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Underworld Ascendant

Posted by GG Goblin On November - 29 - 2018

Heading out into the Underworld.

 
Say the name Ultima Underworld and people’s ears prick up. The 1992 action RPG holds a place in PC gaming history as a trailblazer that led the way for a huge number of games since. So of course, when a KickStarter campaign launches for a game that is not only being made by a team that includes designers that worked on Ultima Underworld, but even suggests that it be the spiritual successor to that game, well, PC gamers are going to get very excited. Otherside Entertainment were the development team that made these bold claims, succeeding in their KickStarter. Then, after signing on 505 Games as publishers, they launched Underworld Ascendant. It may have been an exciting time for those who backed the KickStarter, or even those who were just eagerly waiting for Underworld Ascendant to launch, but the reality is that living up to those bold claims may be a bit of a problem for the game.

 
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Underworld Ascendant casts the player as your average, everyday Chosen One and tasks them with saving the world. The story is not exactly new, but acts as a vehicle for sending the player into a variety of different dungeons from a hub world with the overall goal of finding a bunch of keys. Not particularly inspiring, but it is the strange design choices and unfinished nature of the game that will really disappoint the players. This is not an Early Access title, so the usual good will of giving the developer time to fix any problems doesn’t really apply. However, bugs can be fixed. So let’s start with the design of the game.

 
Underworld Ascendant doesn’t have a class system when creating a character. Instead it follows a relatively modern approach to allow players to customise their character as suits their playstyle. In the game, this means different skill trees that represent warrior, mage and thief skills, with the player given the chance to pick and choose which skills they wants in which tree to create a character that will play exactly how they wish, be it as a spell-flinging shadow stalker, or a healing warrior.

 
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Playing the game, players will start off in the hub area, where they will pick up a quest from the notice board. Each of the seven large levels will have a couple of main quests to follow. There are three factions in the game, all of which must be brought together for the final show down, and these factions will also offer quests on the board. In a strange choice, the game limits the player to only taking one quest at a time, then offering a portal through to the correct level. Players will have to do whatever they need to complete that quest, then head back to the hub to pick up another. The problem with this is that it means constantly having to go back to the same level over and over for the different quests. Given that the majority of quests are simple fetch quests, this can get old quite quickly.

 
The major systems in the game also feel as though they have strange decisions behind them. The movement, for example, is very ponderous, as if walking through water, and makes any sort of precision difficult and frustrating. The magic system works by having the player combine runes to create spells, with combinations either made by the player themselves or found hidden in the dungeons. While the fixed spells work quite well, the home made spells are made more complex by a poor labelling system, leaving the player having to commit spells to their own memory. Melee combat works, but feels clunky. Ranged combat is better, and mostly works fine when it is not being assailed by bugs and glitches. The stealth side of the game, which comes from the Thief skill tree, is also a bit hit and miss, with it just not always working. Then the save system, which casts the player back to the start of the level each time, is just irritating.

 
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On the plus side, there is a nice amount of interaction for the player, with some great effects being able to set things on fire, for example. When combined with the different approaches available depending on the character build, this gives players quite a lot of freedom to solve puzzles and proceed how they see fit. Sneak around, throw spells or swing an axe, or simply set fire to everything. It can be pretty cool.

 
So yeah, some strange decisions that would make the game a little different, but not necessarily bad. However, the bugs and glitches that can be found throughout the game really do make it very difficult to see how good the game could be once it is actually finished. Games crashes or real game breaking bugs like getting stuck in the environment are one thing, and I am sure they will be quickly fixed. But it is almost like every little aspect of the game has some bug associated to it. Traps disappearing, walls not joining properly, arrows flying straight through the enemy, enemies getting stuck, sound loops, these are all little things that will need fixing, but there are so many that I imagine it will take the developers quite some time. It doesn’t give a good impression of a game that was supposed to be finished. Design choices are one thing, but this many bugs really are another.

 
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Underworld Ascendant, by design, is not the game that players were expecting. This much is obvious. However, given some time and plenty of patching, and this could be an interesting first-person action RPG. Without a complete overhaul, it will never reach the dizzy heights that Ultima Underworld reached, but it is worth watching the game to see how far the developers get with it. Right now, Underworld Ascendant has potential but is a long way from being a finished product.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 



 

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