Why I fell out with Fallout-inspired indie RPG Underrail

Underrail [official site] is a game that wants to be Fallout. That’s okay! That’s a legendary game for several reasons, and some are even good. There’s definitely room for an RPG to be to Fallout what Xenonauts is to UFO: neither remake nor clone, but a new game that does all the same stuff we’ve missed, only without an interface from the Stupid Age.

Underrail, however, is not that game. It’s a bold attempt, but ultimately one that misses too many marks, and copies too many notes from the Bumper Book Of Frustrating RPG Design We Still Have To Put Up With For Some Reason.

I wanted to like it, I really did. You can ask Graham! My original pitch was all “it’s like Fallout or those old Infinity Engine RPGs, but with an interface designed for humans”, because that’s the initial impression it gives. Set in presumably the future, after, I assume, some sort of apocalypse, under probably an American city as far as I can tell, Underrail is an isometric RPG set in a drab and ugly world full of mutants, dustbins, and recklessly spiked leather jackets. It’s divided into semi-independent, mostly impoverished camps, where all sorts of shady characters offer dodgy work. There’s even a Junktown, and the murky, looping, almost ambient soundtrack could have been pilfered directly from an Interplay archive. It has the look and sound and some of the mood, and better yet, it has the sense to innovate, with a completely different interface and controls, and a similar but smartly streamlined skill and levelling system.

The latter is particularly noteworthy, as instead of reaching enlightenment by absorbing the souls of vanquished monsters or ticking tasks off your list, levels are gained by collecting curious artifacts from around the world. These are found in bins, rubble piles, lockers and so on. They’re hidden away in electronically-locked boxes or rooms accessible only to mechanical types. Some accidentally fall out of the pockets of someone whose wallet you unintentionally bumped into, or whose big stupid face you bashed in with a sledgehammer. Each one of these ‘oddities’ adds a point, and when you have enough points, you reach the next level. Grinding doesn’t work, as each flavour of oddity can only be used so many times, the rationale being that your character has learned all that they can from, say, a bandit’s jewellery, or a copy of What Mutant? Magazine.

The idea is to encourage exploration with something less unnatural than “you need more xp, go stab rats”, and to ensure that players can advance through means other than playing Mata Piñata. You’d think, also, that it would be a great excuse to fill the world with flavour text, telling you about the beasties you’re fighting, the events that brought the world to this state, and the micro-societies whose members you’re repeatedly kicking in the nadgers. But Underrail doesn’t. It doesn’t really do anything.

Despite the presence of skills like hacking, persuasion, and a pretty decent crafting setup, combat features heavily. The basics are sound; characters shuffle around and trade regular blows, livened up with the occasional grenade, net, or poisoned knife, and novelty weapons to be bought or built (crossbows being the most colourful thanks to their variety of bolts). Every few levels, you can take perks that grant a special stunning attack, or bonuses to homemade armour, or replenish movement points for killing. But combat becomes obnoxiously hard early on, mostly due to enemies having access to the same perks and equipment, and then some.

Even with all my perks devoted to doing damage and getting into positions to do more damage, there’s simply too much random luck involved. Status effects stacking up when you’re stabbing someone is great, but when you’re fighting three people who can also stunlock you for 2 or 3 turns, missing a single special attack or taking one bad hit spells practically guaranteed death. There are cooldown timers on everything too – stealth, medkits, even grenades for god’s sake – so while your options are arbitrarily limited, two enemies (and the very opening task has you fight several groups of – of fucking course – rats. Well, rathounds. So rats and wolves combined, because why limit yourself to one cliché? I look forward to the inevitable spidergoblin) can cycle their attacks, effortlessly immobilising, stunning and/or crippling you. Even on easy mode, too many fights come down to hoping that enemies will miss, against the odds.

One completely unannounced monster is stealthy (you can sometimes spot stealthy enemies if stealthed yourself and standing close. If you miss them… reload. Sometimes you can see them but still not attack them. Reload. Sometimes you can see them, attack them, and miss. Reload. Sensing a pattern?), with venomous attacks that also render you helpless. Taking control from the player is always annoying. The insult of bothering to start your turn when you can do absolutely nothing stings. The fact that there’s a perk that lets you cancel status effects – but only some and with another bloody cooldown timer – twists my tendons. But all this put together is absolutely maddening. And I’d done plenty of exploring for those oddities to level up as much as possible by this point.

Even stealth lends itself to fighting better than to evasion, because dodging between multiple enemies randomly wandering in a very small space leads to yet more quicksave roulette. No game has ever paired real-time wandering with turn-based combat without causing severe friction. Here it’s at least non-binary, as enemies become gradually more aware of you rather than toggling between oblivious and aggressive. But that’s no help if your pathing takes you blundering into them, or if they follow you as you try to creep away. Oh, and speaking of pathing and controls, for the love of god, if you’re making a turn based game, give us the option to confirm our orders. Underrail has a nasty habit of misinterpreting clicks in combat, adding more chances to instantly doom yourself. A simple double click order system would remove this entirely. Even OpenXcom has this feature.

Movement brings me to another bugbear, one that it’s really unfair to single Underrail out for: the trudging. Oh god, the trudging. More than almost any of the litany of ancient irritants sprinkled into every RPG since Hammurabi first whalloped his brother with a +2 Axe of Nerding, I am tired of RPGs that make me trudge. Here we have a world whose difficulty demands levelling, which in turn demands exploration of all the side tunnels you can find (standard encounter rules apply: the only way to gauge a fight is to save the game, then let them kill you). All areas are interconnected with other screens; there’s no overworld map at all. There is a fast travel option between settlements, but you still need to explore, and still need to get across the settlements.

This adds up to endless plodding from one end of an empty screen to another, even more slowly if you’re stealthed, and if you’re not, you’ll get killed before long and have to do it all over again anyway. You can’t even bloody run. The opening settlement has nine floors, with taskmasters and merchants spread across most of them. I have to talk to Ben? Okay, which one was Ben? I think he was on Floor 4. Trudge trudge trudge. No wait, I need to get my stuff from my locker to sell to him as he’s the only person who buys clothes. Trudge trudge trudge. Oh wait, that’s not Ben. I’d best check all the other floors. Trudge trudge bloody trudge. It’s so slow.

I started playing it in a window so I could do something else while waiting for my character to stroll home. This isn’t a good sign, y’know? Oblivion’s looping dungeons might have been silly, but they saved some of us from days of pointlessly clomping about.

All this might not be fatal. However difficult, slow, or arbitrary it got, Underrail might have recovered. None of these faults, as I’ve said, is all that uncommon. But the real problem with Underrail is a question that throws all of its shortcomings into focus:

What the hell am I doing here?

I’ve played for dozens of hours according to in-game timers (which don’t account for time lost to undone dead ends and the many, many reloads), and I still have very little idea what the plot is. I’m a new person joining a settlement, presumably for reasons. I’m taken to a private room and… kind of blunder aimlessly about the place until I meet the right NPC, then do a few chores because he says so. At no point is there any way to find out much about the world, its past, the people in it, what to expect from the game, or to care in the slightest about anything at all. Oh, several characters can be interrogated about three or four factions who… exist. Except that they don’t really, so help me out here, game! Have them do something. Have a representative in the starter town! Have polarised arguments about them in the canteen. Don’t just rattle off their boring names and some lukewarm politics.

