Coming from developers Ludomotion is a new entry in the roguelite genre – UnExplored: Unlocked Edition. Boasting an almost infinite variety of dungeons to explore, with randomly generated levels created using some mysterious new tech, and a difficulty level that promises to make even the most hardened dungeon crawlers cry, is the world ready for this game?
First impressions are that the menus you initially come across are sparse, but functional. No time has been wasted here on tweaking the menu screens; they give you the options that you need and very little else. Basically, you choose the difficulty that you want to attempt (and I have no shame in saying that after numerous failed runs, I was strongly tempted to move the difficulty from “challenging” to “casual”), decide upon the type of run that you want to try, be it the normal game or one of the three bundled DLC game modes, and that’s about it.
You can tweak the appearance and name of your character, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect on the way the game plays. For the record, Rodney the 24th is currently in play, with the previous 23 all having met their ends at various points in the Dungeon of Doom. I mean, the clue is there in the name of the place, isn’t it? You’re not going to pop down there with a packed lunch for a lovely day out…
Anyway, once you’ve made your guy to your satisfaction, it’s time to choose your role. As a default, Adventurer and Rogue are unlocked, and even though there are many other classes to choose from, you have to perform certain feats in the Dungeon to unlock them. As an example, if you want to be an archer, you have to collect 48 arrows in a single run, either from the corpses of your foes or just from finding them lying on the ground. This is not as easy as it sounds, as staying alive long enough to do this is the trick. But forgive me for I’m getting ahead of myself, and once you have chosen your class, you can talk to an old man in the pub prior to setting out, spending some of your hard earned gold buying him a drink in return for a hint about the Dungeon. If you are really lucky, he’ll even give you some equipment to take. Once you are ready and your loins are sufficiently girded, you can set off.
The purpose of exploring this Dungeon is to find the Amulet of Yendor, with the Dungeon slamming shut until you bring back said amulet with you. Of course, this is buried deep within, and apparently guarded by a dragon, so it isn’t going to be a walk in the park. The Dungeon itself is an ever changing beast, but it’s a testament to this “brand new tech” that has been utilised, that the levels seem like they have been designed and planned by an actual person, not strung together from bits of code. The layouts seem to flow nicely, with a clear path and many side bits to explore as you go looking for chests with loot in. Of course, running straight for the stairs will get you through the levels faster, but the danger is that when you get to the lower levels, the gear you’re rocking isn’t up to the job. Risk/reward has rarely felt more real than in UnExplored, tiptoeing through the levels, hoping that the next door has a chest and not a roomful of baddies, tension oozing out of every pore of your body as you navigate the darkened reaches. Should you light a torch so that you can see, or is having two pointy weapons better?
The controls are fluid, combining a twin stick shooter style approach with a melee weapon reach, unless you opt for a bow. The left stick moves and the right stick aims, as you’d expect, with the triggers relating to the weapons, either swinging or throwing, depending on what’s equipped. If you only equip one weapon, you can potentially use heavier weapons than if you were using them one handed. I say potentially because even using both hands, my rogue couldn’t swing an axe with any degree of authority, leaving me in a splattered mess on the floor. Yes, the controls are fluid and easy to use, but the combat is brutal and unforgiving. One mistimed swing can leave you in a world of hurt, as there is a brief cooldown before you can swing the sword again. Brief may not be the best word to use here though as when you are surrounded by rats or bats or spiders, the cooldown seems to last about a week and a half. Slow, steady, strategic thinking is your friend here; rushing in half cocked will just see you at the ‘game over’ screen, a much chastened individual.
Graphically and UnExplored: Unlocked Edition on Xbox One is charming, with a retro look that despite being old fashioned manages to portray the world and the Dungeon that you find yourself in. The snowy levels actually feel cold, the lush jungles seem to be living, breathing spaces, and even though the enemies are simplistic to look at, the way they move breathes life into them. The main character does look a bit weird, with his one good eye blinking away, but should you find a helmet to wear then all seems better. The sound is all fine too – grunts, sword swishes and animal cries of pain as you introduce the pointy end of a sword to their anatomy are all present and correct.
The Unlocked Edition that we are seeing on Xbox One includes three different DLC packs that tweak the way the game works. The first, Mithril Run, sees you exploring a Dwarven mine, with the sole objective of coming out on the other side, staggering under the weight of the loot you’ve accumulated. The second, Ripley Run, is based on Aliens by the sound of the intro, and requires you to march through the levels, eradicating Creeps. The objective is to kill as many as possible before you succumb to the onslaught. Lastly, and the Dark Ritual requires you stop The Great Old One from being reborn, taking out the people trying to summon him. The twist is that the Great Old One is weak to one type of magic, so you need to research as you run to find out which magic it is. These are great enhancements to the base game, requiring you to switch up your play style and allowing the chance to try new things.
UnExplored: Unlocked Edition is a great little roguelite game. I struggle with this genre as a rule, as I like to see improvements in my character, not just losing everything bar gold when I die, but this has partially changed my mind. There’s something about it, a hook that keeps me going back for just one more go, and the next thing I know it’s midnight. The game is challenging, almost blisteringly so, but that seems to be the thing that drags you back in; you just know that if you could be a bit more careful, you’d have got past that tricky bit and all could be well. Of course, the next run is in a completely different dungeon, so all the learning goes out of the window and you have to begin again, relying on your nerves to see you through, but I’ve had a lot of fun with UnExplored, and if you give it a chance, I think you will too.