Underworld Ascendant brought to you by Zombie Looking Glass

Yeah I don’t think the problem was overreaching, as much as it was “let’s pitch it as this nostalgic thing because we’ll get the most money that way and then go do our own new thing because we don’t want to redo the nostalgic thing everyone gave us money for.”

That’s the part of the story we haven’t really heard yet, why they pitched a direct sequel to Ultima Underworld and delivered, well, this.

What killed my interest in UA wasn’t the general bugginess (though that certainly didn’t help), but rather the almost complete lack of any attempt whatsoever to immerse the player in the game’s world. To this day I can still, for example, play even the most trivial Thief fan mission and have a good time, because it automatically brings with it everything that Thief established-- Garrett, the City, the Hammerites, etc. I can fire up Fallout 3 and just faff about, sightseeing and bapping random monsters, because the setting has so etched itself into my memory. The experience is more than what’s on the screen-- it’s the Capital Wasteland, and I’m the Lone Wanderer. Ditto for many other games that established a strong sense of place. Deus Ex, Myst, Anachronox, Bloodlines, etc. They’re almost like real places in my memory, that I occasionally enjoy revisiting long after all the quests are done.

Underworld Ascendant, on the other hand, presents itself as little more than the set of a game show, with your host Cabirus and color commentary by Typhon. We’re summoned to the game’s world and immediately sent off to the quest factory. There’s no sense of discovery, no mystery, nothing to draw us into the world, no sense that anyone ever lived here, no characters, no emotional investment in anything. Thus, the actual gameplay feels supremely pointless. Every moment is dominated by wondering why I’m even bothering with this. Who am I? Nobody. Where am I? Nowhere. What am I struggling for? Nothing. There’s a reason Valve invested so much effort in the writing of Portal 1 & 2, because they understood that memorable characters and settings, even when they don’t mechanically affect gameplay in any way, are vital to anchoring players in the game fiction. UA entirely lacks this.

The damning thing is that, from a technical perspective, this sort of thing can be almost free. You just need good writing and good pacing. But they barely even tried. We get an informed threat to the world, cryptic scrawls on rocks, and that’s basically it. Otherside is made up of industry veterans who worked on some of the most immersive games ever made, yet somehow they completely forgot to make their game immersive. This, more than almost anything else, is what needs fixing, yet is probably also the least fixable.

Just checking, Zylon. Did you mean UA?

Whoops, yes, I was referencing Underworld Ascendant, not the original Ultima Underworld. Fixed.

UA update 3 is out with some pretty major improvements, and they’re starting to talk about an update 4. Maybe that will be the time to finally play it.

I’ve only returned three games in my Steam history, and two of those were UA :) It looks like they still don’t support ultrawides (3440x1440). That’s enough to keep me from trying again.

It is interesting that they’re still working on this.

The game was just updated with what’s likely to be the final patch:

I have to hand it to the developers that was a decent level of post release support. Time to give this one a whirl :)

I noticed this is coming out on PS4 this week. So presumably it’s done enough for a console launch.

First response to the patch notes “3) you are almost always hungry (pls add a option to turn hunger off)” immediately made me go “nah”.

I played it for a while. From the beginning until recently. Then I uninstalled it. Is this a reason to play it again? I choose no, thanks.

Thanks for taking one for the team, and be sure to report back!

-Tom

This game sure is dark!

I presume this is intentional, but I’ve had to turn the brightness way up even to get to this stage:

It’s effective when used well…

But there was another area immediately after this where I was trying to do melee combat in the pitch darkness with only the faint glow of the skeleton’s chest to guide me. Again this seems intentional, but it’s a bit much.

Anyway, to be honest so far this is a dramatic improvement on the launch version. The silly talking head at the start is gone, it looks better and you can tell it’s had an extra six months of polish applied. It flows better overall too, the inventory system feels final rather than placeholder, and most importantly I’m keen to keep playing it. So yay.

Still, this is still very much not Ultima Underworld 3, it’s a much smaller, less ambitious game that seems to be more about atmosphere, exploration and puzzle solving, but at least it’s a game I’d like to play now. Also, quicksave!

Of course I’ve only put maybe 40 minutes into it, and I play ridiculously slowly anyway, so this is just a super quick take. I’ve found 3 pieces of food, and had to eat two of them to stave off the hunger mechanic (whatever that is), let’s hope that doesn’t become annoying.

Did they tighten up the graphics? I’m on mobile so I can’t properly gauge the quality but it seems a little sharper than on release.

My impression is that it looks better overall, I suspect a lot is down to improved lighting and performance. That is, where there actually is lighting. :)

This is why I stopped playing a while ago. If it’s still the same I see no reason to go back.

Available on PS4, apparently.

It’s clearly an aesthetic choice, crushed black, strong silhouettes, genuinely pitch black areas. When you do find lit areas the contrast is stark (pun intended).

I get it. But my eyesight isn’t that great lately. If I have to raise the gamma to a level that everything is washed out, it’s a no go for me.