Dustborn preview: A rhythm-action, combat game where choices actually matter?

Dustborn looks very promising, giving the player control over its well-written story.
Red Thread Games / Quantic Dream

Dustborn immediately throws you into the future. You and your ragtag crew enter a warehouse only to see a woman trapped under a truck after the robots helping her went haywire. While you are a team, it’s clear that you’re in charge, and you delegate tasks depending on each person’s strengths. It’s an unassuming opening to a demo, but one that introduces you to the characters, their relationships, and their roles. That’s what Dustborn is all about: the characters, and the stories that you tell through them.

Speaking to the protagonist Pax’s voice actor, Dominique Tipper, made me realize that your choices don’t just affect the story but the characters themselves. “I don't feel that Pax is like me,” Tipper explained, “but also I guess it depends what version of her you play, because I am definitely one of her, but not all of them.” 

Dustborn screenshot showing a conversation with Abuela Annie
Your choices don't just affect the story but the characters themselves. / Red Thread Games / Quantic Dream

The demo I played was a vertical slice of gameplay including a scene between the members of Pax’s family, where you often choose whether to speak up or not. Like the Telltale games, you will be notified when you make an important decision, and later, the effect that it had on the story and characters. “I just found the concept of the game so sick,” Tipper adds. “I have never really heard of a game where it's as emotional as this one. It evolves around how you speak to people, the power of your voice, and meditation on fascism, those systems out in the world and what they do to people.”

I only played a small section of the game and so the paths couldn’t branch too far. However, if I read the prompts on the screen correctly, even within that one scene the decisions changed which characters would be included in the story going forward. These changes then affect the relationships that people have with each other, and how they act and react. This is even introduced through the performances that each actor gave. “Each path shows a slightly different aspect to her,” Tipper says, “so it was nice to tailor the performance to the different paths you take.”

Dustborn weaponized word
Weaponized word in Dustborn. / Red Thread Games / Quantic Dream

There were two other aspects to the gameplay that I had the chance to check out. Pax and her team are ostensibly part of a band, and in the scene I played, have to play a song to prove their credentials. I love rhythm games but I am also partially deaf. This means I rely heavily on visual prompts for the timing. I found the rhythm section exceptionally difficult, either because the window to hit a note is too small, or because it doesn’t quite line up with what’s on the screen. These are things that can be fixed easily, and I’m sure more refinement will go into it before the final product.

The final section I played featured third-person combat. There are lots of good ideas here, including a bat you can throw and recall for far-away targets and the way the camera slows down when you score a knockout. It could be the way the demo was set up, where it assumes I understood what my friends' skills do and how to control them, but I found it to be confusing. However, I also found the melee attacks to be clunky. I’m not sure if there is a lock on – I didn’t find it – but that would be greatly appreciated as without it you don’t always hit the intended target. There was also a section where I went up to bat, but it was all trial and error without any clear cue. This is the part of the gameplay that requires the most work, but there is a strong foundation here, and the possibility that it is improved by release.

Dustborn robot pals
Robot pals. / Red Thread Games / Quantic Dream

Dustborn features a number of promising attributes, from the player’s control over the story, to the wide variety of gameplay elements. While I only spent a short time with each character the writing felt strong, and you could see the focus on fully developing them and their relationships with each other. When it comes to the action gameplay elements these still require some refining, but I remain hopeful that it could come together before launch.

Dustborn will be released on August 20, 2024, for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.

Published |Modified
Georgina Young


Georgina Young is a Gaming Writer for GLHF. They have been writing about video games for around 10 years and are seen as one of the leading experts on the PlayStation Vita. They are also a part of the Pokémon community, involved in speedrunning, challenge runs, and the competitive scene. Aside from English, they also speak and translate from Japanese, German and French. Their favorite games are Pokémon Heart Gold, Majora’s Mask, Shovel Knight, Virtue’s Last Reward and Streets of Rage. They often write about 2D platformers, JRPGs, visual novels, and Otome. In writing about the PlayStation Vita, they have contributed articles to books about the console including Vita Means Life, and A Handheld History. They have also written for the online publications IGN, TechRadar, Space.com, GamesRadar+, NME, Rock Paper Shotgun, GAMINGbible, Pocket Tactics, Metro, news.com.au and Gayming Magazine. They have written in print for Switch Player Magazine, and PLAY Magazine. Previously a News Writer at GamesRadar, NME and GAMINGbible, they currently write on behalf of GLHF for The Sun, USA Today FTW, and Sports Illustrated. You can find their previous work by visiting Georgina Young’s MuckRack profile. Email: georgina.young@glhf.gg