I’ve always been a fan of roguelikes. And when I say roguelikes, I don’t mean some deck builder or platormer with randomised levels or any of those fast paced colour flashing fighters a la Hades. I mean Nethack, ADOM, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup; games where you move a character @ in a dungeon made of #, fighting monster presented by letters and take your time deciding your next turn; games that look and play like, well, original Rogue.
Of course these days “roguelike” or sometimes “roguelite” (and frankly, I don’t really know what the difference is) may refer to any kind of game that has procedurally generated levels and implements permadeath. While I don’t harangue against this redefinition, I feel those are more gameplay mechanics than a genre of its own. But I digress.
While Spelunky was probably the first game where the term was used in its contemporary meaning, if one were to imagine what the missing link between the classic and new roguelikes could really look like, Unexplored comes pretty close. Like its ancestors, Unexplored is a top down hack and slash dungeon crawler where you descend the caves full of dangers to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor (Yup, even the goal is the same as in Nethack). Compared to the myriad of statistics and obscure key commands, things have been streamlined somewhat. The controls are WASD-keys and the mouse and the game progresses in real time, not in turns. When creating your hero, there are no character classes or different races to choose from. Your only personal stats are hitpoints and strength and even those are always the same in the beginning.
The graphics are sparse but functional and they work generally very well. Although, I do keep forgetting those green blobs are apparently some kind of flammable foliage, something that would be good to keep in mind when playing around with a torch and flasks of oil. Dungeon maps are interesting despite being algorithmically generated, levels are branching, have their distinct identity, and there’s quite a lot of variation to them. Puzzles are also pretty decent to be procedurally generated, and some might be solved only by hints found from deeper levels. While the “circular” design of dungeons is supposed to minimise wandering back and forth within a level, I find myself doing that quite a bit.
Combat is always risky, and usually smartest to avoid if possible, since slaying monsters does not give you any experience points. You might still want to take the risk just to acquire a helmet and a spear from a wandering frog warrior. The combat is quite unique in a way that, again, feels like a marriage between turn-based combat of the yore and fast paced contemporary sword slashing. The adventurer can wield a weapon in each hand, and use the left and right mouse buttons to swing, thrust, throw or parry, depending on the weapon. Weapons have cooldown time, during which the player is more vulnerable to counter attacks. Combining weapons allows for different fighting styles, requiring both dexterity and tactics. Most enemies won’t run headlong to a sword pointed at them, so unless you’re attacked from multiple sides or outnumbered, the opponents are often circling each other carefully, waiting for an opening.
Gameplay itself is rather tranquil, emphasising exploration, puzzles and managing your gear. This can be deceiving, as jumping to some action with a previously encountered enemy may result in all too sudden death. This means of course, starting from scratch. You can use the gold gathered to buy some supplies for the next run, but this usually gives you very little advantage. Despite the papercraft looks and the cute chuckles by your cyclop hero the game is unforgiving, as a true roguelike should.
Unexplored is a really well thought and well executed small gem that I can imagine appealing to both fans of classic roguelikes and the new more action oriented ones. Unexplored 2 is now in early access in Epic Store and due to release this year. Waiting for that I can warmly recommend checking out the original first.
Platforms: Windows, macOS, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Released: February 2017
Genres: roguelike, roguelite, dungeon-crawl, adventure
Screenshots of Nethack from Wikipedia. (https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/NetHack)
Screenshot of Unexplored taken by the author.
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