While the list of games I love is quite hefty, I hardly find one that earns the title of being a favorite. Occasionally, I wonder if my interest in both games and their design has made reaching a state of flow difficult. I find most new gaming ventures become a balancing act between pure escapism and hyper-analytical awareness. However, Laughing Machines’ phenomenal sci-fi action RPG, Undungeon, has easily made its way into my hall of fame.
“Each alien creature is easy to invest in; be it compassion, disgust or pity.“
Unfortunately, I don’t think Undungeon is a game for everyone. It can be challenging, unclear, text-heavy, and frustrating at times. I would argue that the game makes great use of these qualities by deeply investing in both world-building and lore. As Void, the Herald of an empty dimension, you know nothing of the worlds that have collided together due to The Great Shift. This gives the player reason to search out information via NPCs who offer quests and riveting personalities. Each alien creature is easy to invest in; be it compassion, disgust, or pity.
Your goal is to right the wrongs of the Shift, rectifying the remains of reality in the process. To this end, you track down dimensional piers to unlock more of the world. You will need to accrue resources and weapons to survive and barter as supplies dwindle. The overworld map is subject to a day and night cycle, affecting quests and enemy movement. You will also find that stopping at mirrors along your way will do wonders for saving your progress. Once you have completed one world, your choices and decisions follow you into the next.
“I found Undungeon’s chaotic combat to be absolutely exhilarating.“
As an action RPG, you can likely guess what to expect when it comes to fighting off the hordes. Move in to take advantage of an opening, before dodging or defending against an onslaught of attacks. Still, I found Undungeon’s chaotic combat to be exhilarating. Enemies telegraph their strikes but possess a variety of abilities that will keep you on your toes. One enemy-type will tunnel underground and requires that you bait them into surfacing. Another can turn invisible before leaping in to attack. Many even use the same support items you have access to, such as bombs, traps, and knives.
Every Herald (or playable character) has its playstyle and weapons associated with them. Void is deadly up close, with an assortment of claws and gauntlets that help him to eviscerate his opponents. Marduk, a Herald you receive later in the game, is long-range focused and can unleash lasers from a distance. To add to this, your Herald can equip several different organs and a core that modifies their stats. Organs like a heart can impart health benefits, while a social organ might raise your trade discount or power up allies that fight by your side. Each equipped organ also functions as an additional health bar.
Cores go more in-depth as they represent your character’s level. Cores level independently, unlocking slots for nodes and runes to further augment your abilities. Rune effects are numerous, from giving additional damage type to summoning beasts to fight by your side. Each core has a limited number of nodes for each rune type, encouraging some experimenting with different builds and playstyles.
“I especially fancied the neon emojis that help NPCs express their current state.“
Outside of combat, Undungeon remains breathtaking. The nostalgia-laced visuals are simply gorgeous, doing justice to the foreign worlds and entities you meet. The music is subtle but its eerie tones stay with you, invoking the somber state of the shattered world. This helps to keep your ears attention on the gameplay as every action is associated with a visceral sound. Slaughtered corpses boom like thunder and the squishy noise associated with organ loss is genius. I especially fancied the neon emojis that help NPCs express their current state. Nothing quite like seeing the literal fear as a weakened enemy tries to escape your clutches.
Undungeon promised a roster of seven Heralds to control but only two were made accessible at launch. I can understand the frustration this has caused for crowd backers but I do see a few benefits. Since the game heavily relies on experimenting with balancing and min-maxing stats, using two to test the waters is likely a prudent decision. Starting with seven vastly different characters is just asking for an apocalypse of patches and updates. I, for one, am willing to wait as long as Laughing Machines sticks to their guns.
“As if mimicking life, Undungeon can be unclear, challenging, dense, and frustrating as it demands that you find your way in the world.“
Difficult and demanding, Undungeon is not afraid to throw you directly into the deep end. It gladly rewards you for learning about its world, while punishing each mistake you make. As if mimicking life, Undungeon can be unclear, challenging, dense, and frustrating as it demands that you find your way in the world. But as you balance waning resources, degrading equipment, time, and real estate on a crowded screen, it all somehow begins to fall in place. If you are willing to struggle and adapt while diving headfirst into a rich story, Undungeon could be the perfect escape for you.
Undungeon delivers a nostalgia ride of intense combat and challenging gameplay. While it's likely much denser than the average player might be used to, it weaves an interesting story alongside the action.