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Wot I Think: UnEpic

Actually quite epic

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UnEpic has been around for quite a while now. Adam first played a demo of it in October 2011, and it’s been in Early Alpha for a good while since. But now it is, they say, complete. Released as a final version, feature complete. I’ve played it a few times over the years, but started from scratch with this final build. Here’s wot I think:

I’m not sure if memory is playing tricks on me, or whether they’ve slightly subdued the overtly obnoxious nature of UnEpic. It remains extremely obnoxious – you play a complete arsehole, who when going for a pee-break from his D&D evening, finds himself in an ancient castle, and rapidly possessed by an evil spirit. Defiantly believing his friends must have drugged him, he takes the peculiarity of the situation in his pace, which of course only adds to quite what a self-satisfied wanker he is. In fact, he’s such a git that the demonic possession can’t take either – something about his not having any faith whatsoever – such that the evil ghost dude thing is trapped inside him, unable to control him.

This provides a sort-of-Metroidvania-ish platformer, that looks an awful lot like a rogue-lite but absolutely isn’t. Death’s only setback is to the last auto/deliberate save, and objects remain in your inventory. And, as it happens, that’s one of the game’s highlights.

I adore rogue-lites. I’m currently obsessively playing Pixel Dungeon on Android, and recently loved Traps N Gemstones on tablet too. But there’s something very refreshing about getting to explore a sprawling dungeon without constantly feeling like I’m experiencing setbacks. It’s good to have both in my life.

Playing arseholes is always problematic, and I’m not convinced this game gets it right. He’s both not a very convincing arsehole, and also sometimes a little too revolting. A particular sequence in which you’re “challenged” to have sex with three orc women in quick succession is both entirely incongruous with the rest of the game, and more than a bit creepy. Then turn another corner and the guy’s making smart, witty arguments to trick the grumpy demon stuck inside him, utterly unlike his previous behaviour.

But it does get the dungeon exploration right. It’s not special, and while that sounds like a criticism, here it’s actually a compliment. There isn’t overly-elaborate platforming, there isn’t any need to become an UnEpic master-player to enjoy playing through, and the inventory, weapon, spell and potion systems are unceremonious. Improving your specs on levelling up isn’t a terrifying balancing act, but rather a plain choice in which weapons/defence to specialise. There’s something peculiarly refreshing about a game’s just being straightforward.

One of the smartest ideas in the game is the need to light each screen. Reach all the torches in a location and it becomes permanently lit on the map – it adds almost nothing, other than ensuring the room is light the next time you go through it, but it creates a constant sense of progress. Lighting up the map, feeling like you’re moving forward, as you expand the locations you can reach. And to make moving about the increasingly huge map more appealing, you can buy scrolls that teleport you to specific locations, or save up enough coin and you can get artefacts that teleport you as often as you wish. It makes it hard to stop playing, basically.

Until it crashes, that is. Sadly, even after all this time, I’ve experienced a crash to desktop after it pops up a “map not found” message. Only one in quite a few hours, and the auto-save meant it wasn’t a big loss. Still though. My only other large complaint are that perennial failing of games, the ladders. They’re particularly poor here. Jumping onto them, and off of them, is possible, but incredibly fiddly and erratic. Even just straight climbing up and down is glitchy. This desperately needs improving, as it often introduces glum moments of unnecessary failure.

There are other improvements to be made. The inventory is a real mess, with no useful way to see which weapons are currently set to keyboard/gamepad shortcuts, which are the weapons in your active rota. There’s a nice ability to have the inventory instantly tidied, which is fairly essential, but you’ll still be frustrated by not knowing which of three near-identical maces is the one you’re using. However, that shortcut system I mentioned is really splendid. I’ve been playing with a gamepad, and even with that you’re able to set up twelve different shortcuts for changing weapons, drinking potions, or activating devices. (But then, there’s also the utterly lovely silliness of being able to get leeches in your inventory after wading through water.)

There’s no mighty gimmick. There’s no unique twist on the genre. And I think this might be its biggest gimmick and its unique twist. It’s just a well-made platform RPG. That it’s created by just one person is extremely impressive. I don’t like the art at all – it’s far too much doodles-in-the-back-of-a-maths-exercise-book for me – but that’s a personal taste thing. The key is, I do enjoy playing it. I’m still far from finished, but have played for an awfully long time. For a tenner, that’s a lot of game. It’s somewhat obnoxious, but special for just getting on with being a game.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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