Dustborn took me on a roadtrip where I fought with words, played Guitar Hero-like rhythm games, and made Telltale-style choices

(Image credit: Spotlight by Quantic Dream)

Putting language at the center of a politically charged story feels even more powerful in a world so littered with misinformation and fake news. In Dustborn, its comic book-inspired visuals replace iconic pops of 'pow' and 'wham' with actions like 'block' or 'push', with our hero Pax capable of wielding words as both offensive and defensive powers. Against a backdrop of an alt-history dystopian 'Divided States of America' where cultists are rife, the authoritarian Justice controls everything, and cops are literal robots, giving words such physical power makes for a very intriguing premise. 

I'll admit, I've been quietly intrigued to play Dustborn since it was first revealed in 2020 and I spent some time speaking to developer Red Threads about it. Its crisp, clean art style is immediately eye-catching, and that's only heightened by its incredibly diverse ragtag crew of rebel heroes. Pax and her adopted family are working undercover as an on-tour band, but are actually working to deliver a secret package across the country. 

What that means in terms of Dustborn's gameplay offering is that it's a delightful mix of road-trip banter, Guitar Hero-esque rhythm games as your band takes to the stage, and plenty of exploration and decision-making. Because words are at the heart of the narrative, so much of how the story plays out is down to how to choose to talk to someone or influence them, but also what you decide to do in a particular moment. 

Diverting decisions 


(Image credit: Spotlight by Quantic Dream)

Like so many other games including Telltale's offerings, Life is Strange, and anything from Quantic Dream (who appropriately is the publisher of Dustborn), decisions you make that impact the branching narrative will pop up with a warning in the top right corner of your screen. A new comic panel will be added to your ongoing tale, detailing exactly what choice you made and how that compares to other players. Every encounter in my two hours or so spent in the game during this preview felt like it had so many potential outcomes.

That's partly down to how you can interact with your crew. Of course, you can talk through your thoughts and the situation at hand, but you can also ask them to help or use their own powers and abilities. Theo's the tech guy, while Sai has super strength. Noam's an empath and can sense other people who have powers - also known as Anomals in Dustborn - and Ziggy's capable of pulsing from point A to B, even through walls. How to utilize them is up to you, which suddenly opens a whole host of routes for each situation to take. Even a simple task like lighting a fire seemed like a wonderfully open task, and that only became more apparent the longer I played. Not doing certain things even meant that some crewmembers were missing for an entire mission - something which I'd want to avoid on a second (or third) playthrough. 

Words are mightier than


(Image credit: Spotlight by Quantic Dream)

Pax herself can use her word powers in conversation and in combat. While the trigger words weren't an option for every chat and chinwag, presumably because they're potentially so manipulative, I did have the option to use them when a stranger suddenly pulled a gun on the group. Although it felt odd at first, dialogue options always have to be chosen by holding down A, while a single press would let me know what Pax was thinking about that particular conversational route or power use, and what it could potentially lead to. It gives a nice insight into Pax's mind without having constant inner dialogue interrupting the flow. 

The words developer Red Thread has chosen are interesting too. Push is quite literally an option for pushing enemies away in combat, and Block protects you and your crew. Discord turns enemies against each other, and Hoax can even make them think they're on fire. Used in conversation, Block could freeze a person in place as a distraction - particularly handy for that chap with the gun. 

Her powers can also be expanded to use new words too. You've got a little robot pal in the form of a sort of handheld game console called your ME-EM, which is capable of seeing echoes in the world. Collect enough and you can use them to learn a new word power, expanding Pax's conversational and combat abilities. 



(Image credit: Spotlight by Quantic Dream)

I'll admit I was surprised by the fluidity of the combat.

I'll admit I was surprised by the fluidity of the combat. Pax's power can only be accessed when your Special Power gauge has filled up, so otherwise you're limited to your upgradable bat. It can be thrown like a boomerang, or swung about recklessly. You can shift your aim to target any encroaching enemy, which ensures that I always felt in control even in the middle of a small army of robots. Plus, the Special Power gauge fills fast, so if I felt overwhelmed, using Push could clear me more space to swing. Your crew gets involved too, which is cool when that involves Ziggy zipping around you to take out enemies or someone else using their powers to manifest visions that act like Elden Ring summons. Dustborn is as confident in its combat as in its conversations, which is a delightful surprise. 

Dustborn is one of those games that I've not stopped thinking about since I finished the preview. It's mix of gameplay styles and intriguing narrative makes me hungry for more. Thankfully, it's coming out on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC on August 20. 

See what other releases are on the horizon with our roundup of new games for 2024 and beyond. 

Sam Loveridge
Global Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Sam Loveridge is the Global Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar, and joined the team in August 2017. Sam came to GamesRadar after working at TrustedReviews, Digital Spy, and Fandom, following the completion of an MA in Journalism. In her time, she's also had appearances on The Guardian, BBC, and more. Her experience has seen her cover console and PC games, along with gaming hardware, for a decade, and for GamesRadar, she's in charge of the site's overall direction, managing the team, and making sure it's the best it can be. Her gaming passions lie with weird simulation games, big open-world RPGs, and beautifully crafted indies. She plays across all platforms, and specializes in titles like Pokemon, Assassin's Creed, The Sims, and more. Basically, she loves all games that aren't sports or fighting titles! In her spare time, Sam likes to live like Stardew Valley by cooking and baking, growing vegetables, and enjoying life in the countryside.