Another roguelike? Oh, go on then.
Truth be told, I’ve been nursing most roguelikes and roguelites recently. Not because I’ve got this massive unique stash of them or anything, but because I truly think the hype for them has died down, and now we’ve reached this unbelievably tedious medium where no creativity or life can sprout through anymore. Will UnExplored be any different? I don’t know, depends on whether you’ve already seen my score or not.
This is the latest title from Ludomotion, a Dutch studio whose most popular title is today’s dungeon-crawling effort right here, with the console version being published by Digerati. Digerati, as a publisher, are someone that I love as much as hate. You’ve got games like Frost, The Coma and The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human which, despite their shortcomings, manage to show perfection in small areas, but then there’s Slayaway Camp and Albert & Otto also underneath their belts, which sully the reputation. That being said, they do hit more than miss, but where does UnExplored lie?
You play as some random explorer, a dude with such ‘tude that to ignore his promising intentions would be rude. Your explorer hears talk about a Dungeon of Doom offering bounties of immeasurable value within its floors, but obviously, these bounties have only been accumulated due to the immense amount of dangerous beasts hiding inside its walls. Now you can reap the benefits… or you couldn’t, you’re not going to lose or gain anything from either option.
Now, you can tell right from the bat that UnExplored feels so bloody pleased with itself. From the second you boot it up, this uplifting song with what sounds like MIDI instruments starts to blast your eardrums, and you’ve yet to see hide nor hair of its noble nature. Nevertheless, you’ll be given a chance to create your character, and to be honest, I wish I wasn’t given a chance to.
Not that I hate character customization, of course I don’t, but my beef with UnExplored’s character creator is that there’s no need for it with its top-down perspective. None of your characters are going to look unique from one another, they’re all going to look like slightly orange cyclops monsters with annoying voices. No amount of fiddling with a few hair options is going to change that.
Anyway, we begin our delve into these caves with the usual Rogue-lite implementations. Procedural generation, perma-death, unexpected events happening, and infrequent merchants selling over-priced shite. Your main job will be delving as far as you can into these dungeons, until you can find an amulet/key that will unlock the door that you entered from.
All of these features and more feel like they’ve been muted in more ways than one, although I think it’s because of the formula UnExplored showcases. Ludomotion claim that UnExplored is “A roguelike within a rogue-lite”, and by that, they mean that it’s got a really awkward presentation. Credit where credits due, I appreciate the effort put into retaining a balancing act between two different difficulties of rogue-likes and their different designs, but the problem comes from how much Ludomotion are attempting to cram in from the get-go.
There is absolutely nothing within the game that wants to be your friend. Everything has a hostile edge towards it, and everything wants to see you suffer from the moment you step inside, and admittedly, that should be refreshing to see. The problem comes from how far UnExplored goes in the direction of treating the player with contempt, leading to an experience that tends to be more insulting than daunting.
The combat is quite frustrating to truly “master”. It’s all supposed to rely on timing and actual skill, as opposed to the usual rogue-like nature of relying on brute force and dodging bullet patterns, as seen in titles like NeuroVoider, The Binding of Issac, and Enter The Gungeon. It’s nice to see, but you will never be able to gain an advantage over enemies that possess a similar skill set to you. Against bugs and monsters with no opposable thumbs, and you’ll do fine, but as soon as invincible skeletons, or stone gargoyles come into the mix, and you’ll find yourself praying for help.
It’s quite obvious that to truly survive in these dungeons, you have to avoid at all times. Even then, this restrained nature of combat is hurt severely by the minimalistic formula UnExplored possesses, which affects the combat by having every attack and movement look like simple pacifist gameplay. It goes even further to infect every part of the game, from the boring visual aesthetics, to the lack of true information given to the player.
Let me put it like this: The world is full of signs and ways it attempts to “help” the player, and all of it is cryptic babble that only seeks to confound the player. There are multiple altars and “clues” that’ll lead you to believe that somewhere is this dark, damp pit, is a treasure worth risking your life over, but after extensive research, I’ve come to learn that there is nothing worth wasting your life with in these dungeons.