By the time a likely overarching force of villains arrived I was past caring (not helped by their total invulnerability – more trudging to get there and find that out and then return, thanks game), and I can only remember one NPC by name because it reminds me of Gorky-17, a mediocrity I’m suddenly looking back on fondly for having far more personality.

I’ll give you an example. One early scene has an NPC, Soldier Guy, struggle to open a vault, only to quickly close it again with horror as he sees something inside. He refuses to let anyone in, so surely this is foreshadowing some terrible evil about to be unleashed? Nope. I trudge all the way back to HQ, talk to Science Guy, trudge back to Soldier Guy, and then trudge all the way back to the vault again, then go in and stab the monsters inside. I’ve already fought things like them in another cave anyway. What a waste.

Even at their worst, the games Underrail is inspired by had strong narrative hooks to contextualise a player’s decisions, and give incentive to go on through stickier patches. Fallout had the water chip (followed by the bigger threat you inevitably stumble across one way or the other by pursuing that goal), Planescape had Nameless One’s identity and the tragic fate of Mrs One, Baldur’s Gate had the cliché but reliable “why’d this sumbitch kill everyone?”. Without that, all of those games would have stumbled badly (don’t tell me you played Planescape for the combat), and it’d probably be their undeniable flaws that we talk about today, rather than their strengths.

There are people who enjoy Underrail, and I honestly envy them. I can’t call them wrong, because I can see the germ of something great in it. It’s as close as anything has come to recreating that world we lost to a sea of ironic trilbies and Pipboy bobbleheads, and it clearly aimed to innovate rather than merely imitate. But while its tone and aesthetic goes beyond the shallow iconography of Bethesda’s sequels, it gives me too few reasons to follow, and too many to stay inside the Vault.

80 Comments

  1. Infinitron says:

    Boo!

    You could compensate for this review by saying something about the upcoming Expedition expansion pack. It’s got jet skis!

  2. allthingslive says:

    Damn that’s pretty harsh, especially putting up the whole game on trial as if it actually is part of the Fallout series. I’ve had it on backlog for a long time and haven’t got to try it yet, so can’t say you’re wrong. Only that I hope so.

    • Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      Nah, he’s unfortunately bang on. I gave up on the game eventually because of the absolutely stupid slowness of it that the developer is reluctant to fix, even though it’s the first thing people complain about.
      There’s a Cheat Engine hack out there to improve speed, but it wasn’t enough to make me go back after getting frustrated.

      Avoid.

      • DarkFenix says:

        There’s also a complete lack of character of flavour to the game. The people, the world, the aesthetic; they’re all devoid of character, individuality, and flair. Fallout managed this 20 years ago, yet they apparently played it and took away all the wrong messages about what made it great.

    • SnallTrippin says:

      Don’t listen to these people. I played the game AGES ago (in game time) and it was really damn fun. Give it a few hours (I bounced off it at first go) and it really shines!

      • Snowskeeper says:

        Games shouldn’t need a few hours to start being fun…

        • equatorian says:

          I have no horse in this particular race, but why do games need to be fun immediately? Sometimes you need to give a book a few chapters to really get going. Sometimes a TV series needs a couple of episodes, even a season or two, to really hit its stride. And it’s not as if books and TV aren’t supposed to be ‘fun’ either.

          Ideally a game should be engaging from the get-go, sure, but ‘give it a few hours’ isn’t all that unreasonable an idea.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I really can’t think of any great shows, movies, or novels that weren’t at least good right from the beginning.

            I honestly think that when people say “give it a chance, it gets better!” they’ve either been duped into thinking it gets better because the longer you’ve been exposed to something, the harder it is to dislike it, or they’re wrong about the beginning being bad, because it just gets better. If something really “gets better” it’s almost universally more engaging than you think, even from the start.

          • neofit says:

            They do. I have tons of games, books, shows and movies to play, read and watch. I am definitely NOT wasting my time on badly written/designed stuff because they might or might not be better two hours or two years later.

            On the subject, Underrail was one of the games that I asked a refund for the fastest.

          • Someoldguy says:

            If you based your opinion of Fallout 2 on the initial temple of trials without taking specific skills, you’d have refunded that too.

          • ButteringSundays says:

            “but why do games need to be fun immediately?”

            Because they’re a form of entertainment?

            Maybe ‘fun’ is the wrong word to use, generally speaking; but you should certainly be engaged and enjoying the experience the whole time, otherwise somebody did something wrong.

          • klops says:

            The Wire is the greatest TV show ever made and I didn’t enjoy it much when watching the couple first episodes (but yeah, they weren’t bad, just not so interesting). I kept watching because I had heard from many realiable people that it was great. It is.

            Crusader Kings 2 or EU3 didn’t pull me in when I started playing them. I was confused and lost but kept playing because I had understood that they seemed to be great. They are. Same with Dwarf Fortress, which is great but also sucks (UI). Same thing seems to be with many people on RPS, the complain how it is hard to geti into CK2, but don’t put effort into understanding the game.

            Fallout 2 temple example was great.

          • klops says:

            …This doesn’t mean that I disagree with the article, though. I disagree with the disagreement with “give it more time”.

          • Viral Frog says:

            I can think of far more than just a handful of games (and TV shows and movies) that I did not think were fun or entertaining at the start, yet they are now some of my favorite games (and other media). I agree with the sentiment that they need to be engaging from the start, but not necessarily “fun”.

            I had a terrible time starting out with CK2. The first ~12 hours were like banging my head against a brick wall. Yet the game’s systems were interesting and kept me engaged. I wanted to learn how the game worked, regardless of whether I was having fun or not. It is now one of my favorite games of all time, and is definitely fun right from the start of a new campaign.

            When I first started The Deadly Tower of Monsters, I thought the game was just okay. Pretty simple, not necessarily the most fun game to start. But as it slowly introduced new gameplay elements, the real fun began. It kept me engaged when I thought it was just okay, which led me to having an extremely fun experience after a few hours of game time had passed.

            Dark Souls is another example. Just like CK2, I had absolutely no fun with the game for about the first 10 hours. But something about the opaque and obtuse systems kept me coming back for more. Now, anytime I load the game, I have a ton of fun regardless of how the session goes (which is sometimes terrible, depending on the day :P). Again, from absolutely no fun to one of my favorite action RPGs of all time.

            These are just a few examples. I can name plenty more off the top of my head, and probably even more if I look at my Steam library. I can see why some people will abandon games if they aren’t instantly fun, given that a lot of people have minimal time to spend gaming. I’m low on time myself, but I’m okay with spending it trying to overcome the initial obstacles a game presents. And I’ve become pretty adept at identifying when a game will become fun, or if it just isn’t a fun game.

