Skip to main content

Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Nightingale offers an intriguing Victorian survival fantasy with a Mary Poppins umbrella

Supercaligaslampfantasyfaerealmvisitingco-op

Little is known about Nightingale, the first game from studio Inflexion Games led by ex-Bioware boss Aaryn Flynn, but that's soon set to change.

First revealed at last year's Game Awards, the Victorian-era "gaslamp fantasy" survival game is now set for an early access release in the first half of next year.

For PC only and developed in Unreal Engine 5, it's a game aimed at co-op PvE gameplay with no plans for PvP. Really, though, it's the setting of this shared world that's most intriguing.

Nightingale: Realmwalker’s Journey TrailerWatch on YouTube

Nightingale is set in an alternate history Victorian period, with humans sharing their world with the Fae - magickal beings whose power has merged with science and industry. At the heart of the world is the city of Nightingale, the centre of magickal studies. Human adventurers, known as Realmwalkers, use Fae portals to travel to distant realms.

All of that crashed in 1889 when a deadly miasma called The Pale collapsed the portal network, leaving humanity lost across realms and desperate to survive.

That's where players come in, tasked with rebuilding the realm network and surviving, eventually seeking out the city of Nightingale itself.

Inflexion has absorbed plenty of Victorian culture in its vision, with factions based on both fictional and historical figures. That includes Ada Lovelace, the British mathematician who here heads up the game's science division, and Henry Hyde, a distillation of both Jekyll and Hyde.

Mystical structure in Nightingale
Player character and his estate

Outfits are all Victoriana, from sharp waistcoats, tophats and beards, to soldiers and utilitarian chimney sweep looks. And just to complete that Mary Poppins fantasy, players will gain a magical umbrella with which to glide over realms.

Outfits tie into Inflexion's desire for players to re-create their authentic selves - its character creator promises a variety of skin colour and ethnicity options, and those lovely outfits aren't locked by gender. "We want to make sure that players don't feel limited," said Flynn.

Then there's the magical twist. The Fae themselves, while not inherently evil, are powerful beings who use humans as their playthings. Often masked, they're up to nine feet tall and are mostly divided into Summer and Winter courts, while others roam as Ronin. The interplay between Fae and humans has plenty of potential, both in narrative and combat.

Combat will see players taking on apex creatures and Fae monstrosities: beasts inspired by gothic and Eldritch horrors, and Ent-like Eoten. Continuing the Lord of the Rings influence are the Bound, orc-like creatures formed in a twisted mimicry of humanity and bound to the Fae.

Players will fight in first person with both ranged and primitive melee weapons: axes, swords, guns, and magical weapons enchanted with abilities. Alternatively, time can be spent gathering resources, farming, and developing an estate before inviting friends to visit. All typical survival stuff.

Player characters in front of a tree creature
combat against Eldritch witch

The biggest twist - and the game's unique selling point, beyond the setting - is realm cards. Players will visit a variety of realms in order to collect resources, defeat enemies, and find new items. These are procedurally generated (within a formula) but change dynamically in real time.

With realm cards, players can alter the realms they visit to their benefit. That might be changing weather conditions, adding an abundance of a particular resource, or balancing combat. Realm cards can even be combined for novel experiments.

It's this mechanic that will set Nightingale apart from its peers, though we're yet to see much of the game in action beyond the trailer above.

Early access will include friends-only co-op, with six players per realm - though there are plans for expansion. Inflexion is also aiming for the game to be approachable as a single player experience, with realm cards able to assist solo players beyond gameplay balancing. There's a story too, with quests given by NPCs to steer players along. Don't expect Mass Effect levels of cinematic story though - this is a player-driven emergent narrative experience.

I also had to ask about the name (an excellent choice). It turns out Florence Nightingale doesn't feature in the game, but there is certainly a tangential connection in the lore. Just one more breadcrumb in this intriguing world.