This game should have been one of my biggest desires. A Metroidvania with plenty of RPG-elements and references for geeks to enjoy should have provided a good time. Yet: I never cared to finish this title. Really, I have it on 3 different devices and each time I start on it, I get quite far before I suddenly lose interest. I absolutely hate it when this happens, as I feel it is important to give any game a proper amount of playtime, and in my case. finish a game for a review. With the current indie-month, it gave me a good excuse to finally finish this game. Too bad it is probably one of the worst sessions I have ever been a part of.
Self-awareness does not excuse poor writing
We start off with our protagonist, Daniel, sitting around a table with his friends as they have finally gotten together to play some old-school pen & paper RP. After bickering about rules and having an asshole of a DM, Daniel takes a break and goes to the bathroom. However, someone kills the light and, as he reaches for his lighter to find the switch, he realizes eventually that he is not in the same world as he was before. Traveling through what looks like a dungeon, he meets a dark wizard who tries to take over his body, but ends up instead being trapped inside him. Daniel finally comes to his senses and figures out that he is inside a castle and is about to take on his own RP-adventure. Now, how do you get out of here?
The story is basic with an evil lord of the castle and an imprisoned light, but the game makes the overall plot more of a backseat for the sake of providing nods for geeks. It is clearly self-aware of its simple premise and has plenty of references to the nerd-culture, like how normal weapons can’t harm ghosts, or how unsolid a snake is. Sadly, these references can be completely random as well and not fitting this fantasy-world. It is entertaining when the game goes over the top with even laser-guns being available, but the actual references start to wear thin and become poor implementations for relating gamers or RP-enthusiasts. Kinda like Big Bang Theory.
The writing is not clever at all and is rather a shallow implementation of any American Teen-movie. I do love the bickering between the dark wizard and our protagonist though, as this companion wants you dead and does not shy away from trying this, while also being confused by Daniel’s modern-day language. However, these are not common or at the forefront. The amount of random references to other games seems like a way to excuse the writers from making a good story, interesting dialogue or even providing an entertaining setup. Puns would have been one thing, but when you just try to be clever by referencing other titles, you are grasping at straws.
Story Score: 2/10
Why third-party rules can be a good thing
You might have thought that a form of turn-based or CRPG would have been the way to go with a game so heavily focused on RPG-elements, but Unepic takes on a Metroidvania-style for its genre, with exploration and RPG elements. It is actually quite fitting, however, as you will have a bunch of options to tinker with. First of, as you gain XP from killing enemies and doing sidequests (which we will get back to later), you will level up and gain stat-points to be used for different kinds of stats. These range between skills in daggers, swords, maces, axes, polearms, bows, staves, wands, and then more supportive like constitution, potion-making, using robes and armor. You do get 5 points at each level up, and can only level up a stat as far as your current level is, which is true to the RP-rules, but does limit your creativity and you are forced to be a diverse fighter. This is especially true when weapons can feel similar in use and don’t offer enough diversity to be more important than others.
While it is a shame that this setup does limit your creativity with a character, I do like how the weapons are diverse in effect, with daggers doing more damage at an enemy from behind, or how blunt weapons are more effective against armored creatures. You can also find tomes or scrolls to cast spells, as well as familiars to support you, like small dragons. All of these options, give you a sense of becoming powerful and it is nice to see your character grow with more strengths. Enemies also drop a lot of artifacts and are fun for potion-making or to just make you become stronger, and there are also shops for items should your luck run thin. Your inventory will get full, so there is a handy sorting-option for you and there are a lot of trinkets to consider on how to use, which makes it quite intriguing to plan on how you want to play and what items you find important. Be warned though, a thief can steal your loot if you take too long to pick it up, so you will have to either lure him out or just kill him.
All of this sounds like a great setup for a fun session right? Well, sadly it does not. Enemies do come in a decent variety with strength and weaknesses, but never change their tactics significantly. One might be weaker to a sword, others are easier to take out at a distance, but these are rather stat-based than anything else. This makes every fight feel like an uninteresting version of rock-paper-scissors. Your only method for attacking is to simply attack stationary with whatever weapon you choose to use, and that is it. No dodge-button, moving while attacking, there is just what you have and how effective your attack is. This makes the idea of making this RPG-stat focused game into an active Metroidvania with combat lackluster on every level. The only thing interesting that can happen, is whether you or the opponent gets stunlocked. It is really that unimaginative.
Unfortunately, the terrible combat is not the only problem that the game has. Actually exploring this world is no better. There are certain platforms, but our hero can only jump and won’t get other abilities throughout, making the platforming unimaginative. There are certainly traps to jump over and the occasional zip line, but due to his stiff controls and how precise you must be with any jump over obstacles, it is a recipe for frustration rather than creativity. No areas become memorable either, despite what enemies or layout is provided due to a lack of interesting and diverse mechanics. Like the combat, the levels only require accuracy with where you stand, rather than testing your acrobatics-skills. Because of this, it all becomes incredibly annoying and dull at the same time. That is quite the accomplishment.
