Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 8, 2010
I’ve been a little negligent in talking about an indie RPG that’s been out a couple of months now, which embraces the “old-school” western RPG style of the 1980s. Entitled Underworld (or more fully, “Swords and Sorcery Underworld” – to distinguish it from the Ultima kind, I imagine…), it draws inspiration from the early Might & Magic and Wizardry titles.
This is a seriously old-school Western RPG by author Charles Clerc. We’re talking 2D first-person perspective; party-based gameplay (with “floating” membership as you can swap characters in and out of the active group); turn-based combat; costly leveling-up; food and water requirements; class-based character development; the works. If those words make year pulse quicken just a little bit with fond memories of old classics, you owe it to yourself to check out this game.
Part of my reticence in talking about it was I wanted to have a good chance to play it and get a feel for it, first. I still haven’t played nearly enough to speak with authority about this game, but I can say without reservation that it does have that addicting quality for me where a quick ten or fifteen minute session can easily stretch out into an hour. My post Monday about character creation was, in part, inspired by my going back and creating a new party for the latest version of this game. (Recent experiences doing the same for some retro-gaming and playing Eschalon: Book II and Din’s Curse also figured into it.) It may fall a little shy of the classics it seeks to emulate, but it is both an impressive and entertaining reminder of what made those games such classics in the first place. It’s fun, and has a solid old-school vibe… but without some of the old-school annoyances.
Visually, it’s a little rough around the edges, but the upcoming version 1.03 (pictured here) makes another stab at improving the overall quality and smoothing out the roughest spots. One issue is the use of pre-rendered 3D art for some of the content, and hand-drawn art for others. It’s a problem of consistency that I am all too familiar with, as are many other indies who don’t have the budget for artists to create custom content in a unified style. I worry that this might turn off some potential players who will dismiss it early without giving it a chance.
While it embraces the retro-hardcore western RPG style with a vengeance, the “bailout” function isn’t the only concession it makes to modern audiences. Like Bard’s Tale and the early Might & Magic games, the streets of the starting city are not safe for newbie adventurers. However, unlike the frustratingly challenging early game of Bard’s Tale, early encounters aren’t quite as likely to prove immediately lethal to your fledgling characters. A game mechanic I really like is that characters get a “second chance” when otherwise fatally wounded. Another hit while they are thus disabled will kill them fer real, but a quick healing spell can come in handy to save the day. This really helps make death a bit less random, but fights remain challenging and dangerous.
I also like that the game features a colorful automap. While there’s a part of me that fondly remembers my careful use of pencil and graph paper to play the old games, I can’t say that it was a part of the old-school experience I’d like to see return.
And – so far as I can tell – Underworld is Big. It’s not something you are going to conquer in a couple of days. I’m not many hours into it, and I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface (though I have played through a bit of the beginning twice now). Besides lots of combat, there is a liberal assortment of puzzles and quests to make sure it’s an interesting time. Charles’ game really is a response to those folks (like me) who complain about how they don’t make ’em like they used to, and those old games were fun, dangnabbit. It’s an impressive freshman effort; I’d really like to see more of this. But not right away – I’ve still got many, many hours of dungeon-delving to do in this one first.
You can find out more information about the game at the official site, ClassicGamesRemade.com. Give the demo a try and see what you think. Like most indie titles, there’s a free demo, so you can try it out with no risk to your wallet. The currently available version is 1.02, but it is completely save-game compatible with the soon-to-be-released version 1.03. Be sure and provide feedback – it will help improve a sequel which is already in the works.
And, as always, have fun!
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