I’m just in the mood to get involved in an ARPG with fun, unusual mechanics, a deep well-written story, and roguelike elements. I also really want to play the bad guy. That probably sounds like an awfully specific set of demands but I’m fussy like that and I really don’t think it’s too much to ask. Actually, it definitely isn’t too much to ask, because that’s exactly what I’m engrossed in. The PC outing we’ll be looking at today is The Unliving. Pun entirely intended; it’s dead good!
Something I really like from the outset of The Unliving is that I’m not shambling about the place as a zombie or skulking about as a vampire. I’m getting really bored of the, (insert relevant undead creature here,) trope that seems to encompass every RPG where you aren’t playing the hero. It was fun the first three hundred times, it’s starting to get a bit old now. Thankfully, in this case, we’re going to be playing a Necromancer. It’s so much more fun commanding corpses instead of being one.
The game is nice to start you out with a few graves to empty. Your army will swell very quickly though.
As the story in The Unliving goes you take the role of a Necromancer that’s been involved in something pretty horrific. A spell has gone cataclysmically wrong, done some serious damage to your tower, and nearly vaporized you in the process. If it hadn’t been for the fact that your phylactery remained intact you may have been a goner. You wake up a shadow of your former self and have to find shards of your soul that have been scattered about the place. To make matters worse the church and the local werewolf population have decided to join forces and vanquish you for good. You’ll need to regain even a fraction of your former power if you’re going to stand a chance against the enemy horde.
Your tower. This is your hub and where all your funky spells and abilities are stored. This is also a haven for your allies.
The skill system in this game is absolutely bonkers. As a Necromancer, making the dead get up and do as they’re told is a given and, therefore, your starting skill. The undead army you have following you about has its own range of abilities depending on the class of hero you’ve murdered and brought back to life. Undead clerics, for example, heal your forces, undead werewolves, on the other hand, create a really upsetting situation for the enemy. The more servants of good that you kill, the more you can enlist to do your bidding. You just need to make sure you have muscle around you at all times. You’re tough but not that tough on your own.
Every good Roguelike needs a shop.
Aside from your army, you have your own spells and abilities. I won’t go into these into too much depth here because there are bloody tons of them but they fall into three vague types. Each of these types requires a resource for it to function. These resources are blood and bone. You create enough of this stuff on the battlefield so no worries about finding a decent supply. The third resource is lifeforce. Having to power your spells and abilities in different ways is a brilliant idea. In this game, your army is the main focus of play, with your own abilities helping to bolster them. You don’t want to just find a bunch of abilities you like and just keep spamming them. That would entirely defeat the object of the game and turn it into just another basic roguelike. You can’t do this even if you wanted to, which is a lovely plus.
Your minions are varied. It’s just a case of knowing how best to weaponize them.
I’m not going into the story in any more depth than I already have but it’s really well-written, and I’m loving the NPCs you meet along the way. The levels are procedurally generated and as with every roguelike title, you have a hub where these NPCs congregate. In this particular case, your hub is your tower. You’ll get unceremoniously booted here every time you die. What’s nice is that apart from this being where you’ll buy character upgrades and new spells and abilities you’ll get more snippets of the story every time you’re resurrected. This makes your hub somewhere you want to spend time rather than a simple stop-gap where you save in between runs. You’ll unlock stuff as you find it so this will become more populated as you go, making it even more of a useful resource.
See that covered hole in the ground? It’s very important not to get ambushed. Being surrounded is a good way of getting wiped out.
The Unliving has some brilliant arcade graphics. I like games that have a deliberately retro feel and I certainly wasn’t disappointed here. I never get bored of the 90s ARPG look that’s present in a lot of titles now. The music is as dark and menacing and the graphics have a lovely gothic vibe to them. It’s all very fitting for the ambiance this game is clearly looking for. So, as far as look and feel go, The Unliving is ticking the boxes. The big question is as to whether this is a game that feels nice to play. The answer is yes, but unusually I found it felt a lot more comfortable playing with a mouse and keys than I did a controller. Usually, I don’t like playing games that require very fast reflexes or have a lot of commands that need to be used on a keyboard. This is because I don’t like the usual spider hands you need and it never feels really comfy. In this case, I found the button mapping on the pad a bit confusing and the stick that replaces the mouse pointer isn’t as accurate as you’ll be yourself. You might have a completely different experience but don’t rule out putting the gamepad down for a change.
There’s some seriously beautiful art in this game.
As we all know I love a good roguelike and I absolutely wasn’t disappointed with The Unliving. This is a game that I’ll keep going back to, even with the knowledge that I probably won’t be finishing it any time soon. Roguelikes are all about your character build and because I haven’t unlocked even a tenth of what’s on offer yet I haven’t nailed that down. That being said, this is a procedurally generated game so you can’t expect to get your favorite setup on every run. If you’re the sort of gamer that doesn’t like surprises this might not be a playstyle for you. I still think this is a very accessible game though, even for those of you that are new to the genre. Personally, I love everything that I’m seeing so far and would definitely recommend this title to new and old hands of the rogue genre alike.
A brilliant wake up call
Look and feel - 8/10
Mechanics - 9/10
Challenge - 9/10
Story - 8/10
Replayability - 9/10
No bones about it!
The Unliving is dark, funny, and really addictive. This is the sort of game that will keep you coming back for more and is well worth a go for ARPG fans looking for something a tad different in their unlives. Like any game of this type don’t expect an easy ride so those of you looking for a slightly tamer experience may struggle a little bit here. For the rest of us, a combination of fun mechanics and a brilliantly dark story are going to make for a seriously fun time.
Hailing from Southport England, Alex started his gaming career in the late 80s on a Commodore 64. Since that time he's either owned or played on virtually every console released. Alex happens to... Read more...