Dex Review (PC)
What if you could take the things you love about games like Deus Ex and its “play the game your way” style and apply an old school 2D Metroidvania veneer to it? If the answer is “yes, please,” then I’ve got some pretty good news for you; Dreadlocks’ Dex might be well worth your time and attention. This cyberpunk, action-RPG, side-scroller is a proficiently pleasing adventure that does well to capture some of the best of new and old ideas and blends them into a balanced cocktail that will have you coming back for more.
Players take on the role of Dex, a young woman living in Harbor Prime; a futuristic world where mega corporations are weaved into an integrated authority known as The Complex. The game kicks off with Dex having to escape assassins sent by The Complex. She is guided out of the danger by a mysterious hacker known only as Raycast. Leading Dex to a group of hackers, Raycast soon has her involved in an underground war taking place between the remnants of free society and the absolute control of The Complex. It’s a somewhat typical framework for a Sci-Fi story that anyone familiar with Shadowrun or Deus Ex will recognize easily.
Outside of the main plot, there is a myriad of intrigue to discover. Harbor Prime is an enormous area with a good variety of locales. From the luxurious lofts and high-end businesses of the Highrise, to the downtrodden and dangerous alleys of the Slums, you’ll find yourself exploring for hours and taking on a number of odd jobs from other characters. There’s quite a few that end up being fetch quests, but the game does good by placing many of the items that characters ask for in a danger zone often intertwined with another mission. It comes out rewarding you richly for taking the time to really search places, although for as big as Harbor Prime is, you’ll also be happy to know the game has an easily accessed fast travel system to cross between areas of the city in a jiffy.
Of course, you’ll still have to have equipment and skills to get around the rough terrain and dangerous thugs throughout Harbor Prime. Have no fear. The leveling system of the game allows for points to be put into four core categories: endurance, melee, ranged and hacking. There are also sub-categories that allow access to other facets of play such as charisma, lockpicking, and bartering. Every level up in this game provides you with a skill point and a tough decision, as each of the categories and sub-categories can add meaningful changes to your playstyle and available options for every scenario.
The easy stand out for me was hacking and the subcategory “AR.” The active hacking system in this game entails entering cyberspace in two ways--hacking a computer to steal data or damaging enemies and security devices in the heat of combat. Either way, you are given a cursor with which to move and interact with whatever you’re hacking. The limiter is that each time you enter cyberspace, you are given a life bar, or “Focus,” to do any actions. While you are in cyberspace, viruses will constantly attack your cursor, draining Focus. If you do not leave cyberspace and allow your Focus to recharge, you will suffer physical damage. It really tasks you with making the most out of every turn in cyberspace.
The guns in this game are impactful, but the process to use them is somewhat cumbersome, at least on keyboard. You can assign a weapon to a number key and must press that key to draw your weapon. In this state, you can fire, reload and roll to avoid incoming enemies, but doing anything else or taking melee damage forces you to put your gun away, necessitating pressing the assigned key again to redraw. Being unable to run or jump with my gun drawn was an annoyance that made me not only veer away from the ranged options, but also gave me a tendency to only use guns as a last, desperate resort.
If these options are not enough for you, then you’ll want to take a look at augments. Augments allow any number of things, from bumping up aspects of the core categories like stronger melee or longer hacking to allowing you to survive toxic gas or electricity. Truthfully, in order to explore every nook and cranny of Harbor Prime, you’ll need the augments that allow survival or travel to otherwise unreachable places, but they are not necessary to finish the core game. Again, much like the level-up categories, augments are true game changers and you’ll want to carefully decide which will suit you best.
There were a few flaws that I found to be incredibly cumbersome in Dex. First and foremost is the save system. The game autosaves upon arrival in any new area, and though you can save at any time, the saves only account for the initial arrival in an area. That means even if you collect items, open a story point or quest with someone or accomplish something important, a save in the area will not account for any of that. You must actually leave the whole area and save in a different place to lock in all your progress. It was a small flaw, but on one or two occasions, I lost serious progress due to this feature. Also, loading a game save that is not the autosave file will count as entering a new area and a new autosave will be created at the location you load. So be sure you either back-up your autosave or have nothing to lose before you go exploring your other permanent files.
Another troublesome issue involved the journal system. For every item you can read, an entry is included in your journal. It keeps everything for backchecking, but when the list got long, I found clicking on an entry would make all of them disappear. It made trying to access old information incredibly frustrating, and I could not find a solution to it at the time of this writing. There were other bugs, but they were minor things such as getting caught on an enemy node if entering cyberspace too close to them.
Dex is great for a lot of reasons. It combines expressive 2D sprites and nostalgic platforming with some grade-A, modern action-RPG mechanics and does it generally well. Players will find a variety of tools to complement their playstyles and a lot of content in which to explore their abilities. The game clocks in at about fifteen to twenty hours and is chock full of intriguing content. There are a few bugs here and there, but they hardly keep Dex from being an overall enjoyable ride.
This review is based on a download code of Dex provided by the publisher for PC.