Undungeon, a review of an improvable indie action role-playing game



Here’s our review of Undungeon, an indie action role-playing game that deserved a little more refinement

Laughing Machines, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, has finally released Undungeon, an action role-playing game that some may have already had a taste of with the “Arena” version (now no longer available on Steam).

So here’s our review of Undungeon, an ARPG with good ideas, but a few too many edges.

End of the multiverse

The Undungeon

The multiverse is no longer big news, but this is not of great concern to Laughing Machines. In fact, the Undungeon is not one world, but seven worlds that – due to a cataclysm known as Shift – have collapsed against each other. The whole universe is in disarray and we are the Void, or rather a part of it, one of its creations, a Herald who must bring the End to give a new Beginning.

What’s left is a wasteland, a sort of low-fi western-influenced world where desert bandits, giant scorpions and absurd creatures barely survive, awaiting our arrival. What you’ll immediately notice in Undungeon, should you decide to slip into its narrative universe (universes?), is that the team has taken the role-playing game direction seriously. From the very first moment a wide world is presented, with place names, characters, divine beings, immortals and above all with rules according to which everything works.

We must give credit to Laughing Machines to have taken care of the details, creating a world based on solid rules, although not very clear at first glance. It is in fact quickly overwhelmed by dialogues that tell us about cores, worlds, dimensional planes, veils that separate them and so on. What matters, however, is that we are there to stabilize the world and then accumulate mass to create a new one, maybe even helping some mortal in need who has lost his favorite pet.

Undungeon is a verbose game, get ready, that hides multiple optional dialogues, which obviously give access to new information about the world, but also about fundamental skills to maximize your gameplay. Although from the gameplay it might first look like a pure action dungeon crawler, Undungeon focuses mainly on the narrative, which turns out to be interesting (without revolutions) if you decide to take your time.

Exploration and enhancement

Undungeon dungeons are never very structured

Of course, you don’t spend all your time talking to NPCs. Our character must regularly launch himself inside dungeons that – unfortunately – quickly become repetitive. These are mostly small and unintimidating arenas, with a few hidden prize chests at times, but there’s little exploratory about Undungeon’s approach: once in an arena, you must first rip apart enemies.

The combat system is structured but basically classic. We’ll be able to attack hand-to-hand, activate special abilities (basic, a shield that parries a single blow and an explosive time mine), dodge (with even extra special effects with the right equipment) and use a number of items, such as throwing weapons, grenades and cures.

The menu of Undungeon organs

Within a couple of hours you’ll be flooded with items of various types, capable of healing or causing negative effects such as bleeding, poisoning, burning and more. These are many details of gameplay, which add up to the fact that depending on the type of damage that we will use to eliminate enemies will also change the type of rewards obtained, from the essence (basically experience points, but can be spent to perform multiple actions in the game) to crafting materials. The latter – of many different types – are then essential to create organs (literally hearts, stomachs and so on) with which to equip our character.

The organs activate various bonuses to the statistics, even very serious ones, but they are always in danger. When you die, in fact, instead of going KO you lose one of the organs permanently, which must then be recreated. The latter is not a trivial task as the expense in terms of materials is considerable, unless you are committed to farming and purchases from the merchants scattered around the game world. The vendors, however, trade through barter and – consequently – it is always essential to go into the dungeons and collect all the items possible, even spending time to break vegetation and objects, one by one. Undungeon therefore overwhelms us with items, statistics, effects, menus to check for upgrades and bonuses: everything happens very quickly and it may take a moment to get into the best perspective.

Combat

The Undugeon overmap

The main problem, however, is the combat system. Our character, to be a Herald of the Void, an immortal being awaited by generations of survivors of a multidimensional reality, is quite fragile, especially when it begins to lose its organs and weapons (even these are damaged and become unusable, also will not learn to repair them before a few hours of play).

You should also know that every enemy that strikes a blow on you rises in rank, thus becoming stronger. The ranks are lost after a while, but they become a shield that parries a blow. In short, fighting badly increases the level of difficulty: a choice that encourages learning, preparation and a shrewd and defensive approach, but that will clearly annoy those who want to be able to attempt a fight without the fear of losing all their resources in an instant or even suffering a death.

Game over, by the way, means going back to the last checkpoint, which must be activated manually in a few specific places. In case of death, you lose any kind of progress (items, levels, quests…) from the last checkpoint. The solution is to keep going back and forth from the checkpoints, which requires moving to the overmap (with the risk of enemy ambushes) and two reloads (entering and exiting the dedicated area).

Void of Undungeon

Undungeon is an explicitly hardcore game and its objective in the design phase is to put the player in difficulty, but in some cases exaggerates, even at the statistical level, with enemies that can eliminate us in one shot (or destroy our organs and force us to further farming or restart from the last checkpoint).

Even in terms of controls and game actions, the fights are uninteresting, very repetitive and demand a slow approach, attracting one or a few enemies at a time, and playing chasing ranged opponents who escape with all too much precision.

Activating an entire group of opponents may not mean immediate death (healing items are expensive but there is a way to get a lot of them), but it makes it really difficult to dodge all the blows and manage groups effectively: as already mentioned, getting hit makes the enemies more powerful, so in the end you risk getting seriously overwhelmed. Having a companion can help, but their death is permanent, so you have to be careful to jump into the fray in any case.

It doesn’t help at all that on a visual level the game action is in danger of becoming chaotic. First of all, every tall object in front of us or enemies will hide us, allowing us to see only a silhouette, but completely hiding any props that may get in the way of our movements. More importantly, though, is the fact that with more than one enemy the fights become a mix of explosions, bullets flying, colorful effects of status, buff, heal, dodges, attacks … There is a risk of not understanding what is happening and lose sight of any visual cues that should help us understand how to attack, but are lost in the chaos of effects. The few animations of movement and attack, moreover, make the whole thing not very clean. In essence, the game action is not very legible and this weighs heavily on the enjoyment of the fights.

Good ideas

An area dedicated to Undungeon checkpoints

Undungeon does, however, have some good ideas. For example, most of the healing items can’t be activated directly. The character will make them appear in front of him, and we’ll have to attack them to break them and activate their effect. The same will be done by the opponents. This means that it is possible to steal (or get stolen) other people’s healing items if you are quick enough. This is an interesting mechanic that encourages us to pay attention to those dying enemies that will try to heal themselves.

The strengthening system is also pleasantly free. In addition to the organs already mentioned, we’ll have a core that will determine which nodes we can equip, in terms of number and type. With these we’ll be able to improve our statistics, deciding what to focus on. Besides, the Nodes can be merged together and upgraded if they are of the same type.

The overmap is also well managed. The dungeons we’re going to explore will be located within a circular map, in which we’ll unlock bandit camps, places full of resources, merchant areas, the very important checkpoints and quick travel points to get back to the HUB, where some characters and the main functions of the game await us. Exploration and expansion of the overmap is simple but happens at a good pace.

We finally report that Undungeon is completely in English.

Comment

Undungeon is an action role-playing game that wants to be hardcore, and for sure it is. The difficulty level is not perfectly balanced and punishes mistakes with regularity, demanding serious farming to have a competitive character on your hands. The game world, however, is interesting and a player who is ready to read dialogues and explore each dungeon – unfortunately quite repetitive – could find good things in the game’s edges. The only regret is that the combat system is a bit too chaotic.

PRO

  • Interesting narration
  • Pleasant Aesthetics
  • Punishes every little mistake
  • The dungeons are very repetitive
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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