Let's Dance, Exile
Undungeon isn't expected for release until late this year, but we were given a little taste of it during the Steam Game Festival. It's been a few years since the game's initial announcement, so I'm glad I was finally able to get my hands on it, even if it's just a demo.
A Surprisingly Rich Aesthetic
Undungeon features a thorough pixel art aesthetic, but not exactly in the way that I expected. I like pixel art in general, but I have to admit that I tend to expect most pixel art to look very similar, making it hard for some games to capture an original aesthetic. I was worried that the same might be true of Undungeon, but I'm pleased to say that it has a little more going on.
There's a decent amount of contrast in visual style between areas, with some looking orderly and others looking chaotic, but what really makes the visuals succeed for me is the willingness to get messy. Undungeon isn't shy about having particles trail across your screen as you move around, and the movements of many enemies are rapid and a little hard to track. This gives the pixel art an almost blurry vibe to it, even if many of the shapes themselves are fairly regular. The inclusion of animated cinematics is a nice touch, too.
I had similar fears about the music going in, half expecting that the soundtrack would mostly just be vaguely digital-themed since that's all too common among sci-fi games, but even in just the demo there is a lot of musical variety, and the execution in each field, from lonely synthesizers to relaxing guitar, is fairly strong. So overall, the sights and sounds of Undungeon left a good impression on me.
Fluid Combat and Build Variety
The combat is very simple. Move with keys, aim with the mouse. Most of the moment to moment decision-making involves positioning, resource management, and ability execution, so the fact that the raw mechanics of the game are so simple is definitely a good thing. Moving around and dashing feels very natural after just a few minutes, and there's plenty of dashing to be done, as the baseline for stamina feels very generous. This keeps things feeling relatively fast-paced, as there's little downtime. Consumables add more to the mix and include heals, buffs, and offensive options like throwing knives and grenades.
Your weapon has a basic attack and a charge attack. As far as I can tell so far, the basic attack is determined by your weapon type (claw, glove, etc), but there's variety within each equipment type, as well. The claw is much faster than the glove, but it does less damage per hit. However, two gloves might have the same basic attack but a different charge attack. There's similar variety in other types of equipment, from armor to organs, so we can expect the potential number of combinations to be massive, especially considering the inclusion of a crafting system (that hopefully isn't just for show).
There's not much to say about the story so far. It's a sci-fi/fantasy story that involves traveling through and between dimensions. There are a lot of lore drops early on, and it can be a little confusing, but it feels like this might be the intention. There's not enough in the demo to say whether or not the story will shape up to be particularly strong, so we'll have to wait and see on that front. It uses a quest system, featuring both main quests and side quests, so that indicates at the very least that there will be an element of narrative discovery.
The game is an open world but in an unusual sense. The areas you can walk around in are bounded, and you travel between areas on a world screen that shows you gradually making your way to your destination. While journeying between areas, you might get the option to stop at a point of interest or be ambushed and forced into a confrontation. So it is an open world, but it has the flavor of a game with screen transitions. This system doesn't feel particularly good or bad, but if the full game features a lot of flavorful interruptions, it might end up adding a good bit of fun.
Overall, this demo shows enough promise to have me looking forward to the full release, though are a couple of elements we didn't get to see. The game mentions a time travel mechanic, wherein you can affect the future of certain areas by altering them in the past, but I didn't see this mechanic anywhere in the demo. If it's executed well, it may end up being a major strength, but it's hard to tell exactly how it might play out. Additionally, there will be at least three playable characters in the final product, but we only play as Void in the demo. There's no way to know just how much these characters might differ in terms of gameplay, so that's another area that I'll be looking at closely as we approach release. If the time travel mechanic works, the characters are diverse, and the build variety is vibrant, Undungeon could turn out to be a remarkable title.
TechRaptor previewed Undungeon on PC as part of the Steam Game Festival. The game is scheduled for a Q4 2020 release.