            Even with this article, I do still plan to give Underrail a go here soon. Working on a few other games first. It seems like a game that people either love or hate with not much in between. I wonder where I’ll fall on the spectrum.

            TL;DR: I don’t think games have to be fun from the jump. But they do have to be engaging. Your mileage may vary.

        • briangw says:

          I’ve heard people say that about Risen and Witcher. Absolutely boring until you get past the first areas.

          • Viral Frog says:

            I haven’t tried Risen yet (back log :P), but this is absolutely true for The Witcher. The starting area in that game is so awful. I bounced off the game multiple times before I finally pushed through and realized how much better the game gets.

    • Xpyder says:

      I have one really big gripe that breaks my immersion and makes it impossible to play, and despite several people pointing it out the developer has both acknowledged it and refused to fix it.

      Despite being able to choose from a wide variety of portraits covering an impressive variety of styles and races, your characters model is always the same.

      It’s completely immersion breaking to make a character that’s a big burly black guy or a punk girl with a green mohawk based on your portrait, and end up with the same skinny white dude with short brown hair for your character model. Not everyone’s a skinny white guy, and if you’re not going to implement any other models then at least don’t bother with the other portraits so at least it’s clear what you’re going to get

  3. Scelous says:

    Your summation pretty much mirrored my own experience, although I never felt like the trudging was particularly bad.

    One of the other biggest irritants for me were assault rifles. Characters can start with attribute stats from 1-10. You need a 6 or a 7 to use an assault rifle, any assault rifle. It requires a strength of 8 to swing around a sledgehammer in combat effectively. So you need to be one point short of swinging sledgehammers to be able to use assault rifles.

    Because I didn’t make an above-average buff character, I was relegated to pistols in my game. It felt like absolute shit game design and really left a bad taste in my mouth.

    • Someoldguy says:

      I was ready to dump the game too, until I followed a few forum threads to links to a huge range of viable character builds. Any one of them was quite capable of handling the game (although some reloading is necessary, just as it was with fallout when the enemies critted you with their opening shotgun/minigum/plasma rifle blast). Once set up with a guide to the right combination of stats and skills, it became decent. Not great, but decent. A lot of the “endless trudging” comes about only if you’re the kind of hoarder who absolutely must loot everything and drag it back to the vendor to make another 6 caps when you already have 1000. Be smart. Don’t be that person. Pick only the light and valuable stuff and you will be much happier.

    • golochuk says:

      I don’t think Underrail, or really most RPGs, benefits much from having a complex numerical stat system. It would be a lot better if you just had 1-2 upgrades for each stat that clearly stated what they let you do, roughly corresponding to the optimal points that usually emerge anyway (like sledgehammers requiring 8 strength).

      A lot of people don’t like having to research character builds, and since Underrail combat is involved with or without a good build, there’s no reason to make building a character hard.

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    Nauallis says:

    Ah, see, this is why we need professional game reviews/journalism. I’ve read many a user review of Underrail, basically singing its praises as the “modern-day equivalent” of Fallout 1 & 2 (and I missed that ship). I especially appreciate that you talk about how the mechanics work, and how that applies to the game at large.

    I still wanna play this at some point, but I’m happy waiting until opportunity rears its ugly head.

    • Mandrake42 says:

      I like the game, it’s good. I wish the game dev would make the improvements to make it fully engaging though. Part of the problem is the die hard fans. I suggested in a thread on maps that an automap should be included. I was eviscerated. Apparently it was immersion destroying, the very idea was toxic. While I received some support, for the most part suggesting an automap was the equivalent of walking into the bascilla in Rome and pissing in the fountain. One person compared having an automap to removing bullet damage from the game………

      • ButteringSundays says:

        I can’t comment on this game specifically but this is an interesting observation that’s made me think on more than one occasion that there’s a fine-line between being responsive to your fan-base and cowing to the diehards. Even the former can tarnish an otherwise well crafted game design (if it existed to begin with), but the latter is almost universally detrimental to the end product – for everyone other than the diehards, anyway. I see this most often with difficulty. Nothing worse than picking up a new release that’s near impossible to play because it’s balanced around folks that have already clocked up 2000 hours during Early Access.

        • Sin Vega says:

          I almost made the article about this exact process, because it certainly seemed like a factor. But I didn’t follow the development closely so it would have been too speculative.

      • turbodevil says:

        Man, you need to seriously get over our conversation. You could have at least provided a link to it so other people can see what happened to you if it bothers you that much. Here it is, if anyone interested (or really bored): link to steamcommunity.com

        Tldr: I like that Underrail have no map. It makes game more difficult (and arguably more frustrating), rewarding careful exploration, remembering path you took and paying attention to where you go. You need to focus on the world, so you get more immersed. By the way, the game is generally praised for atmosphere and details like not having a map take part in that.

        No map increase difficulty and allow you to get lost in hostile environment, forcing you to find your way around. Since exploration is part of a challenge, I think map would significantly decrease that challenge, similarily to how not taking damage would trivialise combat which is statement Mandrake complains about (a lot).

        I also think it’s not a big deal if there was a map but imo the game is better without one. If you disagree, you can download fan-made one no problem.

  5. stuw23 says:

    Harsh, but chimes with what I’ve read elsewhere. There are people who like it because it so clearly wants to be a modern Fallout, but when I read that the only sprint in-game is a timer-based perk, I knew it wasn’t for me. Pretty sad, but oh well.

  6. Eukatheude says:

    Yeah I remember that door too… It led to a large cave full of said monsters, goodies and maybe a couple of scrabbling. I missed it too on a quick look.

  7. Scraphound says:

    I know it’s the hip thing to just kind of stack all games together and pretend like they should be judged on the same grounds, but come on.

    Underrail was basically made by one dude. Okay, that one dude doesn’t have much (or any) skill at writing a thoughtful narrative. I’ll give you that. But wow. What it does, it does so well, and with such heart.

    I find the game surprisingly massive, intricate, and smooth considering its humble beginnings.

    This is such an overwhelmingly negative piece. I don’t normally care, but I’ve played so many shitty AAA games with awful writing that get endlessly praised.

    I almost feel the real quibble here is a lack of quick travel above all else and that “I’m living in the year 2017 and therefore don’t expect me to have an attention span” junk that’s made, well, everything turn to shit.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I hate that I didn’t like it, especially because it’s clear so much work has gone into it, from such a small team. There’s enough promise in there that an expansion could make a difference. I certainly hope so.

    • Kanthric says:

      While I agree it’s unfair to directly compare an Indie game to something with a AAA budget and a vast team behind it, that shouldn’t be a free pass against criticism about key elements of the game – especially if those flaws really detract from the overall experience.

      While I agree Underrail is an impressive feat for a single designer, to put this in perspective, The Stanley Parable was made by two Half-Life 2 modders, and Stardew Valley was also made by a single designer. These both got rave reviews from the RPS team and, frankly, most other people who encountered the game.

      Despite being a huge fan of Fallout 1 and 2 and desperately wanting to love Underrail, I feel there are good reasons why Underrail was hit with a much more mixed reception. There’s a great gem of a game in there, but the bits that don’t work well sadly conspire to ruin it for the bits that do.

