Procedural generation is often as much of a hindrance as it is a blessing. Although it helps to add replayability and a real sense of ownership over your decisions, it also becomes very hard to keep you constantly engaged. Seeing the same tree or forked path in subsequent runs starts to ruin a little of that illusion, even if the much broader gameplay makes that illusion worth breaking. Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer's Legacy is all about breaking our own preconceptions and it is already doing it so well.
To put it simply, Unexplored 2: The Wayfarers Legacy is a procedurally generated open-world RPG roguelike that tasks you with destroying a mysterious staff and staying alive long enough to do it. In my time with the game, this story mattered very little. What mattered much more was that meta-story building that comes from exploring the world and making your own conclusions. It does this in a few central ways.
The risk/reward system clearly inspired by tabletop RPGs adds a certain flair to each encounter, having you climb up passages, decipher riddles, or much more. Instead of rolling a dice, you pick tokens at random. You can either decide to take the fate you received or spend your own resources to weigh that decision. Instead of failing to pick that lock, you may reshuffle the pile you pick from and add a few more victories in there for good luck.
These resources are limited so there’s a chance you will waste them all just to mess up a lock. As well as this, sometimes your decision can cost time or other resources. The single best thing about this system is the many tiny ways your actions can affect your run from here. You may be able to reshuffle your options but doing so skips the day forward. You may only have a partial success but grabbing that now might save a failure later.
All these moments are important as you’re being chased by imperial forces. You can choose to make a camp to heal up or gain new skills but doing so might slow you down and make you just a little closer to getting caught up with. You can choose to light your fire to heat up food for a better regen but doing so might leave you much easier to spot in the cold of the night air.
The art has this wonderful simplicity to it, having vibrant colors add to a Moebius art style. When it wants to, it can look drab and miserable but this gives the ability to look gorgeous even more impressive. Coming out of the dungeons of the first Unexplored game was clearly the right choice.
Unexplored 2 is a game of cheques and balances, cutting that line between committing too heavily to one play style or another. You are constantly catching yourself and switching up to move forward. It leads you down one path, only for another to be your solution. There was a moment early on where I walked into a small town only for everyone to run away from me. I was worried I’d have to pass some skill check to avoid a tough battle or run away but it turned out I was the bad guy here. People were sprinting in terror, only to hear one brave innkeeper walk up to me and say “put away the sword and we’ll talk”. I walked into a town, hoping to scrape by and so were the villagers.
It plays with this dynamic in a funny way, preparing you for one thing to hit you with another. It does away with grindy mechanics, gold, and exp to have your decisions dominate above all else. This does leave the combat feeling a little lackluster though - having wide swings and floaty movement. It certainly isn’t bad but - off the back of interesting puzzles and charming systems - it ends up feeling a little half-baked in the grand scheme. It certainly tries to shake it up with weapons you can pick up as loot and different ways to play around with combat but it is one of the least interesting parts of Unexplored 2’s design.
This all being said, even the combat tries to fit into this risk-reward system - having the magic staff you are aiming to destroy also works as a conduit for magic. You can take down enemies a little easier or solve dungeons with the staff but using it reveals you just a little more to the forces chasing you down. You have to decide if it’s worth using it right now to get through or if there’s a better choice right now.
Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer's Legacy Preview - Verdict
Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer's Legacy is one of those games that is hard to believe it’s only just launched in early access. Of course, it still has its issues and needs work over the coming year but it really is an impressive offering. It is gorgeous, interesting and incredibly well thought out. Coming out of the dark dungeons into the land above has given Unexplored depth and the ultimate ability to be so much more than its predecessor. It is genuinely hard to believe this comes from the same studio and I mean this in the best way possible. Unexplored 2 feels like the studio coming into their own and if they just keep coming, this could be one of the best games of the year.
TechRaptor previewed Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer's Legacy on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is scheduled for release this year.