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Underworld Ascendant is a broken game. Though comparing it to the bigger releases of the year is unfair, the bar has been raised considerably over the past twenty years. The legendary Ultima series commands as much respect as Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, but it was dormant while other franchises evolved. Underworld Ascendant is barely a spiritual successor, and nowhere close to being a true sequel. It cannot even be called an Ultima game “in name only” as the franchise isn’t even included in the title. Frankly, it doesn’t deserve the Ultima moniker anyway.
While Divinity: Original Sin successfully revived a classic series, and Pillars of Eternity expertly brought the Infinity Engine into the modern era, Underworld Ascendant does nothing original or innovative. It misses the first requirement of video games that even Pong got right: the game has to work. Just as the ball never passed straight through the paddle, it should not be possible for players to walk through walls or get stuck inside them. Things like story, graphics, art design, and sound design can be subjective, but they can’t overcome a game so chock-full of technical problems. Exploration and combat are dependent on proper collision detection. The way the game world and its inhabitants look and sound means nothing without proper gravity and friction. Pretty visual effects are worthless if they kill the frame rate. Quests can only be completed if the proper objects spawn where, when, why, and how they’re supposed to. They certainly can’t be completed if the game repeatedly crashes, fails to save progress, and glitches in such a way that they have to be abandoned. Unfortunately, all of these flaws are present in abundance in Underworld Ascendant, and even more damning, the positive sides aren’t there either.
Underworld Ascendant may have been able to overcome some of its flaws if it had a compelling story, interesting characters, unique art design, inspiring music, or cutting edge graphics. The cracked foundation barely holds up a drab, gray building. Sadly, even if the developers replace the broken windows and apply a new coat of paint, there is nothing worth seeing inside it. Sometimes, it is better to let crumbled, forgotten structures stay in the past.
Metal Max is a fantastic RPG series that has been trapped in Japan for far too long. Basically a JRPG take on the post-apocalyptic RPG, it includes the wasteland type world you’d expect, but throws in dinosaur tanks and other absurdities. After so much time the series finally returned to the west, and sadly it crash-landed in spectacularly bad fashion. While it has some of the zaniness the previous games have, for the most part Metal Max Xeno presents an adventure that takes itself way too seriously, combat and difficulty balance that leave a lot to be desired, and characters that just aren’t very interesting. It’s unclear if the developers tried too hard to “westernize” the series, or just took a direction that didn’t work out, but all the magic that was present in the 3DS and DS entries is completely absent here, and most will continue going on not realizing what wonderful fun they’ve missed out on. Hopefully this dud won’t be the last we hear from the series.
Nazis armed to the teeth performing occult rituals to gain superhuman abilities sounds evil enough, but add to that control over eldritch horrors and you should have a slam dunk for Best Villains of the Year on your hands. The pen-and-paper version that serves as the basis for turn-based strategy RPG Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics proved that this can work. But lackluster AI, repetitive level design, and 100% more Cthulhu in the title than the actual game quickly signed, sealed, and delivered a swift death blow to this promising outing, unfortunately earning it a place as one of our worst RPGs of 2018.
by Joe Hanley, Mike Apps, and Pascal Tekaia