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Swords and Sorcery: Underworld Gold Preview
Preview - posted by Zed on Thu 29 March 2012, 03:37:37Tags: OlderBytes; Swords and Sorcery: Underworld
These are interesting times to be an RPG fan. For one, it could be worse. Not only do we now have the crowdfunding projects to give us a gleam of hope for the future of the genre, but there are also several blast-from-the-past old school dungeon crawlers scheduled to be released in the nearest future. One of these games is the "Gold" (enhanced) version of Swords and Sorcery: Underworld (2010), an indie Might and Magic-esque game that was previously reviewed by the RPG Codex. I suggest you read the mentioned review first if it's the first time you hear about Underworld and want to find out just what it is and the basics of how it plays. In this preview, I will focus on my impressions of the newly released demo (which you can find in this thread, somewhere), the changes that have been introduced in the Gold edition, as well as some things that could, in my opinion, be further improved upon.
Like so many other role-playing games, Swords and Sorcery: Underworld Gold starts with party creation. When creating your party, you have the same choice of classes as in the original game (Knight, Paladin, Archer, Rogue, Priest and Sorcerer). These classes play pretty much like the archetypes you know and love (or hate). You will probably want to make a balanced party, as every class has some sort of useful ability or strength (healing, pick locks, buffs, et cetera). However, having two Sorcerers makes a world of difference, since the beginning of the game can get quite challenging for a melee-focused party in starting gear. You will definitely want to roll a healer as well -- the game uses a "K.O." combat system where a character at 0 hp gets knocked out and only dies from being hit again.
Character creation mechanics in Underworld Gold remain the same as in the old version. You roll or re-roll your stats and choose a class that the stats make you eligible for. For example, a character with a high Spirit roll, his other stats remaining low, will only be able to become a Priest. It is somewhat like classic DnD, except you chose your class after you roll. In other words, each class has minimum stat requirements just like in Might and Magic and Wizardry, the former serving as this game's main inspiration.
Classes and races have descriptions but it would be nice with full-fledged skill lists and stat descriptions in-game.
One thing that is new in Underworld Gold are the avatars of your characters. Every combination of race, gender and class has a unique portrait, making it a total of 48 different character sprites. These avatars, together with other overhauled graphical assets, maintain a good standard and are a lot more professional and consistent than the graphical assets used in the old version of the game.
The interface has also been graphically enhanced. It retains the same layout as before and it is still just as keyboard and/or mouse friendly. As you can see in the comparison shots below, the Gold version preserves the ability to assign hotkeys to everything that you can click on. Really handy, I must say.
Quite an upgrade.
Naturally, there remain things that can be further improved upon. For example, I feel like the narrative should have been fleshed out more, especially in the beginning. You start the game inside the Gladiator's Inn of Highnest, although you won't really know that until you read the online manual or walk outside and read the sign. At this point, many unanswered questions emerge: Where exactly am I? Why am I here? What is the backstory to all of this? This being the demo, I guess there could be some kind of introductory slides missing. Or maybe it is supposed to be a mystery. Or maybe the game assumes it does not matter.
In any case, actual plot elements do surface as soon as you try leaving the inn. A demon appears when you approach the door. I believe he attempts to taunt you... or something. He is very enigmatic, that much is certain, and there is even ominous music accompanying the scene. Later, you will have to seek him out again somewhere in the underworld. That is pretty much your main quest, but there are other quests as well, scattered around the town. You can easily miss out on them (and other content) unless you explore every tile and enter every building, so there is definitely an element of exploration to the game even at the get-go.
The game has quite a few of these fullscreen images for when you meet people, like this Prosperian fortune-teller.
My most successful party consisted of a Knight, two Rogues, two Sorcerers, and a Priest, but having only played the demo, I cannot really tell how well they would do at the later stages of the game. In the original version of Swords and Sorcery: Underworld you could steamroll most encounters at higher character levels, but the Gold version has introduced many new dungeon sections and changes to both the class system and combat (the former having been tweaked and expanded on because of the latter). The changes to combat consist of new tactical options, such as choosing whether your characters should stand on the front line or hide behind your Knights and Paladins. On top of that, enemies too can fall back now (previously, they could only rush forward into melee range). This increases the combat's tactical depth and offers an overall improvement over the old system. A consequence of this is that some classes have been given new skills in order to balance combat.
Something that might get on your nerves is the fact that you do not see enemies approach you before an 'encounter!' box pops up and you get thrown into combat. You will enter combat everywhere, too. Even in towns. This can make it challenging to strategize, at least during your first playthrough. When my healer died early in the game, it was pure hell getting back to the temple to resurrect her because of all the random in-town encounters along the way.
Mummies silence your spellcasters and are annoying as hell.
I am not quite sure whether or nor the text in the game has been rewritten for the Gold edition, but in any case I feel like it should be revisited. The main issue I have with the dialogue is that it feels too fragmented, with only a small snippet of text being shown at a time and a few seconds' delay before the next dialogue line appears. It hardly breaks the game, but it is an unnecessary annoyance nevertheless.
Another gripe I have is the lack of sufficient in-game information. At character creation, I would like to be able to know how exactly each stat affects the resulting character's capabilities as well as what type of abilities each class possesses. Ideally, I would like to know that without having to tab out to have a look at the digital manual. Items and creatures you encounter could do with at least a minimal description, too.
I noticed the 10-character name limit only after I had created Zed the Dw(arf).
Besides the graphical overhaul and new tactical options in combat, other things that have been added in the Gold version include lore enhancements (in the form of books and scrolls), additional items and functions (charged items, stackable items and enchanted items), a fancy world map, a new type of dungeon environment, and more NPCs. On top of that, there have been various minor changes, and chances are even more tweaks will be implemented before Swords and Sorcery: Underworld Gold is released in May (or thereabout).
You will also want to keep an eye out for Underworld 2, a sequel to the game reviewed. It is being developed concurrently with Underworld Gold and will expand on the original to feature a larger world, new environments, and probably many exciting features not yet revealed. Although there is no set release date for Underworld 2, I have managed to squeeze out an "early 2013" from Charles, the developer behind these games. Here is his website. You can also find him here on the Codex, and he may even be willing to answer your questions and take your feedback.