This title was reviewed on PS4, but is also available on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
I know what you’re thinking. “My god, another roguelike?” Yeah, I know, me too. I’d also say I was right to think so. With so many roguelike/lite/whatever else sort of dungeon crawler games coming out all the time, to be considered a good title that’s worth checking out you’ve got to have a unique gimmick or spin on the formula that sets you apart. Darkest Dungeon has its own unique style, array of characters, and ridiculous difficulty to keep it alive. Binding of Isaac has a huge host of different items, a massive variety of bosses, and a well made procedural generation system that make each run unique. Unexplored… well, has pretty much nothing that’s super unique. That’s not to say it isn’t reasonably well produced, because it is. Both gameplay and progression are nicely put together, but there’s not really anything here that is different. Just a whole lot of stuff that feels like it’s been pulled out of a bargain bin.
When you start the game off, you’re greeted with a loading screen. That’s fine of course, that’s to be expected, but god it is long. Eventually you do move on and the dungeon is generated. From there it’s a tossup between getting a dungeon that you can play through and a frustrating, horrendous run. There seems to be a strange sort of chaos to Unexplored’s gameplay, and it takes shape in the form of the dungeon. On one run, you may get some nice gear, progressing down the floors of the dungeon to find the Amulet of Yendor, whatever that may be. You don’t really have much story or lore here. Your goal though, is to get as deep as possible into the dungeon and escape with the aforementioned amulet. Now, in any given roguelite, there’s a sort of structure to the difficulty that balances things. That doesn’t appear to exist here. While in one run you may get that good gear and progress, in another, you may quickly find yourself totally under matched and overwhelmed. Without even enough time to feel prepared for a fight. This continues forever.
That random nature of the dungeon generation isn’t just referring to the tile placements, but the literal contents of the dungeon itself. Difficulties included. You can progress with upgrades to skills and weapons, a progression system that’s surprisingly expansive for how lackluster the rest of the game feels. But that isn’t always going to cut it in situations where you’re surrounded out of the gate and don’t know what to do.
On top of this strange uneven balancing to the game’s combat, the art style really isn’t very nice to look at. Some angles can just be weird or confusing. Others, combined with the half-bland, half-loud color palette, can just be outright ugly. The combat system also irks me; while the game plays like a roguelite, it uses semi-turn based combat as a basis i.e. after swinging a weapon, it has a cooldown.
The weapons are already a pain in the ass to maneuver, as they sit on an axis. Also, having that cooldown period when you’re fighting three enemies solo means they’re all getting hits in, because you can’t use that weapon defensively (remember it’s in cooldown). This leads to frustrating deaths and a lot of questions about whose idea this was. As for the rest of the gameplay, well, it sticks pretty close to your usual formula. You die, it’s permanent. You loot equipment and whatnot, progress, eventually die, and try to learn from your mistakes. The issue with that lies in my previous statement though; without some semblance of structure to the difficulty and generation, the game lacks any pacing. So progressing far and then dying rarely feels rewarding, because it’s a coin toss on whether or not what you learned from that run will even help you in the next one.
Overall, I didn’t have a good time with this game. The well-made progression system doesn’t make up for the lack of innovation or the abhorrent art style, and the combat is some of the most frustrating I’ve encountered in a roguelite. I really love the genre, but games like this are shining examples of the fact that it’s done to death, and I hope devs can start trying harder to make more unique variations on the formula. I wouldn’t personally recommend this game to anyone myself, so if you’re looking for a new roguelite to sink your teeth into, this is one I would say to steer clear of. You’ll find solace knowing your stupid looking circle character won’t ever exist to be mobbed by stupidly unbalanced situations.