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Unexplored

Score: 49%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Ludomotion
Developer: Ludomotion
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Roguelike/ Adventure/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Unexplored features an abstracted, minimalist style, which reminds me of Flow or similar artsy games. However, rather than being a simple game that works well with this art style, it merely leads to additional frustration and confusion, leaving the player to either have to watch the description box while trying to live through the real-time fight at hand if they want to know what they're fighting, or wait for a message at the end of the fight that says something to the effect of "You've killed the goblin" (a stack of a couple of circles with some triangles stacked on top) or "You were killed by a wolf" (some slightly overlapped triangles with one "head" triangle that has an eye to differentiate it). Ah, yes, the eye. The eye is the thing that lets you know which way your character and enemies are facing. And, yes, everything in the game has only one eye.

As for the sounds, there is a bass-heavy, repetitious score that is catchy enough to get stuck in your head, but unexciting and annoying enough that you might wish you had "Never Gonna Give You Up" or "The Song that Never Ends" stuck in your head, instead. As a note, I found the game more enjoyable when I muted the music and played some other dungeon-crawling music in the background, such as something from Youtube or dungeon-crawling ambiance, courtesy of the Tabletop Audio website.

There are sound effects for doors opening, attacks being made, opening barrels and similar actions. These sounds work as audible feedback that something has occurred, but they're not what I would call "realistic." That's not a complaint, necessarily, but I can't say that the sound effects do a good job of reinforcing the gameplay, when the creak of opening a barrel sounds like rubbing a balloon. There are sounds. They aren't so wildly off-base that you're taken aback and they play at the correct time. The best aspect of the sound effects (I guess) is that when something is making sounds outside of the area you've explored, you will see words indicating the source of the sounds. A mouse might be indicated by a trail of "squeak" and a goblin walking by might show a series of "tick"s as he walks past. This is a cool effect and a nice touch.

Still, when it comes to the graphics and sound in Unexplored, my initial impression remains mostly unchanged after multiple forays into the depths: It looks like they didn't try. Every time I kill (or am killed by) a new creature and it reveals what the creature is, I feel like I'm playing a tabletop game being run by a small child, as they hold up some abstract image that vaguely looks like an animal and says, "Okay, pretend this is a FOX!" Um, okay...


Gameplay:

Your goal in Unexplored is to go to the lowest level of the dungeon, find the dragon who has the relic you need, and then escape the dungeon. This sounds straightforward(ish), but there are multiple paths down to lower levels and you can fall off of a platform and land in a lower level (which, occasionally, might be a patch of lava). There are a wide variety of creatures to kill or avoid, traps to avoid or live through, and puzzles to solve, along with a crafting system and the ability to pick locks and steal items from enemies. There's a good amount of complexity hidden beneath the artsy graphical style.

While it's true that there are some interesting elements used in the making of this game, such as cyclic dungeon generation and "fog of war" elements that render everything from the environment, to the effects of potions and magic items, as unknown and unexplored until you actually identify them, these features failed to improve the game experience, in my opinion, taking a backseat to the nearly unbearable frustration caused by the game being absolutely against you in the worst of ways. Consume a potion and you now know what it does, but you're down one of those potions. Randomly quaffing questionable liquids might sound like a risky proposition, but when you find yourself out of Health potions and rations, it might be favorable to entering that next room filled with rats.

I have used a timed switch to get into a room to go grab something off of a shelf, only to find myself trapped in the room. My next run through, I tried to push a chest onto the button to hold it down. Great idea! Way to think it through! Did it work? Of course not. It did, however, make it more difficult to get to the button at all. It wasn't until several playthroughs and different dungeon generations later that I encountered a Secret Door by bumping into it, so there may have been a secret door that let me out of that room after the timed switch locked me in, but there may not be. No way to find out now, as I didn't write down the seed number. Oh, I later moved an empty barrel on top of a different type of switch and it kept clicking, so maybe an empty barrel would work, while an empty treasure chest won't... because surely that makes sense.

I have also found the key to unlock a chest, to be rewarded with magical Leather Armor. Once I donned this armor, I discovered it was cursed. Specifically, it was Leather Armor of Gluttony +1. Cursed items can't be removed, so my character compulsively began munching his way through Health potions (even thought I didn't need to use them) and then started working through the rations. In desperation, I found an empty barrel and offloaded my remaining rations so I wouldn't use them without cause, then I set off to try to find something to remove the curse. It could be a scroll or a potion and, since I hadn't encountered one yet this time through, I wouldn't know what I was looking at until I tried it. Great. Retracing my steps, I found a fountain of liquid. Perhaps this was a potion of Remove Curse? I filled a bottle with it and... as it turns out, it was Magic Drain. I thought maybe it would be good, after all, and dampen the Gluttony effect of the armor, but no. It drained me, and I got a message that the Leather Armor of Gluttony +1 was too heavy for me to use it effectively. Just great, given that I can't take it off. The Drain makes me move slowly, so I can't go any further back, as I wouldn't make it past the spiked floor I passed on the way in. Nothing to do but wait until the Drain effect ends. I wait. It gets to the end of the progress bar and then restarts. What?! I get a message that my dagger is too heavy for me to use it effectively. It takes me a while to realize it, but looking at the description of the Gluttony curse, the Magic Drain occurs when I don't consume food every minute. So, wait. If the Magic Drain is the armor's doing, what is the potion? I look at my inventory. Unknown. I drink it, hoping for the best. Turns out, it's Incendiary or something and I begin burning for a while. I automatically take a Health potion (no idea where I got that from) when it gets close to the end, and end up still alive. Well, that fountain has some liquid left, I don't want to drink the burning liquid, but it might make a nice weapon, so I go back to the fountain and harvest the rest. Looking at what I got, I find not Incendiary, but Drain Magic. As it turns out, the fountain is Drain Magic and I just drank an Incendiary potion I happened to pick up along the way. Great. Such suffering. So, I read the description of the Drain Magic potion. It says that if you drink it, it will remove all of the magic from any magical items you have. It suggests that you throw it at enemies, instead. However, since my biggest problem, at the moment, is the evil magic in the armor I can't remove, I try to drink it. The game doesn't allow for that. Okay, I stand next to a wall and throw it basically at myself. It fills the room with a yellow gas, but it doesn't have any effect on the Gluttony armor. And, since I didn't have any magical items, there was no other effect. Why would someone continue playing this game? No, seriously.

