Another ARPG styled game has rocked up onto the Xbox in an attempt to lighten your purses, this time around in the form of Undungeon, coming from developers Laughing Machines. Promising to be ”a gorgeous Action/RPG driven by intense real-time combat and an immensely rich science fiction story”, has Undungeon come to the party fashionably late? Let’s get our (Un)dungeon crawl on…
So, first port of call along the way is the much vaunted immensely rich sci-fi story. And to be fair, the game does deliver on a large and expansive narrative. In Undungeon several versions of the Earth that we know and love have been suddenly, and violently, merged together. This didn’t go well, as many things trying to occupy the same space at the same time tends to lead to things breaking; such was the case here, with those events being known as The Great Shift. This event seemingly broke space and time beyond repair, but luckily there is hope: the Herald. These almighty heroes, created by God, will join a secret organisation called Herald’s Undercover Bay (or H.U.B. for short) in an attempt to undo the chaos.
The story is suitably apocalyptic and overblown, as you can clearly see. And the way it is presented is done so in a fairly appealing way, with the Herald that we control finding out more about what has occurred by talking to various NPC’s as we go about our business. These conversations branch in a number of directions, and while not everything is pertinent to the quest, having a background is always interesting.
But onto the actual game itself and the graphical style on display is described by the developers as being a colourful pixel art aesthetic. This is absolutely bang on the money. All the backdrops and items in the landscape have an appealing hand-drawn look to them, and while the backdrops do look nice, it’s the enemies and the Herald himself that look great. The way that the animation of the various enemies have been put together makes watching Undungeon unfold to be a real pleasure, and when you factor in the Herald and his many attacks, the way the game looks gets a big tick.
Add to this the crunching sound effects of the combat, the screeching of various creatures and the lovely music, and presentation wise at least, we have nothing to pick fault with.
The way the maps are set up is also interesting. It’s pretty much a blank canvas that you explore; doing so fills out points of interest, usually on your way to somewhere else. It sounds odd (and it is, honestly), but by spawning into a new dimension and heading to a visible destination, more destinations become available to you. You can then explore those at your leisure.
The good things continue with the upgrade system; something that is vital to any good ARPG that is looking to keep us playing. In games like Diablo or their type, it’s the quest for loot that keeps you grinding away, and here the same systems come into play, albeit with a small twist. You see, in those other ARPGs it’s all about the gear you find: a new hat, some boots and away you go. With the Herald, things are a little different, and he likes to improve himself from the inside out, so to speak.
Yes, in Undungeon, the Herald can find and equip new internal organs. This isn’t as grisly as you might think, as each new organ and gland that you equip can improve your Herald in a particular way. And I use the word “your” advisedly: the way that you build your Herald can change depending on your playstyle. Do you want a ranged fighter, a melee fighting tank, a Herald that relies on damage over time attacks or that uses debuffs to make things easier? Well, whatever your preference, you can build your Herald into that style. This level of customisation is very welcome, and makes for a more engaging experience.
Sadly, the actual combat is a bit more of an issue. As you start out, your Herald is fairly weedy, with only a short ranged Wolverine-like claw slash to his name, but you will come up against enemies, even in the early game, that will destroy you. A good example was in the first dimension I explored, where I was asked to rescue some hunters. I fought my way to them, killing all the creatures in my path, but when I tried to lead them out of the level, not only had all the enemies respawned behind me, they had brought extra tough enemies. As a result, the hunters died in short order, and then shortly afterwards so did I, due to a sudden spike in difficulty.
This pattern continues, and forces you to grind and grind again in an attempt to stay competitive; it’s here where the issue arises. You see, despite the plethora of options, the actual combat just isn’t very much fun, and this is a major stumbling block for Undungeon. It’s like the developers tried to shoehorn in as many ideas as they could, especially in regards combat and exploration, but didn’t ever manage to pull any of it off to a really high standard.
I can see, and applaud, the scope and vision, but Undungeon is ultimately let down by failing to be what we want a game to be – fun.
You can pick up Undungeon from the Xbox Store