    • Archonsod says:

      “Okay, that one dude doesn’t have much (or any) skill at writing a thoughtful narrative.”

      Or game design either to be honest. You can kind of see what he was trying to do, but mechanically it’s a bit of a mess. It’s kinda like he knew what each part did, but never understood how the engine worked.

    • Philopoemen says:

      While I won’t comment as to the ability of Styg as a writer or developer, I will say I think the Eastern European aesthetic comes through in both the content and delivery. Everything is much bleaker and more subtle than most Western RPGs – I personally think the delivery and world-building is better than most modern RPGs where you’re bludgeoned with information, and for me, it was much more “show” rather than “tell”.

    • jeremyalexander says:

      A poorly designed game is a poorly designed game. You can’t give pity points for effort just because it was a small team. I waited for this game for years and I love the old Fallout games, and I spent about 12 hours with this mess and will never touch it again. He may only be one man, but he’s one man that made a pretty bad game.

  8. TΛPETRVE says:

    And that’s your problem right there – aside from the skill system, the game never even remotely claims or even just pretends to be like Fallout. It really has more in common with a mid-90s Microprose game (somewhere in between Bloodnet and X-COM), and structure-wise I’d even compare it to a turn-based Dark Souls. And that’s also why you’re not gonna find anything like a straight-up discernible main plot here until about a third into the game. I also have no idea where the hell you went looking, because I found plenty of lore and story bits in the game, and while the dialogue can be a bit dry at times, it beats the living hell out of the pretentious, self-absorbed wankery that apparently is sold as “writing” in most WRPGs nowadays. Now to be fair, without its world the game wouldn’t be half as engaging. The aforementioned mechanical flaws are absolutely there, and the ongoing narrative (that ends on an absolutely brutal cliffhanger) takes a clear backseat to the scenario, which gradually shifts from your standard fare junkpunk apocalypse to a Harlan Ellison-esque hellhole of misery and cosmic horrors (seriously, the final third is so depressive and downright misanthropic, you can’t be faulted for wanting to watch an episode of the Care Bears afterwards as a palate cleanser). Nothing about it is particularly original, and nothing about it feels in any way modern, but that’s precisely why I love it. The game feels like it was actually made in the 90s, outdated design choices and all, and it is also delightfully po-faced in a way that is missing nowadays, where everything is either memes and annoyingly self-aware, or the puerile kind of edgy and grimdark.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      I never finished the game but I thought it was as lovely as it was frustrating in a way that, for me, was not enjoyable. Dark Souls and (arguably) Bloodnet were enjoyable even at their most frustrating, but Underrail’s ambience becomes quite strained by its engine: it can’t really show you all that much, perhaps because of the limitations of it being made by one person, but also because this kind of engine is made to go with a ton of expository text. Underrail lets you read a bunch of lore bits, but it can’t show you all that much about it, so you’re left with vagueness. Dark Souls’ genius was to let you interpret those moments of ambiguity thanks to its grand aesthetic, but Underrail simply can’t do that. I wish it could, though, because then it’d be one of my favorite things ever.

      • TΛPETRVE says:

        The game shows more than enough, especially in the later parts. And by the by, it has not been made by a single person. There were several folks involved, including a graphic artist who modelled most of the late game assets. It shows in the game’s visual inconsistency; there are hand-drawn assets and simple renders mixed with much more complex and detailed elements. If it wasn’t for the lack of budget, they’d have probably overhauled the entire game, rather than just the most egregious bits.

    • jeremyalexander says:

      First of all, the game’s creator compared it to Fallout and the project was started to literally bring that type of game back from day one. Making a Fallout like game was his declared goal from the start, so attacking the reviewer for making the same comparison is asinine. Second, it’s a poorly written and poorly designed game, no matter what you compare it to, or even if you compare it to nothing and take it on it’s own merits. You’re making excuses for it because you either like it, then good for you and write your own review, or you are somehow emotionally invested in the project. Reading your post, you are clearly in the irrational “everything was better before, new stuff stinks” category and that is neither a factual, nor rational worldview. If you like the game, then good for you, the author didn’t and quite a large number of people, myself included, didn’t as well and you have to live with that. No amount of complaining about it is going to change the fact that I hated my 12 or so hours with this poorly designed mess and I didn’t even find the combat that hard, just bland. Calling people names and pretending that the current golden age of games is somehow churning out poorly written drivel is just nonsense ranting that can’t be taken seriously. I’ve been playing PC RPG’s since Ultima 3 was bleeding edge and games have never been better designed and written than many are now. There are a few old games still worth playing like Fallout 2 and the original Deus Ex, but if you’re going to tell me that say Ultima 7 was better writing than the Witcher 3, I’m gonna give you a firm pat on the back, a nice smile, and then walk away shaking my head. If you like the game, go to Metacritic and write a review.

  9. Saarlaender39 says:

    Ah,…Gorky 17…to be honest: I loved it!

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      Same here! Calling it mediocre seems really messed up!

      • Sin Vega says:

        I have a lot of fond memories of Odium (what I actually knew it as, I don’t know what the story is there), used to play it with a close friend. It has a lot of colourful monsters, fun weapons, and some charmingly wonky b-movie dialogue. Bit of a soft spot for it. But I couldn’t in all honesty say it was a particularly good game.

  10. Voxavs says:

    The moment I met Psi Beetles and realised I can’t beat them without restarting the game and spec-ing my char differently, I just uninstalled. Sadly it was beyond refund point, since it was clear to me that me and this game don’t go togeather well. Call me spoiled by modern games, but it didn’t feel like it’s worth the effort, not to mention that I wasn’t that thrilled with what happened before this point. Just like you said, I wanted to like it, but it just wasn’t good enough I guess.

  11. haldolium says:

    While UnderRail sure has many of the mentioned flaws, I still overly enjoyed the time in it until the last part, which overdid it in terms of try&error.

    I think it’s background info on the world and characters was sufficient, it did create a great atmosphere in it’s entirety for me. Definitively more memorable as many other games. I can see where the frustration comes from, but it’s a bit one sided, ignoring the many positives and satisfying ideas in UnderRail.

    I’d happily agree with anyone ranting about the endgame, but the game before that was quite enjoyable to me despite some of the undeniable shortcomings.

    PS: many games from that era had actually better UIs as modern games. Fallout 1/2 UI are still pretty decent and by far superior to the horror of F3.

  12. Kem0sabe says:

    Git gud RPS, or something to that effect.

    Underrail is a glorious throwback to a more inclined time. I remember when the game was in real time but rpgcodex members convinced styg to change it to TB… And what a change it was, this has to be the most satisfying TB pc rpg since temple of elemental evil.

    It’s true that the writing isn’t as deep as some other games in the genre, but it’s serviceable and does a good job at setting up the plot and moving t eh character along.

    • Kolbex says:

      A more inclined time, before everything became so danged flat.

