Worldless Impressions: Seeing Stars

All is dark. And then? An orb radiating sharp, clear light. Destruction, life, and an infinite field of stars follow in its wake. The newly revealed sky is tinged with blue on the left and glowing orange on the right. Streaks of amber shoot across the cosmos as orange punctures of light assault their blue counterparts. A battle is raging.

Amidst this chaos, the camera zooms into a single azure sphere which morphs before my eyes into an armed, though abstract, figure. This is my character and the cosmic stage is set. It’s an astounding opening for Worldless, one that not only sets the tone, but encapsulates the game’s wonder.

I should note here that I’m not done with Worldless, being about four worlds in — though, this linear-seeming description doesn’t quite works since I’ve touched on more levels. As I begin my journey, the indigo landscape’s geometric beauty is overshadowed by the conflict I can see waging above me in the sky. Orange hail repeatedly crashes against blue gleams.

The storytelling is immaculate despite having, up to this point, no dialogue. The emotional stakes feel high and my mission – though I don’t know yet what it is – seems urgent. The music somehow sounds cold. Its high-pitched notes strike sorrow into my heart, rather than hope, highening my sense of urgency. I feel compelled to platform through the conceptual world toward whatever I’ll find at the path’s end.

Without warning, I collide with a flame-lighted warrior and shout in surprise. It’s time to fight. Worldless’ combat is unique, clever, and alien. It’s turned-based in a sense. I have a time limit in which to take a real-time action (either with my sword or magic).

Following this is the defensive turn, where I can likewise choose the protect myself from a physical or supernatural attack- the trick is reading my opponent to figure out what’s coming. Horizontal flashes of light clue you into the fact that the enemy plans to attack with its corporal strength, a vertical light means magic is brewing. It’s conceptually wild — which I love — but it does take a while, not to mention a little patience, to get the hang of.

Absorption is by far the most interesting part of an already intriguing system. Instead of hacking at an opponent until its life force drains, I can try to fill a meter which triggers a sort of minigame in which I guess the correct button inputs. Getting the correct sequence allows me to end the fight by literally absorbing my foe, and growing more powerful – which manifests as a new skill.

My initial confrontation births two things. One, my mind erupts with a map, represented by a constellation. Two, I gain the ability to see a figure, neither blue nor orange, whose existence and knowledge seem to be far more vast than mine. It speaks to me with a mixture of curiosity and derision.

I stumbled across this dour character after every world, and each time, it revealed more about the universe’s bigger picture. It has me questioning my seemingly imperative objective. You know I like a game that gets inside my head and makes me confront all my assumptions, this one is a masterclass in the art.

And I can’t go further without praising in the highest possible language just how mind-blowingly gorgeous every level is. Hues of blue, red, green, and orange paint the world’s minimalistic, but recognizably distinct worlds. Some are decorated with jutting platforms, elegant spires, or ethereal platforms. Each contains fresh combat encounters, collectibles, and traversal mechanics leading to new abilities. In almost every level (and more than once in some) I audibly expressed my excitement at a new skill or unexpectedly delightful element of the landscape.

The only facet I’m unsure of is the fluidity of the gameplay. I often describe games with flowing, effortless platforming as being smooth as butter. Wordless has unfortunately taken this a little too much to heart, retaining the food’s slightly sticky nature. Running, button presses during combat, dashing, it’s all just a little sticky. This holds it back from feeling truly amazing, though it’s still a solid platformer.

I can’t fathom where this celestial adventure will end and can only dream of the fantastical worlds I’ll visit before the conclusion. In a year spilling over with eye-catching games, this title threatens to create an exquisite flood. Adding to that an ingenious combat system and captivating, near-silent narrative, and Worldless blazes to the top of this year’s best indies.

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