In this week’s continuation of the Desktop Text File Games, I have my eye on Ludomotion‘s Unexplored. A game that, I’ll be honest, I initially didn’t pay too much attention to. Can you blame me, in the endless barrage of quality games that is 2017? But then by chance I saw this article by Jack de Quidt. And that changed things, because…
Well, here’s the thing: I haven’t actually read the article yet. I want to, because Jack is a cool person and a good writer. But at this point in time I did already have Unexplored tagged as ‘possibly an Indie Wonderland game’. And you know what that means: Total media blackout until I can play it as blind as possible, to form my own opinion.
And thus, on the list it went. And here we are. I really hope that article is worth the wait.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium.)
(Game source: Patreon funds.)
You know, I’ve seen this image before. It features in the aforementioned article, as well as in Unexplored‘s promotional materials. I still don’t know what it represents?
My consideration is interrupted by a sudden patch popup. “Welcome to version 1.13.3,” it says, “shopkeepers have bells now that you can ring!” Then it disappears, and I’m left with the title screen proper. Which is just that same image, but with more buttons overlaid. And pretty cheerful music. Or maybe ‘cheerful’ isn’t the right word, it’s… upbeat. Activating. It’s nothing intrusive, but all the same, it makes me want to go explore the unexplored. Which is rather the point, I have to assume.
Did someone say options? Well, do I have a weird treat for you!
I fiddle with the graphic options for a bit: Most are either straightforward enough to not warrant mention, or specific enough that I don’t yet understand what they mean and what they do. Same with the ‘Game’ options, which mostly ask me to determine which things are and are not done ‘automatically’. And audio options don’t even get a menu, instead being relegated to two sliders in the larger master menu set. All the more space for that large ‘Send Analytics’ button, I guess. Wouldn’t want to deprive the developers from their hard-earned gameplay data: As a serious games researcher myself, I know just how annoyingly hard that can be to get.
Oh, and you might it funny to hear that ‘controller use’ is a toggle option that’s on the main menu proper. It is apparently very important that a player can switch between controller state and keyboard state without getting into that options menu. I don’t claim to understand it either, but maybe, with time, I will.
Speaking of the main menu proper, there’s nothing all that much more I want to investigate right now. High Scores, Release Notes, and Extras, those all sound like treats for a later time. Which leaves either New Game, ‘Special Runs’, and a little way below everything else, a dedicated main-menu ‘Tutorial’ button. And I love tutorials, so that’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. I wonder what sort of tutorial this’ll be? Concept art slides? In-engine movie? Extended manual? Interactive gameplay segment?
Okay, it’s interactive gameplay segment. We’re on now, just like that!
The tutorial actually opens first with a white-and-orange popup that explains the intricacies of movement. There are, it turns out, two ways I can move (using mouse and keyboard). Option one is that I use WASD for ‘absolute’ movement, meaning they each map to a set direction, while the mouse is used for turning my view around, mech-style. Option two is that I do ‘relative’ movement, meaning W and S make forwards and backwards motion happening in my direction I’m looking at while A and D turn left and right. So less like a mech and more like a tank.
The character I’m moving in these ways is the yellow circle with the single eye I see on-screen. I’m… just gonna guess this is the furry cyclops from before. The weird spikey hair briefly makes me think of a Simpsons character, but then, I don’t even know if this is hair. Either way, the relatively moment scheme turns out to be absolute hell compared to absolute, so I switch to the latter and metaphorically glue the button shut.
Alright then. Taking stock: I’m looking, dead from above, at a furry cyclops with a bad haircut. I think I’m in some sort of dungeons. Exits are to the NORTH and EAST. There are two pots, two torches, and a small body of water. What do I do?
Unexplored intermittently gives me direct guidance. When I move to the only exit, it teaches me that Escape pauses the game and brings up my inventory. It also tells me I can right-click on anything while in this mode, both in the inventory and in the world, to get more information.
A few paces on, I see a white shape on the ground that looks like an angry triangle with a handle and that is probably a sword. I walk over it, and my character immediately picks it up and equips it, as evident by the fact that the angry triangle is now sticking out from me. I decide to combine both lessons, and learn more about what it is that’s currently facing in my forward direction.
Alright, cool, I have a sword! I walk forward into the brown rectangle, which I learn is a door as it graciously opens (by lowering into the ground). On the other side is…
It happens fast. I see a figure beyond the door, another circle shape, except this one is smaller, blue, and it has different eyes. I slowly walk forward to see what’s up, as it turns around in surprise at the sudden noise. Then the tip of my sword hits it, and it explodes into streaks of blood. My sword very briefly turns black, as a white key splatters onto the ground and a red number casually floats up.