  13. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    I did try to love it having replayed the old Fallouts many a time over the years but the trudging and lack of map eventually killed it for me. And the story seemed altogether – vague, is how I’d put it. Hoping for a more refined effort from the dev the next time out, since it does show a lot of promise.

  14. SnallTrippin says:

    I cannot disagree with this opinion piece more. I played the game many months ago (and I know there’s been lots of meat added since) and it was very good.

    While I did first bounce off the game a few times before I got into it, once you put in a few hours it really becomes obvious how many options there are and threads to pull at; I highly recommend everyone who has this in their backlog at least give it a couple hours.

    I will certainly be back into the world sometime (oh, and you can re-start a game with your old character making new avenues in the beginning open to you, yay).

  15. Philopoemen says:

    A quick check of my Steam library shows I have 500+ hours in Underrail, and I know I still haven’t done everything in it. I can’t speak to the author’s experiences, but it seems like they bounced of it hard, because everything they mention is obviated fairly early on. But there are some fair criticisms, and some points which seem unnecessarily harsh.

    Character Design – Now the thing is, with Underrail, you can absolutely not be a jack of all trades, so character design at the beginning is fairly important. I died (a lot) when I first started, and then watched the Nerd Commando build vids on Youtube (with the amazing narrator lol), and had a solid assault rifle build.

    If you’re good at guns, you’ll suck at melee, same as Fallout, but what isn’t clearly mentioned is the more you invest in Guns, Melee etc, the *more* damage you do. If you bring up your combat stats, it shows you your actual combat efficacy rather than what the gun just says. This was also confusing.

    Combat Utilties are required – in the first section of the game, hunting Rathounds and Psi Beetles, you are likely to die if you try a straight up fight. Molotovs, caltrops, Taser, (you have to craft one if you want one) etc make life heaps easier, and crowd control is actually fairly important. Most utilities can be crafted, which leads to…

    Crafting – everything you find is crap (even the unique stuff, sort of), and the shops are expensive (early on), so crafting is important, and will largely be determined by your build. You won’t buy an AR/energy pistol before Junktown, but you can always make one. And whilst you want good quality parts, the more important bit is your build and play style – do you want extra damage, better crit chance, etc etc. They you add the different components when you build which tweak that aspect. Crafting is also important for armours, which make life so much easier.

    You can avoid a lot of combat – through diplomacy, stealth etc, a lot of the quests can be (eventually) completed through dialogue if you have decent stats, and stealth (due to the dark nature of the game) is superpowered with the right playstyle and build. You won’t avoid all fights, but you can use the environment a lot of the time to either avoid a fight or start it in your favour.

    NVGs are mandatory – it makes the game very green, but once you have some, you won’t ever not use them, unless an enemy EMPs you whilst wearing them…

    There is a right way and a wrong way – the author mentions the exploration, which is left to you, but you can definitely go where you’re not at the right level to be even early on. You can get one-shotted pretty easily in the early stages, and sometimes, running away is your best option. Unfortunately, that is largely an experience thing, rather than a in-game UI thing.

    Fast Travel – not sure how far the author got into the game, but you can fast travel to most towns (some by ferry, some by train), which cuts a lot of the travel grind out. As for walking, as soon as you have Tabi boots, you move pretty quick, and enemies (as in critters) don’t respawn that often. Movement speed is based on how heavy your armour is too, so if you went AR-Tank build and don’t have tabis yet…you are sloooow.

    Old Junkyard is hard – this seems to be the point that most people reach and repeatedly die, and then give up. It is hard, especially if you’re playing for the first time, and are still figuring out builds. The acid causes huge dramas if you’re not aware of it, and the game is very reticent to hold your hand.

    There is also the Classic experience system for those that want the old-school Fallout style experience. I actually have never used it, so can’t compare it to the Oddity system.

    I’ve completed the game numerous times, and started and abandoned numerous more when trying different build styles. Whilst not Souls-like really, the more you play it, the easier it becomes. But it does have a steep learning curve.

    There a plenty of things I dislike, like unavoidable stuns, the paucity of notes when advancing a quest (so if you have completed Parts 1-5 of a quest, and only have Part 6 to do, it stills shows you’re yet to do part one), and the confusing Underrail labyrinth when sometimes i only know I’ve been there previously because of the corpses…

    But I like the lore, the drip feed way you learn more about the the main boss, and the enviroment teaching you, not just being dialogue bombed. I also like that you can’t do everything in a single play through due to the faction systems in place, and each build is completely different way of playing the game.

    Looking very forward to the expansion!

    • Nosebeggar says:

      I just took the time to write my own comment and now that I’ve read yours I think that you’ve explained it way better. 75+ hours in and I still don’t have the tabbi boots, heard about them a lot though.

      I never understood the actual use of NVAs. What does it do? Just wearing them gives you higher perception but what does the NVA mode do apart from turning your screen green?

      Thanks for your comment btw, I hope a lot of people read it. Also looking forward to the expansion. Underrail is my fav RPG of all time, the build possibilities are insane.

      Also:
      Styx is a great dev and really communicative with the community

      • Wahooka says:

        Darkness reduces ranged chance to hit. It is worse for medium to long range. Turning on NV negates the penalty.

  16. Sly-Lupin says:

    Something all RPG developers need to understand–especially indie developers–is that narrative always, always, ALWAYS comes first. If there’s not a compelling story underneath your game, no matter how polished or enjoyable the raw mechanics are, it will never be very compelling. And conversely, no matter how poorly constructed your mechanics are, if the story underneath ’em is compelling, you will have your audience.

    I feel like I shouldn’t even need to say this–Planescape Torment and the Fallouts, especially, are classic games that suffer from notoriously poorly-designed game systems (combat, UI, etc.)… yet year after year we see countless developers dump out RPGs where the writing is, at best, no more than an afterthought.

    And sometimes the writing is absent entirely.

    A roleplaying game is all about playing a role… and you can play a role without some kind of narrative context.

    Good stories salvage bad games all the time; and bad stories ruin good games far more often.

    • TΛPETRVE says:

      Underrail has a pretty damn solid (if not exactly original) story. People just seem to have the attention span of a dead goldfish nowadays. If it isn’t flashy and full of Shakespearean purple prose (seriously, the new Torment was the most disgustingly pretentious piece of trash I have seen in two decades), it apparently isn’t good enough anymore. Some people still prefer their writing grounded and naturalistic. The original Fallout wasn’t all that much different outside of the instances when it was being in-your-face funny. There are only a few moments of that in Underrail, and they’re probably not that funny to non-Europeans, but fans e.g. of Enki Bilal will have a field day.

      • Nosebeggar says:

        Yep, having an attention span longer than the mentioned dead goldfish is favorable for underrail, necessary even.

    • Someoldguy says:

      While this is true in some cases, developers also learned that you can produce games with virtually no story except ‘we need the mcguffin to defeat the thingummy. You want to defeat thingummy because it killed your somebody. Click your attack button for 20 hours to achieve this.’ It started somewhere around Dungeon Siege and games of this ilk have been very profitable ever since as long as their graphics and fightiness live up to expectations.

