Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Underrail
Imagine if Fallout did not take place ~100 years after the bombs fell, but 1000. How different would the game be if civilization had some time to rebuild. What sort of new institutions would form? What kind of post-post-apocalyptic infrastructure would be made? Underrail is a bit like that. Only instead of nuclear armageddon, some now-forgotten event forced all of humanity below the surface. You play as the newest member to a station in lower Underrail. What you want your character to do and be is up to you. All that you know is that there is a big scary underworld out there for you to explore, and unfortunately, you’re gonna have to do it on your own.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite games of all time. Every so often, I decide to put another 100 hours into Underrail. Even with such detailed knowledge of the place, there are still nooks and crannies I have not explored. It’s a massive game, with an expansion that adds an entire underground ocean. And jet skis. It’s massive, and honestly, despite being an isometric RPG, pretty damn terrifying.
I wouldn’t exactly call Fallout 2 a scary game. Sure, you’ve got some dangerous freaks and goons to fight, but I never really got my heart rate pumping (at least, not until the deathclaw sanctuary in FO3). This isn’t the case in Underrail. I felt a lot more ill at ease throughout my time in the Underrail. Many of the locations are pretty safe. If you stick around the big stations and settlements, you’ve nothing to worry about. But once you leave the safety of civilization, you’re suddenly in a very dark and dangerous place. Mutants and monsters and raiders and robots could be around every corner. All of which are looking to loot you, just like you’re looking to loot them.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
Underrail is an isometric RPG. Gameplay is real-time exploration, where your character can walk and talk with the various denizens of this strange underworld. Combat is turn-based and extremely brutal. You’ve very few Action Points per turn, and more often than not, you’re fighting a squad of enemies all on your lonesome. You’ve got to use every strategy at your disposal to stay alive. Toss molotovs to freak out animals, stealthily take out faraway foes with a crossbow. Throw a net on that guy before clobbering him with a sledgehammer. Even use your psychic powers to turn one enemy against the rest. The underworld is your oyster.
Honestly, there’s too much here that works to talk about. Every part of Underrail just hits the spot for me. The dialogue is fascinating and the lore is deep. Even the science parts and doodads you find have realistic jargon names since apparently one of the writers is a physicist or something. The environments are detailed and fun to explore, often revealing new things with different character builds. The combat is extremely challenging but never unfair (except with death stalkers), and unbelievably satisfying. And there’s just so much to do.
The caveat of a hardcore game like this is that you frequently find that you yourself are not hardcore enough for it. So it is that the first five builds I tried were simply not viable for the game. Underrail has about twenty different skills, seven base stats, dozens of feats, and countless synergies between them. If you’ve not much experience with the game, it can be a bit much to figure out. After all, nobody is gonna tell you that a sledgehammer build that uses fire magic is not as viable as it sounds (or is it?).
How To Fix It:
One tremendous addition for new players would be the ability to respec your character. For a game as long as Underrail, where a playthrough can be upwards of 80 hours to beat the game, it’s not unheard of for a character to simply be thrown out because it cannot progress. Giving players the ability to change their choices which are otherwise locked in might allow for some more novice gamers to get into the game. Otherwise, Underrail devs are gonna be stuck with deranged players like myself.
This isn’t the typical indie horror game that I write about. But Underrail is something truly special. So much love and care has gone into this game over the years, and the developers have created a totally unique world for their audience to enjoy. Underrail is not simply a Fallout 2 style game. It has become something entirely of its own.
You can download Underrail from Steam by clicking here.