Well, it does get better. You have to be willing to work through the frustration. There is a fun game to be played, but you have to have some reason to keep pushing forward to find it. Personally, I only kept playing because, well, I had to write about it and explain what I had experienced and, as you can probably tell from the previous paragraph, what's happening to you in the dungeons isn't always immediately obvious. I, originally, was going to warn everyone away from playing the game, but in the process of repeatedly going back in to play it, against my will, I began to find it entertaining. This can be referred to as a steep difficulty curve or a high frustration factor. Or Stockholm Syndrome.


Difficulty:

No.

Difficulty implies the amount of effort required to succeed. I don't see the possibility of success, while the rewards of succeeding are generally lackluster, at best, and punishment, at worse. You don't even get pretty scenery to enjoy while you wait to die.

Is it possible that I'm just not good at the game? Sure. But, I play dungeon-crawlers and fantasy games from time to time. I enjoy RPGs, MMORPGs and Gauntlet. But, when there's a timed button (floor plate) that doesn't work with things placed on top of it and a potion that will negate all magic, but it won't negate the magic on worn cursed armor... the frustration leads to a total lack of desire to play the game. As of this writing on the last day of the Weekly Dungeon for March 6-12, only 8 players had escaped the dungeon. I can't understand what kept them going that far.

If you're concerned that you might be frustrated by this game, stop reading; you will be. If you're reading the Difficulty section because you're worried there might not be enough challenge, you might find the challenge you're looking for here. Whether this level of difficulty challenges your abilities or just frustrates the snot out of you is a matter of personal temperament, I suppose.

If you've decided you're going to give it a go, however, I do suggest giving a read to Misery's "Unexplored: Basics and Tips for New Players." This is the de facto manual for Unexplored, to the point that it is linked from the Unexplored's Steam page as "View the Manual." Reading this manual was a definite turning point for me. Before the manual, I hated the game and wasn't going to recommend it to anyone. If you're a gamer who likes to be thrown into a game and figure everything out for yourself, maybe try that first, but bear in mind that, if the frustration starts to get to you, reading Misery's guide can help a lot.


Game Mechanics:

First off, while the genre says Roguelike above, Unexplored only claims to be "Roguelite," which means that it has some of the features that made Rogue unique. Specifically, it has procedurally-generated levels. That's fine and, in fact, I think that can provide a lot of replayability to a game. Further, they opted to allow you to continue your exploration of a given dungeon by reusing the random seed from the previous playthrough, so when your character dies, he can be followed by the next in his line. They even automated the naming for subsequent characters (the Second, the Third, etc.), which is cute. What it doesn't have, however, is the blend of turn-based and real-time movement that Rogue had. Instead of everything moving at the same time... but only when you make a move, you get standard real-time action. This works well for Unexplored, but should be noted for Rogue and Roguelike genre fans out there.

It is possible to type in a number (seed) and try that dungeon. This way, you can share the seed number with a friend and they could try the same dungeon. However, in a confusing move, the text box that displays this number on the main screen is editable, but will randomize when you try to start the game. If you want to type a seed in, you'll have to use the Seed text box in the Options Menu.

The Cyclic Dungeon Generation gimmick sounds like it would make fetch quests more... fetch-questy, which isn't something I ever considered desirable. The game comes off as somewhat aimless, most of the time, with the trick being figuring out how to continue downward. Still, with Secret Doors, Praying, and the Star Spinner (seriously, read the Manual...), there are usually ways to get out of sticky situations and proceed onward.

In the end, I'm not bold enough to actually recommend Unexplored to anyone, but you know what you like. If you're a fan of Roguelike games and you're okay with the more action-adventure aspect of the realtime gameplay... and you're up for a challenge, you might enjoy Unexplored. But, hey... that's up to you.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 7, 1.6 GHz processor, 2 GB RAM, 3D Graphics Card, 500 MB available HD space
 

Test System:



[Alienware Aurora] Intel Core i7-3820 CPU @ 3.60GHz, 16 GB dual-channel DDR3, Alienware Mainboard, Windows 10 Home 64 bit, Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 (4GB), Three Monitors (HP W2072a/W2082a), 500 GB Solid State Primary Hard Drive, 1000 GB Secondary Hard Drive, Saitek X52 Flight Control System, Logitech Logitech G402 Hyperion Fury, Logitech G710+ Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, Astro Gaming A30 Headset Black Gaming Headset, EPB Fiber 100Mb Internet Access

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