The sidequests don’t fare much better and while some will have you enter other sections of the castle, there is little to do in them besides what I have already been negative towards. The boss fights are more interesting than the normal fights, but only require you to move up and down a ladder or occasionally jump. That is it, and they are uninteresting fights as well. What I absolutely hate about this game though, is its difficulty. If you choose normal, you will respawn upon death just the room before you died in. This is quite forgiving and makes me rather throw myself into danger to just get a level done with. Sure, you can’t save until you have come to one of the very few saverooms the game offers, though there are luckily a couple of gates for backtracking. This can be tedious indeed, but it is rather how poor of a challenge this is that makes is depressive.
Though if you play on hard, which is for veterans of Castlevania and Maze of Galious (because you are so cool when you are obscure) according to the game, you will only respawn at the few saverooms and that will force you to backtrack multiple times. This could have been a neat risk vs reward to see how far you want to go. However, since your character moves so slow and the actual gameplay is without any form of substance in abilities vs level-design, this becomes rather tedious and tiresome. Thank God you can find a halo for warping you back to a saveroom at least, but this again just feels like fixing a problem with another problem, instead of removing it as you still must backtrack one way. Why not add more saverooms, instead of being forced to backtrack to where you were?
Then there is the map for showcasing where you are, and while you can take notes, the actual layout of each screen is non-existing visually, making this map almost useless in terms of where you are. A compass would have done just as good of a job honestly. This might be the prime example of how Unepic tries to stick to its love for RP, without compromising for making a Metroidvania. There are many things I like about this game in design-elements, like how the game doesn’t pause when you look in your inventory, which makes shortcut-buttons important, and that lighter or candles can be used to lit up torches in the castle. However, stats and nice ideas mean nothing if the game is uninspired and without any substance. It really feels like a turn-based RPG that was forced into becoming a Metroidvania.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
I would try to make some positive comment that the aesthetics and artstyle used in Unepic represents a DM on a budget, but this is really not a good-looking game. The design for the characters seems as they were done with MS-paint, and their animations makes them seem like puppeteers with boneless limbs. I do like how the equipment is shown on the characters and how over the top they can be, but due to low textures and the design not being appealing at all, it barely helps. At least the effects of smoke and explosions are well made, despite being huge contrasts in quality compared to the rest.
The lighting in the dungeons is fantastic, focusing on you having some sort of ways to illuminate, which is neat. Sadly, when you actually get to see the rooms inside the castles, you realize just how much is copied and pasted. It really is lackluster and despite that the occasional room might hold a kitchen or a mining-shaft elevator, it still uses repetitive backgrounds and platforms, making no room stand out or become intriguing. It is all dull, and though the enemies do vary, they don’t convey much originality and are rather traditional fiends done with the quality of an old flash-game with no creative input.
The music is thankfully effective, with subtle uses of harps, trumpets, or drums to convey tones of whether you are safe, in danger, or if your fate is uncertain. The songs are short and not necessarily catchy due to their limited length and variations, but convey a decent mood and are fitting for this medieval adventure, with enough diverse tones implemented to create at least a serviceable atmosphere. The symphonic ones with more instruments added are definitely the highlights. The sound-effects are hit and miss though, with slashes of swords sounding poor, though blunt and magical attacks are solid with clear feedback. Then there is the voice-acting and while I rarely care for what is said, all of the cast gives a solid performance to convey clear personalities from their acting, be it the young-adult geek, the sly dark wizard, or a merchant who is intimidated by your strength. I do wonder why not all sentences are voiced though.
Presentation Score: 3/10
Wanna be a DM-architect?
There are multiple endings, though none are satisfying and while the game mocks itself on it, it left a completely sour taste in my mouth, making it the cherry on top of why I would never wish to play through this game again. However, while the single-player aspect is not worth revisiting, having a friend along for co-op does make it somewhat better, as you can create worlds of your own for a new session, and having someone along for the main-campaign, always helps. It is also possible to mod elements for a better time, but when you have to make your own enjoyment, it is hard to praise the game fully for this. Still, I can say I did have fun in this mode, even if the idea of finishing the game in co-op was not appealing. Just casually play it.
Extra Score: 5/10
An obvious joke is that this game lives up to its title, but it is rather a shame it had no idea what can be done to make a Metroidvania great and implement neat RPG-mechanics in it. Instead, Unepic expects praise for its nods, dungeon-like setup, and the plethora of item-management. While there are good ideas sprinkled all over, it does not make this any better of a game.
- Item-management is neat
- The idea of RPG-stats are fun
- Solid voice-acting
- Creating your own structure is a neat idea
- Terrible writing and uninteresting characters
- References that are forced
- Gameplay that is stationary and not fitting
- Exploration is unengaging
- Difficulty is uneven
- No variety
- Ugly game
- Terrible ending
- platforming is one-dimensional