I went into this game expecting great things. It’s 2018 and we were just given a new Ultima-inspired game with the promise of bringing the amazing classics from Ultima Underworld into the era with upgraded graphics and mechanics. I was super excited. That is until I played it. Ladies and Gentlemen, strap in and prepare yourselves, this is our Underworld Ascendant review.
Underworld Ascendant is being marketed as a direct sequel to the Ultima Underworld series: Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds. It was supposed to be the amazing Ultima Underworld games (which were amazing btw) but brought to the new era of gaming with awesome graphics and gameplay. Yet once I got into the game, I was wishing I hadn’t stepped for onto this boat. Give me my old games back, you’ve ruined the series.
Underworld Ascendant is nothing more than a generic dungeon crawler with a big name behind it being marketed at fans of an old series. In my opinion it’s a cash grab using the acclaimed history of the Ultima Underworld series as it’s selling point. Being marketed as a non-linear RPG is a bit much, the game is largely linear in nature. Sure, you can “choose” which quest you want to take, but the dungeons themselves are straight forward and linear. There’s generally only one direction to go, with many side openings to explore that are shallow and empty for the most part. I expected to find many monsters in my way as I explore, only to have stealth shoved into my face and barely any monsters to speak of.
Let me give a little insight for you guys so you can follow my thought process a little better. Ultima Underworld, the series, was developed by the same company. That company was named Looking Glass Studios, and was founded by Paul Neurath. That company was also responsible for the amazing Thief series, among others. Back in May of 2000 that company closed down due to financial issues. Would you guess that the company behind Underworld Ascendant was named OtherSide Entertainment, founded by none other than Paul Neurath himself? The company was founded in 2013 with no other games in development. It would appear that the company was created for the sole purpose of making Underworld Ascendant, a so called direct sequel to the Ultima Underworld series.
The most popular games developed by Looking Glass Studios by far was the Thief series alongside Ultima Underworld. So it’s hard to be surprised by the fact that many of the core mechanics from Thief are in this game. So much, in fact, I thought I was playing a Thief game, not an Ultima game. What do I mean by that you may ask, let me explain it for you. The primary objective of Thief was to navigate through each level utilizing stealth. Combat was an afterthought. I’m talking about Thief Gold, Thief II, for examples, not the recently released Thief game, the originals. Much like these games, combat seems to have been an afterthought, with much emphasis on stealth to get through each dungeon.
Combat is dull and unamusing. It’s more annoying than anything. Your primary foe are skeletons, which are extremely overpowered. It’s really no wonder they basically force you to use stealth. Going toe to toe with these skeletons is a very bad idea. Some are easy, but most are extremely difficult. They block your hits and knock half of your health out with one swing. Try to put distance between you and they pull out bows that do just as much damage. It’s insane. So you’re basically stuck to using stealth to get around each dungeon, which isn’t what Ultima was about. Not everything about this game is bad. These mechanics would have worked great for a Thief game. But for a dungeon crawler RPG they simply don’t fit.
Did I mention there is magic? Wouldn’t be an Ultima game if it didn’t have some kind of magic. You get runes and wands that let you use different types of magic, like forming a fire ball you can pick up and throw, or to heal yourself. They are useful for the most part and have meaningful purpose. There’s a wand, for example, that allows you to “pull” wooden objects to you, which you must do to open certain doors sometimes. Then you’ve got wooden doors that are locked with no key, throw a fireball at them and watch them burn! The game scores you at the end of a quest based upon how you completed it. You can utilize the environment to your advantage by shooting the torches out with water arrows, or setting giant slugs on fire by lighting their trail of ooze on fire. It’s a nice addition, but not enough to pull you away from the overreaching feeling that it’s a Thief game.
It’s a huge grind fest. You have to grind quest after quest, picked up from a central hub, to gain coin to purchase gear and earn experience to gain points to put into a huge talent board. It takes a lot of time to do this, for example one piece of gear could cost up to 50,000 coins. The average sell price of items was 1 coin. I wouldn’t mind the grind as much if it was just the grind, but I didn’t enjoy being forced to stealth my way through each dungeon just to get coins to buy gear that I will never use.
Does this mean everyone will hate the game? No, not at all. There are some people who will thoroughly enjoy it, whether it’s simply because it plays like a Thief game, or it’s just a random dungeon crawler. But to me it’s a big letdown. I’ve talked to others that have played it and they agree, which is sad. This could have been a great game, but I seriously feel like it was just a quickly made cash grab.
In summary, Underworld Ascendant brings a whole lot of nothing new to the table. It’s not the Ultima you remember and has its fair share of performance issues and bugs. If you’re looking for a sequel to Ultima Underworld, look elsewhere, this is not the game you were looking for.
- Magic System
- Destroying Doors with Fire
- Not Fun
- Combat is horrible
- Grindy, but not in the fun way