      Not all games that try for quality through wordiness get it right, either. PoE, Tyranny and Torment Numenera have all gone that route and only one has had solid financial success.

  17. mitthrawnuruodo says:

    Good. This retrosploitation is becoming tiresome. “Develop” any unbalanced primitive garbage with lazily made 2d graphics, and simplistic gameplay copied from the last century, call it “oldschool hardcore”, and hordes of pretend-hardcore-oldschool gamers will pay big money and leave a positive review despite having a horrid time with it. Underrail obviously is not as bad, but there are too many games that are exactly as above.

  18. Nosebeggar says:

    This is my first post on RPS and a very important one I guess.
    I want to step in and defend Underrail from this harsh judgement. First up: no offence taken, none given by my comment, just my 2 cents on this.

    A lot of your points are entirely correct.
    -The trudging is painstakingly slow, but I enjoy it (outside of cities at least).
    -There is no gameworld map, and there really should be a kind of 3D map you can navigate through, especially if you haven’t played in a long time and you do not own a magic memory for games.
    -Inventorymanagement is pure horror
    -Misinterpreting clicks in combat: don’t get me started

    -The combat is painfully hard early on, yes. However: what most people don’t understand about underrail is: you can manage to finish the whole game without ever fighting. You aren’t some super human dragonborn fighting off mutant baddies like flies. You’re just a regular human trying to survive AGAINST THE ODDS. If you cannot win a fight: avoid it.
    -As for relying on luck: see above. You’re not superhuman, you’re outnumbered and a pathetic weakling as you start off. Relying on luck is intentional.
    -The faction system is actually very strong in this game and the start of the main story early on (story is also very interesting), if you claim that neither exists you have not played a sufficient amount of time to be judging this game.

    “I started playing it in a window so I could do something else while waiting for my character to stroll home. This isn’t a good sign, y’know?” – You
    Your attention span has been destroyed by mobile phones. Lay off the candycrush for a while. (No offence)

    The world is actually very immersive and great to lose yourself in, just play underrail when you’ve got time. It’s a great RPG. Basically it all boils down to: learn how to defend yourself. Set traps, ambushes, always attack first if you think you cannot get out of a situation, craft/buy metal armor for melee characters (believe me, it’s so worth it) and don’t put any skillpoints into a skill you do not plan to use, you’re going to need them all.

    Yes the game is full of cliché and the writing is mediocre but the world is huge, characters likable and memorable and there are so many great details I have never seen a game do before (as an example: later on there is an arena to fight in and the audience decides your fighter name based on your fighting style from a humongous list of possible names [Mine was paralyzer, because my char tends to kick people in the balls]).

    By the way: the soldier guy who closed the vault closed it for a reason. You can, with sufficient persuasion skill, coerce him into opening it up again later down the line.

    Tl;dr
    Game is flawed but ultimately great. Don’t miss out on this gem if you like it “hardcore”. (pun intended if you’ve played the game ;))

  19. kfcnearby says:

    How come such non professional opinion pops up on RPS? As I see it, it’s just a lack of game experience and total misunderstanding of the whole concept.
    *You can call it offence, if you like.

  20. Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

    The lack of a map and the trudging were major issues for me as well. When I got lost in the caves and spent minutes randomly walking from a screen to the other, I put down the game, decided to print the maps available on the wiki and get back to it. But then I just…didn’t. To be fair, I bought the game around Christmas and I had a bunch of other, shinier stuff to try. One day I’ll give Underrail its second chance.

  21. Caiman says:

    I loved this game, it was such a refreshing approach to the genre, nicely atmospheric, and competently written. Given that it was created by one dude, even more impressive, although understandably “retro” in style. This opinion piece seems unreasonably harsh (and perplexingly late).

  22. Kaeoschassis says:

    Why I felt out with Sin Vega.

    In all serious though, of course not. I am going to give this article a miss though, sorry. Underrail is hands down my favourite rpg in ages, for a great many reasons, and it got so many things RIGHT that other isometric rpgs get horribly wrong (especially stealth, oh my goodness the stealth), and I really don’t want to risk reading something that’ll make me suddenly realise it’s bad and stop me enjoying it.

    Seriously. I know that’s silly, but there you have it. Gonna remain closed-minded on this one.

  23. Jaws4096 says:

    Provocative review! I agree with most points in isolation, but I think expectations matter a lot. I approached Underrail as an indie game (with suitably low expectations) and I enjoyed it for the 15-20 hours I played. The character generation alone was worth the purchase price, in my opinion. The combat is indeed tough and even on easy you will get screwed by RNG, but many people love (even demand) that from this kind of game. Honestly, it’s a good effort and if you can afford to do so, I’d consider buying it solely to let the market know that there’s a demand for the genre.

  24. Wahooka says:

    I have to disagree with most points you make on your article.

    The game can seem unfair if you don’t exercise caution and have no understanding of the mechanics. For instance shooting in well lit rooms vs dark caves is a whole different ball game; hence the reason to carry flares or night vision goggles.

    What I enjoyed most about the game is the ability to tackle quest and enemies using various tactics and skills. You mentioned the burrower vault in your article. If you had sufficient Persuasion you could convince the NPC to let you in then and there. Another quest were you must find a murderer can be solved with detective work and following clues, brute force, covert action, persuasion, OR you can even frame the wrong man and be done with it.
    Battles can be straight forward (and deadly) or can be tackled gorilla style. You can observe enemy patrols, alarm positions and use combination of traps and stealthy kills to great effect. This aspect reminded me a lot of Fallout Tactics.

    My main beef with the game is luck of transparency of some mechanics or the ridiculousness of the RNG (whichever applies). Let me clarify: When I get a 95% chance to hit on my targeting reticule I expect to miss only once in 20 times certainly not 3 or 4 times in a row. This made me think that perhaps there is a mechanic not updating my to-hit chance but since the combat log is very poor, and only reports initiative and damage inflicted and resisted, I have no way of knowing.

    I am ambivalent on the walking thing as I found it tedious at the beginning but now I find it adds to the exploration and mapping. I still find it tiring when looting (I am greedy).

    As for the luck of rich narrative, well you can go play numenera. The game is ok as far as story and characters go and that is well and fine as its focus lies elsewhere.

    To sum up the game is great at the price of 14euros that I bought it and a good game at every other price tag. It is hardcore and unforgiving but so was Fallout or have you forgotten?

  25. krevvie says:

    Dear lord, do I wish I’d read this review before I bought the game then sat on it for a month before I actually tried it. It has so much potential, but ugh. Nope nope nope.

    • D_fens22 says:

      Krevvie, I would say do not trust reviews so much. At the end of the day, there is no special ability this reviewer has (just like an RPG :P) that makes him better at reviewing games than others. He is basically just a glorified commenter, like anyone else on this forum.

      The game depends strongly on your personality type and what you enjoy. It is a challenging game, and definitely requires you know what you are doing, but if you are good at planning and understand what perks are good, then you will have a great time. This game is absolutely fascinating, filled with so much lore, has great atmosphere, funny characters, and entertaining combat (if you plan your character well).

