Unepic

This was a pretty funny game, even though the hero was an insufferable horndog nerd. I liked Zera, as I’m a sucker for magical companions only the protagonist can see, and the voice acting wasn’t bad. Apparently that was a later addition to the game, and it was a little buggy for me: I had to quit and reload sometimes when the audio would stop playing.

Coming from La-Mulana, which didn’t let players choose a difficulty setting, I chose to play on Unepic’s Hard Mode, which disabled autosaving checkpoints. I wished I hadn’t needed to make that choice, since one game’s Very Hard is another’s Normal, and I’m usually in no shape to make an informed decision at the very start. Though I had my share of deaths and troubles, the game was typically on the easier side; every boss had you puzzle out some trick to how you were supposed to attack it, and skill wasn’t usually involved. The trickiest challenges were independent of difficulty, like avoiding falling rocks for 60 seconds. You also have to do a fair bit of pixel-precise platform jumping, which I wasn’t very good at–but that’s mostly a matter of adjusting to the later-than-expected timing and getting over the oddly-vertical jumps. The “game feel”–and I mean stuff like the jumping distances, speed, and hitboxes–seemed a bit awkward and under-polished, but I actually kinda liked it: it reminded me of old ‘90s PC games.

My usual deaths were a result of my greed: wanting to push just a little further when I was running on fumes and could’ve teleported back to the save point, but then dying to a trap or ambush. You can’t pause the game while in a panic and teleport from the menu like you can in La-Mulana. But I appreciate the added difficulty of that, and anyway, it gives value to the endgame skill that lets you establish a recall point that remains even if you save and reload (which respawns enemies). That was my favorite spell. Being able to place a customizable warp point, Morrowind style, even from within a boss room, was a sign of more freedom than most RPGs would allow, although it’s a little trivial by the standards of today’s building games like Terraria.

What was hardest about the game, though, was having to commit skill points to a particular build. It was very easy to screw up my character, and the skills didn’t have equal utility. If I’d known earlier what I know now, I’d have tried dropping Fire and Frost entirely and used Bows. I’d also have dropped Robes and Staves and all melee skills except for Axes, which I never tried and, according to forums, were unequivocally better than the weapons I used. Even though I wanted to try making a magic-oriented character from the beginning, robes and staves had extremely narrow utility. For example, there wasn’t an item that reduced the cost of Alteration spells, or one that increased the casting speed of all magic types across the board. Even after a one-time respec, I made some bad choices, but I was at least able to drop daggers, which could possibly be useful in lower difficulty settings where enemies turned their backs more often, but seemed useless to me in Hard. But in order to deal with all the late-game threats with less frustration, I’d have needed all the points I could get in the cooler magic schools like Alteration, Protection, Light, and Mental (and Arcane just for fun). They were also comparatively overpowered: I got through the last part of the game by polymorphing every enemy into a harmless chicken. They couldn’t resist or dodge the spell, and of course there was no cooldown on it either.

Having to get deep into the castle and unlock better types of magic wasn’t a terrible idea, but it would’ve been far better if you didn’t have to beat the bosses in linear sequence, and if daring players could potion through the tougher areas to nab the best skills at the beginning of the game. I’d have loved exploring randomly and having to turn to one of a dozen other loose ends on my map because some strong enemy totally owned me there. Maybe they could’ve done away with skill points altogether and linked skill progression more to unique pieces of equipment. Some could still be permanent investments, such as from a sidequest where the player chooses one of two rings as his or her reward.

Realism seems to have been a sticking point in the game design: you end up with an empty flask after drinking a potion, swords suck at breaking barrels open, leeches stick to you until you peel them off, you can cast Frost magic on yourself if you’re on fire, and you could even wear up to 8 rings at a time (though none of the rings were especially cool). These realistic touches would’ve been more impressive if the central mechanics and skill balances were in better shape, but I liked some of them, and luckily Unepic stopped short of a hunger system or an inventory limit of two or three weapons. In the case of the potion bottles, it’s probably the best way of doing consumable healing items, as potions can be brewed as many times as you like yet the bottles limit how many you can bring with you, and it’s hard to find the time to drink one in the middle of a fight. I was satisfied to find that I was actually making use of them in my preparations for dealing with certain enemies and challenges, Witcher style.

I played Unepic with the keyboard, sometimes using the mouse in menus, and I couldn’t imagine playing with a gamepad. Hotkeys were troublesome and confusing enough even with a keyboard. I’d have suggested a single horizontal action bar for the number keys, which would swap out to show the Ctrl-# hotkeys when Ctrl was held down and so on. As things stood, I’d have been better off if I rebound movement to WASD (Terraria controls?) and used the mouse to activate hotbar spells. But trying to change keybindings was a nightmare: it wouldn’t detect half my keys, and I’d have to move things off to a blank key it would detect before putting something else on it. Certainly confusing.

I didn’t get into the multiplayer, but it looked interesting. From what I saw, it wasn’t just a tacked-on game mode. I’m giving Unepic a rest now, but if it suddenly shows up in a friend’s steam collection, multiplayer is something I’d be psyched to take a look at.

The reviewer finds this game hard to get excited about, but still has a positive opinion of it. It may be somewhat fun, having good features or ideas counterbalanced by a few boring parts, bad design or other fundamentally irritating qualities that can’t easily be overlooked. Alternatively, it could be pleasant, but with nothing new to offer. Worth a little money if you’ve got the time for it.
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