Let’s take a trip back to the ‘80s. A time where hair was wacky, clothes were wacky, and games were…. explorative. It was the time of Metroid and Castlevania, two beloved series that encouraged players to explore their world, to learn patterns, and to improve the way you played your game. A few years ago, an indie game was released on the PC that took these concepts to heart. The game: UnEpic. Recently, it was released on Xbox One, but does it hold up?
Yes. Yes it does. Don’t listen to the title, there really is nothing “unepic” about this game. It brings flashbacks to those games of a simpler time, but mixes it with witty writing and imagery, and some cheesy voice acting that will make you roll your eyes, but will usually leave you with a goofy smile on your face.
The story is simple. You play as Daniel, a gamer who on a D&D night gets transported into the castle of Harnakon while taking a bathroom break. Soon after, you get possessed by an unknown shadow, named Zera by Daniel. The only way Zera can get out of Daniel’s body is for him to perish. This leads to entertaining interactions where you must decide if you want to trust this Na’vi-esque shadow, or ignore the advice of taking all of the gold at the chance of dying a horrible death, allowing the shadow to escape your body. Needless to say, I chose to leave the gold alone; you can never be too careful. As you progress, you level up like any RPG. With the level-ups, you will get skill points which you can distribute into the areas of your interest. Whether it is a weapon you want to master, an increase in constitution, or the ability to wear better armor, the game lets you level up however you want. (as long as the ability’s point level does not exceed your level)
Throughout your journey, you collect weapons, items, money, potions, the norm for side-scrollers like this. You progress by defeating the area boss, who will drop a key that will unlock the next castle section in the “hub area.” There are 9 different areas to explore, and each one brings new challenges. New areas, of course, brings new and better weapons. There are multiple weapon types, and multiple ways to play through the game. My personal favorite is the sword, with having a bow on standby for the long range snipes. However, each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses. The swords are good for enemies with flesh, while the maces works good on barrels and armored enemies. It is a nice combination of “let’s play what works for me” and “what works best in this situation?”
“But Douglas. If I have to switch back and forth between weapons, won’t that be difficult since the game doesn’t really pause in the middle of the fight?”
Thank you, disembodied thought process. This leads me to the next point. The layout of the screen. As you can see below, the game does not utilize the whole screen for gameplay. There are multiple sections to the screen. In the middle is the gameplay, with segmentations above and below. Above, you can see your level, your health, your experience, your kill points (think combo points that will let you use powerful abilities), your UnEpic tokens and money. Below, you have your quest tile, your effects and spells tile, your hotkeys, and item log. While it is a ton of information, UnEpic does a great job of keeping your screen uncluttered, and maximizes your efficiency. Seriously, the hotkey system is ingenious. At a moment’s notice you can switch to a more useful weapon, or wimp out and halo back to the main save point (also a nice item and feature this game uses).
The wit and charm to this game kept me entertained. Daniel is a gamer in the real world, and you can tell. He is constantly cracking geeky jokes that Zera does not understand. For example, at one point you meet an oracle by the name of Yogurt. His speech is broken into segments that are misordered. Daniel says something to the effect of: “I think I know you! You’re a wise and powerful teacher. Oh, your name is Yogurt? I must have confused you with a powerful warrior and teacher from my world. Well, not MY world, but a galaxy far far away.” Trust me, I entertain easy, and if you want your game to get into my heart, make cheesy, corny, lame puns and references consistently. It works. I must say though, one of the things that made me iffy was the voice acting. Coming from a super small studio (originally one guy), I understand. But it is obvious the voice actors were separated/was told to just read their lines the best they could. It wasn’t awful, do not get me wrong. It just wasn’t up to par with what I am used to.
I went into UnEpic blind. I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t know if I would enjoy it, and the starting art made me weary (it gave me the mindset of an early indie title concept art, which does not do this game justice). What I found on the other end of that start game button was a title that entranced me, that made me want to keep coming back. A world that is massive, but made traversing simple and fun. I wanted to explore Harnakon more and more. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. However, can you tell that it was created by an extremely small team of indie developers? A huge absolutely not. It is fun, it is challenging, it is rewarding, it is time consuming, it is epic. What more can you ask from a $10 game?
This is why I give UnEpic for the Xbox One an 8.2 out of 10.