      It will probably take a few restarts (after playing an hour or two) to get the hang of it, but once you do its worthwhile. You have to be tactical and smart, thats the only thing.

  26. zer0sum says:

    Well I liked the game. I didn’t finish it, but I didn’t find it too tedious or difficult. The tactical combat is challenging but it’s not too hard to figure out a good build. Anyway, it’s a bit odd to see the game savaged on here like 2 years after its come out; if it looks remotely interesting to you then I promise it’s worth a spin.

  27. Dogshevik says:

    Actually this doesn´t sound too bad. I wasn´t even aware it existed until now.

    Being an RPG a big factor is, of course, writing. But since judging that is always controversial, I can´t really comment. And the trudging … well, it can´t be half as bad as Deus Ex MD, right?

    I mean two hubs, every quest sends you “to the other one” and a loading screen that lets you stare at your char walking down a tunnel for up to a full minute.
    Actually having to walk yourself sounds like an incredible experience in comparison.

  28. widardd says:

    Really suprised about this review.

    I absolutely loved Underrail for it’s complexity, difficulty and atmosphere.

    It felt like an amazing total conversion mod for Fallout 2.

    I have to say, though, I am not someone who gets bothered by graphics or interfaces.

    Maybe I am just used to it, I play indie/old rpgs all the time.

  29. ogopogo says:

    Just wanted to add another positive comment — I really adored Underrail even if I did need to run the speedhack to keep it playable.

    The *one guy* that made this game would be well advised to add some toggleable QoL features, clearly.

    That aside, the combat was much better than the 2-D Fallouts, though not Jagged Alliance good. I liked the writing well enough, would describe it as worse than Baldur’s Gate 2 (albeit with better worldbuilding than the fantasy oatmeal that was ‘Forgotten Realms’) but a good deal better than, say, Dragon Age. Not that that’s setting the bar very high.

    What baffles me is how people find the game so difficult — I think of it somewhat like the first three editions of D&D in that you really must plan out your character in advance, and probably read up a bit on how the combat works in advance, otherwise your character build will suck and you will constantly die.

    That’s probably the metric I’d use to determine if this game might interest you: if you feel that editions 1-3 of Dungeons and Dragons were over-complicated or unreasonably stat-heavy then Underrail probably isn’t going to appeal much. If older versions of D&D seem workable to you then Underrail may well be worth the time investment, even if not played to completion.

    It’s a pretty brutal game, very niche — but in my experience it was seldom unfair (way fairer than Nethack or ADOM, for example) and that RNG swings both ways.

    • Terelyn says:

      What do you mean by “that’s not setting the bar very high”?

      Baldur’s Gate 2 was a masterpiece, and the first Dragon Age was very good too.
      There is no need to compare these games to Planescape: Torment, the pinnacle of character-focused WRPGs.

  30. Zedascove says:

    Underrail doesn’t want to be Fallout. In fact it has very little in common with fallout besides having turn-based combat and being set in a post-apocalyptic world and having guns and stuff. The reviewer obviously has no clue what he’s talking about – many of the points miss the mark by a long shot.

  31. mercyRPG says:

    Thank You, Sin Vega for this review. I wanted to tell you about the Game Option switch between Oddities and “Get Traditional XP for everything”, but your review had many valuable points of ‘Why Not Like Underrail’ so I saved it to use your arguments for my game. What NOT to do during development.

  32. mompkin says:

    What does it tell you when the comments defending the game actually make me want to keep trying to play this LESS than the negative opinion piece? Also, apparently it’s wrong to dislike horrible tedious annoyances in games? I’m pretty sure disliking having to constantly reload my savegames or rebuild a character from scratch is not actually some sort of horrible millenial disease that the word needs to cure.

    • D_fens22 says:

      haha, I had to restart the game two or three times when I first got it in alpha. But once the game gets going and you have a good build…its pretty amazing, because the areas you explore, and the politics involved are actually pretty well-written and fairly dark, just like in Fallout.

      I think to me, the environments themselves are fascinating, because you are exploring who lived in this bombed out world that used to exist, and what kinds of technologies were they researching? And you see this as you progress through the game.

      Not only that but there is always that excitement of building a custom-made sniper rifle that does like 500 damage in a single shot to blow enemies away :P. I actually killed the final boss of the game in two shots with my super sniper rifle (and some perks), though I have seen videos of people one shotting him (I could have as well if I got a better crit).

      Just don’t worry about the people who say you are diseased for not wanting to start over. It is a bit annoying, I agree with you – the same is true for Wasteland 2 if you’ve ever played that game.

      But both games are worth it once you get the ball rolling, because lets be honest, there are no real replacements for Fallout or Fallout 2 anywhere (though Bethesda did make a very fun RPG with Fallout 4, I have to give them credit there – just that the story wasn’t great, as usual :P).

      This game is like opening a fascinating novel with all sorts of old world zones to explore, with cool weapons and gadgets that can make you feel overpowered (when you get a personal shield generator you will understand what I mean – just make sure you can craft your own!).

      PS: The music is also good, and the characters can be quite funny, like that alfa bet fellow you meet in the main city

    • Regicider 12.4% says:

      Also people keep repeating “builds”.
      The negatives of making an early access RPG I guess. In a good, balanced RPG system you should be able to play whatever role you want, to varying degrees of success obv but it shouldn’t force you to start over because you specced 1% wrong somewhere or include unviable levelling paths.

      Builds are something you shouldn’t have to care about until later runs, not having to optimize and min/max the systems to even have a chance at beating the game at all.

  33. welverin says:

    I’ve got your spidergoblins right here.

  34. Carnage says:

    Even the studio’s name hint you at by which game it was inspired. Yes, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (and that’s why it’s underground, not because of Metro (the book it didn’t even exist when the development started)), and everything that came out of it, including Deus Ex and System Shock. The only difference is that it’s isometric.

    Not to say that it had RTWP combat system at first, which means developer never really wanted this game to be Fallout-like to begin with.

    Tired of people comparing it to Fallout just because it’s isometric, and has turn-based combat system. It’s more focused on gameplay and dungeon crawling, rather than dialogues and NPC interaction.

  35. sfg says:

    Wow, what an imbecile. But that’s expected from a site of imbeciles that are all clueless about video games.
    That’s “wot” I want to say: imbecile.

    • Sin Vega says:

      “Imbecile” is too good a word to use three times in three sentences. Rather than strengthen your very poor work, it weakens it further. Consider these alternatives:

      Cretin
      Dolt
      Dullard
      Oaf
      Dunce
      Halfwit
      Numbskull
      Numpty
      Div
      Plank
      Plonker
      Dipstick
      Doughnut
      Dope
      Drongo
      Trog
      Moron
      Muppet

      There are many more such words available. If you’d like to hear some more, try asking your local librarian, or perhaps simply start a conversation with almost anyone you meet.

  36. TheFox says:

    “Even with all my perks devoted to doing damage and getting into positions to do more damage, there’s simply too much random luck involved.”

