Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is sure to be polarizing. Whether or not any given player likes it will mostly depend on that player’s attitude toward dungeon crawlers; permadeath; opaque, trial-and-error mechanics; procedural level generation; and totally endearing avatars being led to their deaths again and again and again. Which is to say that anyone interested in any of the above should definitely check out Unexplored. Because below the game’s tricky, murky surface lies a mesmerizing experience that manages to be frustrating, relaxing, confusing, and exciting - all at once.
Unexplored was first released on PC in 2017; its “Unlocked Edition,” which includes three pieces of DLC, arrived on the Switch the following year and it has now landed on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. In the game, players guide a customizable avatar into the depths of a dungeon with the goal of finding the legendary Amulet of Yendor. The dungeon's layout transforms with each playthrough, and myriad dangers - including environmental puzzles and manifold enemies - arise as players collect armor, weapons, magical scrolls, potions, and other items. What's more, death is final: there’s no resurrection, here. Playthroughs can last for minutes or hours, depending on what the Dungeon of Doom throws your way and how capable you are of dealing with it.
Unexplored plays from a top-down perspective and controls like a twin-stick shooter. Players can use a wide array of weapons and spells, which lends the straightforward combat - one trigger button controls the avatar's right hand, and the other its left hand - an element of customization. Progression consists of boosting stats through equipment and special, rare potions. The dungeon's puzzles are diverse, and range from putting the correct statue on a pedestal to branching, multi-level affairs. A player might find a note referring to a fiery boss five floors down and suggesting that the hero locate a fire resistance potion - and then find another note explaining that a fire resistance potion is hidden in a chest two floors down - and so on and so forth. Unexplored thus pushes players to be detectives in addition to warriors and tacticians.
Although players are expected to juggle a lot of concerns, they receive minimal guidance - they have to discover how to unlock classes, craft powerful gear, effectively battle enemies, earn the favor of the gods, and do many other things on their own. When players pick up potions and scrolls, those items are usually unidentified; they can help or hurt, and players must determine how willing they are to risk harm in their pursuit of advantages.
The resulting layer of mystery surrounding the game is a double-edged sword. It can motivate repeated playthroughs as easily as it can wear out the player’s patience. But the variety of modes and difficulty settings on offer allows players to fine-tune Unexplored to their liking. And those willing to give the game a dozen - or a few dozen - attempts may gradually scale its difficulty curve and unearth the immense satisfaction awaiting them in the dungeon’s lowest levels.
One of Unexplored’s standout features is its personality. The game’s charm is perhaps most present in its protagonists, the customizable little adventurers whom players will spend a lot of time hurting. The default character name is Rodney the Nth, where N alludes to the Rodneys who have already perished. (My first one was Rodney the Second, begging the question of who Rodney the First was.) Rodney the Fifth may reach the eighth floor while Rodney the Sixteenth only lasts two minutes. Despite the possible brevity of their lifespans, however, the characters ensure that players will develop an attachment to them, with their grit and determination and the “Oohs” and “Ahs” they emit when they find stairs leading deeper and deeper into the dungeon.
Now, there is definitely potential for Unexplored to turn people off. It asks a lot of its players - they must be willing to penetrate the haziness of its mechanics and deal with its simplistic and occasionally irritating combat system. There are also a small number of janky interactions present; when fighting atop the corpse of a fallen enemy, for example, the looting interface may arise, throwing off your weapon swings and exposing you to unnecessary danger.
But those caveats aside, Unexplored deserves at least an hour or two of your time. And ultimately, if that trial period goes well, the game is likely to draw you in for much longer. Because Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is brimming with charm, and playing it can feel like enjoying something homemade, with each playthrough designed expressly for the Rodney it will do everything in its power to destroy.
Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is out now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and was previously released for Nintendo Switch and PC. Screen Rant was provided with a download code of the PlayStation 4 version for the purposes of this review.