Your reward for all of this troublesome exploring? Gold! What can gold be used for? Temporary upgrades and nothing else. You’re able to slightly edit your loadout before a run into a new seed, but they don’t offer anything substantial– Just the usual stuff you’ll find endless amounts of in the dungeon. Get far enough in some of your runs, and you may unlock some items for future runs, but the randomization is so out-of-hand in these parts.
Look, I’m all for procedural generation, but there’s a point where it goes too far. Scattered around the floors of the dungeon are scrolls and potions that either provide benefits or heavily damage you without any warning. However, you won’t know this, as the potions true natures are hidden from the player until they actually use them. This, in theory, is fine, but what isn’t fine is how the nature, colour, and names of the potions and scrolls are randomized within every run, which is not fine.
To punish the player with a risky potion is fine, as long as it isn’t a complete run-ender. However, to punish the player with each new seed by changing the rules randomly? You’re being a prick then, and only serves to dissuade players from actively engaging in UnExplored’s environment, which is how I honestly feel. Why should I attempt to scavenge for loot when the balance of fairness has been tilted? A seemingly 80% favour towards the loot being negative doesn’t compel me to search every nook and cranny for this crap, especially when most of the chests contain stupid shitting gold.
Paired with this is an interface which is a bastard to navigate and handle with a controller. On PC, I’ve been told by friends that it’s much easier to actually execute decent runs within this dungeon, but on a console? Pfft, forget about it, my peasant brain cannae handle trying to scroll through several different slots and sections that don’t work half of the time anyway. Let me unequip this bloody ring, I know it’s not cursed, why do I have to enter another state in the main menu just to unequip something?
As briefly mentioned above, the visual appeal of UnExplored is lacking. You can make a game look stunning with a top-down perspective, but UnExplored doesn’t even attempt to house an interesting world within its walls, and instead pathetically assaults you with washed-out colours that make it look like you’re fighting inside an IKEA catalogue with a choice of what color of cream you want to buy your futon in.
UnExplored’s main game mode isn’t bad, but it doesn’t feel like it’s suited for a console. In fact, none of the game feels like it’s suited for console. It’s such an inaccessible adventure played through a blurry vision of dull proportions. It does feel like Ludomotion are trying to make an experience worth experiencing, but there’s this lack of integral flow and pacing that drags the whole game down into this mass of boredom. It’s as if the game will never care about what you do within its presence.
Finally, there are special runs, which manage to be slightly more cathartic than the disposition the main campaign faces. These special runs serve to be more gimmicky side quests than the main games blind run through nails, but manage to be even better by giving you fun and unique little stories, while also making sure you gain a fair challenge.
There’s the Ripley Run, which requires you to get to the bottom while also killing as many ugly bugs as possible. Armed with a meaty sword and a repeater bow, you’re jump down into this hives and go mental, spraying your crossbow any which way but loose, and it’s great! Granted, you might have to use your crap sword at some points, but damn, this type of gameplay is what UnExplored so desperately needs.
The Mithril Run tasks you with finding as much gold as possible within the dungeons, and The Dark Ritual tasks you with preventing the summoning a dark beast. Both of these runs are more in line with the main game, but Mithril and Ritual also serve as high-score runs, which is a neat little spin on this tepid formula. There’s not much else to comment on besides from that, as Mithril and The Dark Ritual both suffer from the same problems mentioned above.
In the end, I won’t say that UnExplored is an objectively bad game, but I will say that it is not a game suited for console players. Not because they’re thicker than pig waste, mind you, but because UnExplored demands too much from a finnicky control scheme and cryptic on-the-spot dilemmas that don’t serve to aid the player in the future of the run. If you’re desperately looking for a unique rogue-like experience, then I begrudgingly recommend this, but otherwise?
Just use the Klobb in Enter The Gungeon.
This review of UnExplored: Unlocked Edition was based on the Xbox One version of the game. A code was provided for review purposes.
A surprisingly barebones, unrewarding and hateful rogue-like title that doesn't have the right amount of polish applied, and lacks the edge in gameplay to truly one-up its contemporaries.
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