First announced as a Kickstarter project in early 2015, Underworld Ascendant has been a long time in the making. The game has high-profile developers behind it, with staff from the likes of Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief, and Dishonored. Some three-plus years after Underworld Ascendant achieved its funding goals, the game has now been released to the masses. Unfortunately, it's clear that OtherSide Entertainment wasn't ready for this moment: Underworld Ascendant is still far from being release-worthy, and it shows. Boy, does it show.
In Underworld Ascendant, players aim to solve puzzles through sneaking around, combat, and tests of logic. It's a simple premise, and some of the maps present some interesting scenery and puzzles. Each map is stocked with traps and, mostly, skeletons. These are the cannon fodder of the enemy force, but they're dumb, glitch-ridden, and boring. Most enemy AI has trouble navigating the maps, which are often difficult to traverse with no clear direction. When a variety of enemies do appear, the moments of potential excitement are marred by bad AI or environmental miscues. Many of the traps in the world glitch out and fail to damage the player, simply pushing them aside instead. The AI enemies frequently forget they can move. When they do, they usually get stuck. In Underworld Ascension, there is no escape from these problems.
At the time of this review, the save mechanic is completely broken. Underworld Ascendant lets players plant a sapling over any earthly part of each level so that they can respawn directly onto that spot. Unfortunately, sometimes the game sends players back to the start of the level anyway. To up the egregious nature of the game's saving system, players who quit the game and return will find that it resets the level but allows them to keep their inventory. This lets players double up on items, making it extremely easy for gamers to cheat the system and stack up their inventory. At best, even if this save system was functional it removes any sense of consequence from each level.
Players diving into combat should expect a poorly executed experience here, too. Combat is tedious, with players forced to repetitively hit their enemies up to 15 times to get them down. It's not an exciting act, either - for the most part, skeletons in combat are stuck between getting staggered or rushing at the player. They frequently have difficulty navigating to the player in the first place, and even when they do, most of their attacks are easily blocked. Much like Sea of Thieves, a handful of other enemies try to break the monotony of skeleton combat, but it's not enough. Like many of the game's environmental traps, countless enemy attacks that should deliver somehow fail to register as a hit. For all intents and purposes, combat is a broken mechanic here.
To avoid combat, players can attempt to sneak. This system is based around physics and a fire-based lighting system. The physics of the game are buggy at best: many times a heavy object got a slight bump, but went flying across the room at impossible velocities. Objects have listed weights, but the player seems capable of tossing an 80 pound barrel just as far as a bottle of water. The lighting system allows players to use items like water arrows to get rid of torches, helping to sneak in the darkness instead of fighting. This often works, though only because the sight range of each enemy feels drastically small. The fire system is also fairly realistic in that wooden objects are always capable of burning. Even on a high-end rig, massive fires caused horrendous frame rate issues, and some objects simply take a ludicrous time to actually burn. Fire is, much like the enemies of this world, somehow boring and tedious.
The plot never really hooks the player in with anything, but it's simple enough to follow: the mythical god Typhos wants to destroy everything (because he's evil, that's why), so the player is pulled from their own world to stop him. The story features very little NPC interaction, and it struggles to make anything feel like it matters. Progression is made through various selective levels, though these often feel very disjointed and tedious. The inventory system has many items with identical icons, making it hard to select the right item on the fly. There's magic, but the game keeps forgetting what spells the player has learned. It's a series of poor design decisions echoing off of one another. This is the Underworld one imagines themself in if they aren't destined for the pearly gates.
It's hard to justify that Underworld Ascendant is a finished product. Indeed, the game released at 'version 0.3', and it shows. A horrific and nonsensical save mechanic sets the tone for a game rife with broken systems: terrible enemy AI, confusing map design, a shell of a plot, and a mountainous pile of bugs and glitches have mixed together into an abominable heap of problems that became Underworld Ascendant. Every mechanic to the game needs drastic improvements, and it's just plain unfortunate that Otherside Entertainment released the game as-is. The atmosphere can occasionally look pretty, but it's a fleeting moment. This game has plenty of ascending of its own to do before it's a worthwhile purchase.
Underworld Ascendant is available now for PC. Screen Rant was provided with a digital PC code for this review.