just watched, I joined a few other members of the press earlier in the week to chat to the devs, hear a much longer presentation on the game, and watch that very same trailer. Not saying Geoff Keighley is a liar, but I live in the world and I already saw it.

In terms of its art direction, Nightingale is very clear in its ambitions and ideas. It's set in a fantastical interpretation of the Victorian era, which includes alternate history hallmarks like real characters, fictional characters, and reimagined characters. So far, it's all pulling in the same direction. Similarly, there's a quirky quaintness to it all – though Nightingale's devs wear their BioWare history on their sleeves, they also stress they are not BioWare 2.0 and have smaller budgets and tighter constraints. It's not an all action space opera or an epic saga, but a more intimate, pacifist story. The floating umbrellas a la Mary Poppins, the wholesome and helpful giants, and the various elements of lore we are told were rewritten because they were "too dark" all tie into this very clear sense of self. But as a video game we play and shape ourselves, I'm still catching up.

You play as a realmwalker, who is essentially a character able to walk through portals to different realms. We already knew this, but further discussion revealed that players will be able to choose their home realm, and dictate their starting point from there. This could be like Dragon Age: Origins, where the opening prologues converge on a single point where the story becomes connected, or even less prescriptive – a lot of Nightingale's design is about letting you plot a course for yourself. This makes it a difficult sell – I'm still not entirely sure what the game is – but hopefully also means its trying something new.

Nightingale will have a closed beta in "early 2023", with early access coming in Spring. Both will be limited to PC, at least initially, and it might take until then for us to understand exactly what Nightingale is. While I was shown some concept art and details of other characters in the game, we didn't see any gameplay footage outside of the trailer in the presentation itself. There's "a greater focus on melee weapons" than ranged fighting, devs told us, but also warned us that playing peacefully is the best option. While BioWare was name-dropped frequently, it was also emphasised that recreating BioWare's sweeping narrative style is not the aim here either.

Nightingale is a cooperative experience based around interactivity, which sounds cool if it works and impossibly vague if it doesn't. The trailer showed off new realms, cutesy giants, flying umbrellas, and gave use a deeper peek into the world itself, but after going behind the scenes, I feel as if the only thing I learned were the names of some characters from some concept art, told to us with the caveat that several of them would not be in the beta, and maybe not even the early access build. It's an intriguing game, but also a confusing and frustrating one.

Players can sign up for the closed beta here.

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