Well, I guess murder is a good skill set to have. And this encounter does teach me how fighting works in Unexplored: I can either ram sword-first into enemies for low damage, or press-and-hold Left Mouse to charge up a higher-damage stabbing move. Either move ‘exhausts’ the sword for a hot second, so that should prove interesting when there’s most than one surprised, instant-murdered kobold in play.
The only door out of this slaughterhouse is locked. Luckily, the kobold I killed had a key on them, and luckier still, it’s the key to this door. I open it and continue my exploration.
The room beyond this one has two locked doors, neither of which seem to respond to keys, and one alcove containing… A pool of lava, a chest with a throwing dagger, and (across the pool) a currently-inert switch. It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together here, and thus do I learn about Throwing Things At Other Things and also How Some Doors Open.
At this point, I’m slowly starting to suspect that Unexplored might be a little bit Rogue-related. A dungeon, a mute adventurer, monsters, keys, locked and barred doors? It’s slim material for a full comparison… but then the rest of the tutorial graciously decides to slam-dunk the comparison home. In a span of a few rooms, I learn about: Unidentified potions, that I can either drink for effect or throw at enemies — or wait for an identifying magic scroll, assuming I’ll be able to tell that one apart from the other unidentified scrolls. A mystical amulet, at the bottom of the dungeon, which is my main goal for delving down — as well as the only thing that’ll open the door back out. Gods, mysteries, sacrifices. Strength, stealth, and the better part of valor. As well as… swimming?
I end my tutorial with a fake Amulet of Yendor, an enchanted short sword, a dagger, a cloak, and a pat on the back for my trouble. I want to brag about how easy this was, but yeah, okay, Unexplored made it pretty clear that the real game isn’t gonna be as forgiving. Then again, I’ve been surprised before. Should I scope things out before the turning of the page?
There’s an unorthodox bit of character creation before getting into the dungeon proper. You’d figure maybe there would be class selection, or stat distribution, or anything like that. But it’s nothing of the sort. What I can do is give my character a name, preferably one better than ‘Rodney the Second’, and… Let’s say influence the exact way that character looks.
Beyond that… I briefly get a chance to pay an old man some money for rumors, as I look at my own inventory. Not bad, not bad. And then it’s off to the races!
‘Races’ in this case meaning ‘a musty tomb hidden away inside a cave’.
And, you know, it goes well at first. I find some rats, and slaughter them. I find some levers, and flip them. I find some statues depicting ‘huge monkey’, and consciously choose to ignore any and all funky spelling. I find some chests, and loot them. I find some scrolls, and read them, and get stabbed by flying magical swords for my trouble. It’s not all positives today in the Musty Entrance, but… Mostly.
I first start suspecting there might be more to Unexplored than meets the eye when I toss an unidentified potion at some rats. What better way to figure out if it’s bad, right? Turns out, this potion is bad: It’s a potion of incineration, i.e. a Molotov cocktail. It bursts on impact, setting the rats on fire.
As well as the nearby greenery.
And then the far-away greenery.
I end up sitting in my locked, safe room for the better part of a minute, while outside rage fire and smoke. So that’s how this is going to be, huh. Well, the rats are dead, that’s for sure.
I even make it into the second floor of the dungeon! This involves a lot of rat-killing, of both the smaller and larger variants, and my stock of rations and health potions is rapidly drained as I take hits. But with a little resolve (and a second potion of incineration) I clear the job. The problems start when, on the second page, I walk into an appealing little cave containing an appealing little treasure chest… only to have the only doorway out slam shut on me. It doesn’t respond to pushes or attacks, it’s not key-locked, and the only lever I can see is on the other side. I’m stuck.
And not even that is an insurmountable problem, because the gods are gracious enough to have left a big chasm in this trap room. I can jump down the chasm if I want to: It’ll take me to the next level of the dungeon — nice! — but probably hurt my legs on landing — less nice. And also I have no way of knowing where I’ll land.
Upside: The jump landed me in water, and in the fantasy ‘splash and you’re good’ way, not the realistic ‘oh, all my bones are broken’ way. Downside, it’s deep water. In every direction. And not a way out in sight.
I flail around in a panic for ten seconds, before finally starting to search for dry land in a systematic way. But alas. Jarenth The Original, First Of His Name, dies of drowning about five steps from a wooden platform he may or may not have been able to climb on.
And with that, I’m sure I really and truly have this game’s number. So. Once more into the breach it is. Second verse, same as the first?
It’s at this point that I’d normally joke about how on the next review page I’d probably have beaten the game completely. I could do that for Unexplored. But the joke’s less funny if I don’t actually believe it myself. How about this: You turn to the next page, and I’ll tell you what my best utterly doomed run was. And how good it went. And what eventually and utterly doomed me in the end.