Underworld Ascendant E3 Impression 2
Disclaimer: I backed this game on Kickstarter.
I’ve been avoiding media on this game so I could see how it would turn out as a finished product. Moreover, what little I saw up until this point looked rough and I didn’t want it predisposing me to a bad impression based on an unfinished game. That said, it’s clear Underworld Ascendant needs more time in the oven.
The focus in Underworld Ascendant is on letting you play the game your way. Other Side Entertainment doesn’t do classes in this game, instead letting you build your character organically and allowing you come up with your own solutions for puzzles and challenging situations. One of the team’s guiding design focuses is that if something should work in the real world, it should work in the game.
In our 15-minute demo, we had to recover a memory sphere thing from a dungeon. The point was to get in, get the item, and get out. We had many tools to do the job: a bow with normal arrows and exploding arrows, a nice sword, and a magic wand that could enslave monsters.
The first thing I remember encountering was a locked door. This door was made of wood. Nearby, I saw a big brazier with burning coals. Excited about being able to burn some stuff, I slowly dragged the brazier across the room and set a wooden box on top of it, next to the door. I don’t know why I enjoyed this so much, but I laughed as the box caught on fire and ignited the door, which fell to pieces, allowing me into the room. I felt very smart.
Moving on, I encountered a far-away chest surrounded by water. The chest was too high to climb to from the water, but there was a rope hanging nearby that I could use to Tarzan swing over to the chest. It totally worked: I got my treasure and then struggled for a while with climbing back onto the rope.
I next entered a room with no exit, but with a giant lever in the middle. Expecting a trap, I reluctantly went ahead and flipped the lever and… nothing happened. I couldn’t actually tell if it did anything. But upon looking closely at the wall, I saw a pipe running from the lever. I followed it along the wall and noticed it went up to a higher area I had just came from. So I backtracked, and when I got there I saw a hidden door had open. This organic, logical world design was my favorite part of the demo. I hope they keep this level of detail into the later parts of the game.
Continuing down, I came across skeletons. Unlike me and my demonstrated door-burning genius, they were not very smart. I hammered on them with my sword for a while without much effect. A developer took pity on me and explained holding down the sword attack button would perform a heavy attack. That worked much better and the skeletons went down in 1-2 hits.
In theory this is where I would start coming up with creative ways to kill the skeletons, but, unfortunately, the enemy AI at this point was rather brain dead. The developers acknowledged this. They’ve recently finished making most of the game and are now going back to work on the combat system, start squashing bugs, and adding polish. Having no qualms about taking advantage of the situation, I quickly dispatched the rest of the skeletons in two hits and continued my quest for the memory sphere.
That’s when I found a room full of traps: giant rotating saws that I had to time to move between, pits filled with spikes that instantly killed me, and more rope swinging. After three or four deaths down there, I finally came through to the other side… and found the whole thing was basically a short cut to avoid the skeletons I had already killed. Oh well. At least I knew the memory sphere wasn’t down there.
I pushed onward into the rooms the skeletons were guarding. I had to burn another door and learned that it’s a bit intimidating to watch a skeleton punching his way through a burning door to come kill you. Undeterred, I killed many more skeletons and searched several rooms until the memory sphere was safely in my hands.
Taking my prize, the disembodied narrator (who is apparently named Cabirus) told me I could take a portal to leave this area and end the mission. There was only one problem. The area with the skeletons and the memory sphere was kind of at the bottom of a cliff I sort of just jumped down. And the portal, of course, was back up where I came from. I tried to navigate some paths but none of them quite got me there. So I found a platform with some boxes scattered at its foot and began to try to play Jenga to build some stairs up. It turns out that I apparently suck at Jenga. Alas, that’s when time ran out on my demo and I had to abandon my quest. So close!
All in all the game feels like it has a huge potential for being a really fun sandbox of puzzle solving and playing with your enemies and the environment. The lack of a real combat system and troubling navigating, however, is really troubling. All games go through this phase, so it’s just too early to judge. We’ll have to see what Underworld Ascension looks like when Other Side Entertainment decides it’s ready for release.