No Rest for the Wicked is off to a beautiful, but rocky, start | Early Access impressions

by on April 29, 2024

It’s been a strange experience writing early access impressions of No Rest for the Wicked, the new Souls-adjacent ARPG from Moon Studios, the folk behind the incredible Ori series. Playing through it for the last few weeks has resulted in a slightly different experience every time I booted it up, with Moon attempting to hotfix every small complaint on the day while working on greater fixes behind the scenes. And honestly, this is where the Early Access model, as it stands, just doesn’t work for every game.

No Rest for the Wicked, even at this point, is a difficult one to recommend at the current price. As a beta test, fine – spot some issues, iron them out. Instead, it’s currently north of 30 quid for a game that is constantly shifting and changing. Sadly, this just isn’t the best look for Moon, which raised plenty of eyebrows when they announced what this was going to be.

The first few hours, even after the patches, are unfriendly and brutal. If that’s what you’re looking for, that’s fine. I play as many Soulslikes as I can get my hands on, and I’m no stranger to punishing difficulty – but No Rest for the Wicked doesn’t seem to understand the concept of ramping up. It’s just hard out of the gate, with a stamina economy that, even now, is ridiculously stingy. What’s the point of being a destined, all-powerful hero if you can only manage three swings and a dodge before you’re out of breath? In a Dark Souls game where you’re in full armour, maybe, but my Cerim avatar here is wearing rags and carrying a rotten wooden shield, for crying out loud.

No Rest for the Wicked

After your ship sinks in the opening section, you’re washed ashore on the island of Sacra and must make your way to Sacrament. This is a religion-focused fantasy world where the Church oversees most of the laws, and even holds itself above the monarchy, with whom it is in close cahoots. The island is overrun by corrupted beasts called the Torn, as well as bandit crews who operate from the shadows, capitalising on the reduced presence of law-keepers. As a Cerim, your character is uniquely positioned to fight and defeat the Torn, and are swiftly recruited by Ellsworth, the governor of Sacra, and Madrigal Seline of the Church.

Where the story will go, as yet, remains to be seen. The voice acting is great, the cutscene animation beautiful. Moon Studios wowed us all with Ori and it’s sequel, and it’s doing the same again here. Character models have a grimy, cartoony look, with oversized limbs and accentuated features, but it’s a unique style that I quickly got used to.

Combat, on the other hand, is slightly different. First of all, the primary Soulslike influence here is in the checkpointing and stamina management system. You find Cerim Whispers, blue swirls of light that save your progress and serve as both respawn and fast travel points. You can apply attribute points wherever you are after levelling up, but death will send you back to a Whisper.

No Rest for the Wicked

The melee combat is both satisfying and frustrating. Satisfying because there’s a genuine heft and impact to everything, which is something that can’t be easy to capture so well from a top-down perspective. Dodges feel good when you pull them off, and the parry has real power behind it. The windows for both feel inconsistent, with dodging being the far easier option – especially during the first boss fight with Worrick the Torn.

You are easily stun-locked and knocked down, while your puny health bar can only weather a couple of direct hits. None of this is a major problem; after all, enemies don’t respawn when you do, and so you can clear an area out piecemeal if you like. However, you do lose durability on all items, which costs money or special items to repair. Lose too often and you could end up bare-knuckle fighting in your pants. Git gud, or git nekkid. Recent patches have improved this economy and made it easier to repair your gear, but it runs the risk of becoming nothing but an inconvenience in the late game, and as mechanically pointless as it is in Diablo 4.

No, the real issue here is that – at least early on – curatives are so thin on the ground. See, you have to craft meals from scavenged ingredients, and at first you only have one recipe. Despite walking around with hunks of meat and mushrooms in my bag, I couldn’t organically combine them at a fireplace to find new recipes. All I could make was a weird broth thing that refilled around 70% of my health each use.

No Rest for the Wicked

When I came upon Worrick the Torn, I only had five, which I used in my first failed attempt. I then had to go and scavenge up ingredients I had missed, returning to the second attempt with just three bowls. On my third attempt I had none, but by then had his patterns down enough that I scraped through using the slow, measly heal of the mushrooms on their own. This is not good. I got lucky in that fight, and had I failed again I’d have had to go in with no heals at all. Again, git gud, right? But it’s entirely possible here that a more casual player might simply hit this wall and give up.

Cook fires aren’t even always close to Whispers, which means respawning, traipsing around for ingredients, then locating a cook fire, only to maybe salvage yourself a couple of heals for the boss fight. There is simply no argument against giving three simple, restockable heals per respawn, and making us scavenge for alternatives to use in a pinch.

Outside of the combat, though, No Rest for the Wicked simply dazzles. Exploring its crumbling world, especially after clearing out the enemies, is wonderful. You can shimmy along walls to stay out of sight or away from drops, and if it looks like you can climb it, you usually can, with gear, money, potions and ingredients hidden all over game world, under bridges, on ledges outside broken windows, on islands a short swim away. There’s always something to find and if a place looks difficult to get to there’s probably something that makes it worth it.

No Rest for the Wicked

It’s also gorgeous, frankly. Moon Studios use light and shadow with masterful grace here, the rich fantasy world reminiscent of the Trine games if they were set after some magical apocalypse. At times No Rest for the Wicked is mesmerising, which makes it all the more frustrating that there’s only one chapter of it right now, and anyone who struggles through now might have a much easier time after six more months of patches. It wouldn’t hurt the performance, either, given that there’re still noticeable framerate issues after a few hotfixes.

Moon Studios has a game with massive, massive potential here. The loot is cool, the skill system, build crafting, and exploration are all compelling, and the dialogue and story feel like great appetisers for more to come. But right now it’s just not enough fun to play. Everything feels a bit too stingy, and combat is more punishing than rewarding with little balance between the two. Early access is designed to help games improve, and time will tell how Moon Studios changes and updates the game.

No Rest for the Wicked was developed by Moon Studios and published by Private Division, and is available via Steam Early Access for the special launch price of £31.49.