Underworld Ascendant E3 Impression
OtherSide Entertainment and 505 Games, who first teamed up to bring Underworld Ascendant to gamers everywhere, have now also teamed up to bring a hands-on demo quest to E3. Set in the same universe as its predecessors two decades ago, the game has players take on the persona of the Avatar, a normal human who is magically transported into the Stygian Abyss to face its hordes of monstrosities.
After a brief overview given by Joe Fielder, Ascendant‘s writer and game director, I immediately started in on a mission to enter the Ruins of Gwern in order to retrieve the Memora located there, a magical artifact containing a physically captured memory. Guarded by several skeletons, a Ripper or two, as well as a floating ghoul invulnerable to physical damage, it was left completely up to me to work out the game’s controls and capture the artifact in whatever way I saw fit.
This is what the Underworld games pride themselves on, and Ascendant is no exception. Providing players with the freedom to accomplish quests and objectives in multiple ways, encouraging — even rewarding — creativity has been the series’ cornerstone. This time, too, it is possible to manipulate the environment, for example using objects to jam traps, or breaking down doors to gain access, fully aware of the trade-off of creating noise that could draw foes to your position.
Instead, I chose a rather more straightforward way, relying on long-range bow shots to thin the herds of undead, and finishing off their dregs with up-close-and-personal sword strikes. Sadly, at this stage of development the sword combat still felt pretty inconsistent; causing damage or missing entirely seemed like a random gamble, unrelated to character and enemy positioning, and there was just no satisfying “oomph” even when a hit connected. I was, on the other hand, pleasantly surprised how quickly I picked up the controls during the first few empty tunnels designed to learn the mechanics, and how natural they felt on the keyboard and mouse for someone who has been weaned on a steady diet of console gaming for practically forever.
I don’t think I was the first one of our group to snag the Memora, but I still did feel rather proud of myself for doing so without a single death along the way. Making my way back to the newly-opened portal to exit the dungeon, on the other hand, proved a more difficult challenge. In the end, it was because I missed a rope hanging in a critical (and may I add dark) corner that served as the sole means back up to the portal’s ledge. Probably a mistake I can forgive myself for. Were I a PC gamer, Underworld Ascendant would be a game I could see myself looking forward to, not necessarily for its liberating gameplay, but for making what could easily be a title with intimidating pedigree feel extremely accessible and easy to get into.