    I stopped reading after this point because this is sufficient evidence to accuse you of never having played Fallout 1 & 2. I joined this website just to tell you that you’re not very well informed on these games if you think too much relies on random luck.

  37. D_fens22 says:

    I think this game *may* depend on the build you go with. I didn’t follow any special online guides, but I played it once to get a feel for it and then restarted with a different character.

    If you go for guns you’ll be fine; crossbows and sniper rifles worked out great for me. The most strength you need is seven for high powered assault rifles; but you can actually use sniper rifles with 5, and its just fine. You have to use special tactics in order to play the game though; i.e. shoot and then go to cover, use grenades, etc.

    The game can be challenging, but it really isn’t that bad. I can imagine it being bad if you have very low awareness as you can, in the later parts of the game, bump into some nasty stealthed enemies. But in general I thought it was really fun.

    I think a lot of players dislike hand holding, so I kind of liked being lost in a world and figuring things out; over time an overarching enemy develops so its not like this game lacks a grand story. The weapons are all very cool, and so are the armour sets you can get. The existence of shields was also pretty awesome; in general really strong gadgets of all sorts.

    The characters are pretty funny IMO and the stories they have are interesting enough (to me, its mostly exploring the environments that I find fascinating).

    It has great ambient sound effects and a great post apocalyptic vibe. To be this game would be like a 90%, though I can imagine it being harder if you went for a pure melee build. Though to be honest, I have read other forum posts where people say sledgehammer builds are way overpowered. Also, there are tons of perks for melee and almost none for ranged, and yet playing as a sniper is oh so satisfying.

    If you like a challenge, really cool weaponry, gear, interesting places to explore, a decent story…this is a good game to get. It takes getting used to (you have to be a good scrounger and plan ahead with your build), but all worthwhile games take some investment before you can enjoy them. But this really doesn’t take *that* much investment compared to min-maxing schemes people go through when playing hack-and-slash games like Diablo and Path of Exile. At most you will play two games and then restart with a clear idea of what your build is, after working out the utility of certain perks and skills.

  38. jblac02 says:

    strap in or tldr, this is gonna be a long pseudo-rant.

    I’m going to start by using another comment someone already posted; he said your review is ‘provocative’ which is quite true from my perspective. Though not openly hostile it’s certainly an underhanded bashing from a perspective that obviously never completed the game and clearly isn’t an expert. As someone that’s completed the game twice, I find it very hard to take most of your points seriously at all and it fits in well with the “Has played 5 hours” crowd that have infested the steam reviews in a game that takes dozens of hours to complete even without being a completionist. Pardon my french but your review is basically the typical steam
    sh.itpost but longer tbqh. Furthermore, as someone who claims to have pitched the game as a fallout/infinity engine clone I find some of this even more baffling. You find rathounds difficult but you made it through the classics of the genre? Fighting 3 enemies at once is too much? I must ask; how in the world did you make it through the depot? that must have been hell for you if getting killed by starter zone mobs is something that happened to you.

    You mentioned multiple times how you had no idea who to talk to where to go, I find this to be a ‘modern gaming’ problem where everything is pointed out to you and has a big x on your map where your hand is held the entire way. There is almost never a point in the game where you’re left in the dark about where to go or what to do as long as you actually read what is being told to you. You might get a vague description occasionally but the game almost always tells you the place you need to head toward which should lead you to the right place or at least the right direction. For instance, you said you were just doing chores for the first town and got lost; without spoiling anything I can say that those ‘chores’ lead directly into every main quest hub/plotline in the game or indirectly to them through follow ups. Hell, the chores you’re talking about DIRECTLY lead into the main story and end game and its impossible to get lost if you simply keep going along with the first questline. I find it strange that the incredible freedom the game grants you(with the responsibility entailed with that, i.e. accidently going into a place you have no business being in) is a negative in your book in an industry where catering to the lowest common denominator and holding everyones hand in the established norm. To me personally, once I got past the depot I was absolutely blown away by how much there was to do and how many places there were to explore. By the time I even started the main quest line i was 3/4 the way to max level.

    I hate to quote an entire paragraph but this is where you really show how green you are frankly.

    “I’ve played for dozens of hours according to in-game timers (which don’t account for time lost to undone dead ends and the many, many reloads), and I still have very little idea what the plot is. I’m a new person joining a settlement, presumably for reasons. I’m taken to a private room and… kind of blunder aimlessly about the place until I meet the right NPC, then do a few chores because he says so. At no point is there any way to find out much about the world, its past, the people in it, what to expect from the game, or to care in the slightest about anything at all. Oh, several characters can be interrogated about three or four factions who… exist. Except that they don’t really, so help me out here, game! Have them do something.”

    There is tons of worldbuilding and lore but you are actually required to look for it and seek it out, it’s not thrown in your face hamfistedly. Sure, there could have been more but it’s a game made by 1 man, he did the best he could and the results are FAR above what most could accomplish in the same situation. Not only do all the factions you’re talking about exist, but they have questlines that affect the course of the game and perhaps the game to come. Supporting one can mean the deaths of others and changing the course of the game to a certain degree. I’m not trying to be a bitch but frankly you would know this if you had actually got past the beginning of the game. Honestly though, the primary problem with this argument is that the main plot of the game comes from the journey; you fall into it as you become more aware of what’s happening around you. If you had actually got very far into the game you would know what was going on at least to a much better degree than you’re claiming, you might not fully understand every detail of the cube(if you even got far enough to understand) or the different motivations of all the players involved but you definitely know enough to conclude there is something much bigger going on. This leads to another problem with the argument; the game is not done. The story is not completed and there is more to come,if you had actually completed it you would know the game ends on a cliffhanger which even allows you a “travel north” option directly leading into the future expansions. The so-called “overarching force of villains” you mentioned aren’t even villians, that alone tells me you don’t know what you’re talking about. In fact, they may very well turn out to be the ones with the moral highground in future expansions as they’re the only ones who don’t have power or greed as a motivation. Besides, there is no ‘good and evil’ in underrail; it’s all shades of grey. No matter which path you take through the game, you will end up doing something morally terrible at some point as a consequence of your actions even if you’re trying to roleplay as a good person.

    In closing, I’ll agree with you that there are drudgery issues because of how huge the caves and tunnels are and a map would have been a well received addition(I personally memorized most of the prime routes but I can see how others would find this a huge nuisance) but it really seems like this is not a game suited to you or players like yourself if you can’t bother to actually read whats being told to you or can’t figure things out on your own without major guidance. Frankly the game is designed and catered toward a more hardcore crowd and it’s completely unapologetic about that, which is why there are so many dramatically deferring opinions on the game. Many games tread the middle ground for demographic/sales purposes and underrail(Styg) refuses to compromise on his vision of the game. You might not like it but he’s created a fanatical following and his game is a new cult classic that people will be looking fondly on for years to come. Years from now people will be talking about it as an underrated hidden gem while many AAA titles will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

    ps, I know I was hostile but this is not in any way meant to be a personal attack against you, I simply found that this review had to be broken apart as the game deserves better imo.