My first impressions on the release version of UnderRail, a Fallout inspired isometric RPG

I quickly realized while playing UnderRail that it isn't the sort of game you beat in a single sitting so my proper review is going to be a few days from now. Until then I figured I would give you my impressions of the game as I go through it, explaining what exactly I find great about it and what doesn't really work.

That said, let's begin by explaining what kind of a game UnderRail is.

UnderRail is an isometric, as oldschool as it gets, turn-based RPG set in a post-apocalyptic scenario where the surface has been rendered uninhabitable and the remnants of the human population now live, and war against each-other, in metro tunnels and caverns surrounding them. You can get the Metro 2033 comparison out of your head because besides the similar setting the games couldn't be further apart in gameplay.

 

When you first make a character in UnderRail you will be bombarded with an insane amount of choices when it comes to your character's build. The myriad of ways you can craft your character is one of the game's greatest strengths but it still should've been something you acquire a bit more slowly than a massive wall of stats thrown at you literally 1 minute from launching the game.

The stats and talents are well explained and you will at a glance get to understand what each of them does but it still won't prepare you for the challenges ahead because UnderRail doesn't tell you that sometimes combat is going to be mandatory and there is no way of getting around it. This made my very first quest a living nightmare because my speech, sneaking and crafting orientated character couldn't shoot a pistol to save his own life, quite literally.

So I did what is standard with these oldschool RPGs and scrapped my character in order to make a more focused one, rather than a jack of all trades, master of getting shot at. The second time around my character was still speech and sneaking orientated because I am after all a sneaky bastard but instead of a broad spread of crafting disciplines I decided to pick up trap making and chemistry.

But most importantly, I opted to focus the remaining talent points in to advancing my psychic powers because as everyone knows, in games when you suffer heavy doses of radiation and various other pollutants during your childhood you don't end up dead, you gain superpowers. To UnderRails credit however, advancing your psychic powers takes a heavy toll on your physique and you will have to sacrifice a lot of your constitution in a pursuit of power.

Using your psychic powers in UnderRail in order to send an enemy fleeing in panic

A mere thought from my character and would-be bandits flee in fear

I am glad I ended up choosing the psychic route because its use in combat has been absolutely invaluable to me and my sneaky tactics. Since I almost always got the first blow in fights I used that to my advantage by slowing down melee attackers, breaking the minds of those most threatening and sending those that get close in to a manic panic. Its a really fun combat style because while you can dish out impressive damage and control the flow of the battle you are also made out of paper, the really thin kind.

What this means is that combat in UnderRail is hard, even on normal difficulty, but there are plenty of opportunities to be smart and "cheat" your way out of difficult battles. Since healing items are scarce and expensive I quickly realized that those points put in to trap making and chemistry can't simply go to waste if I'm to make it far so I started making traps and explosive which, as you might imagine, are quite effective at getting you out of scraps.

The traps especially have been an MVP for me because the early enemies are all mostly beasts and as such charge directly for you so cleverly placed traps such as caltrops can completely decimate them. But even with all of these tools and tricks you are still vulnerable so make sure to mind your positioning and fight only in areas that benefit you. For example tight corridors against Rathounds so they can't use their numbers against you or using corners against human opponents in order to cluster them together for some Fireball on man action.

Another trick I figured out relatively recently is that animals aren't the best when it comes to operating locks, lack of thumbs and all that. What you can do to exploit that is to lure in a pack of Rathounds to a fenced off area, run in and slam the door in to their face. From then on you can shoot them with impunity as they helplessly try to claw at you. This might sound like cheating but UnderRail is incredibly rough towards you and I can't imagine anyone just going through it guns blazing.

In UnderRail you need to use the terrain to your advantage or you will surely perish

Don't feel bad for them, in my previous attempts I came from the other side of the fence and had my face torn off

But combat isn't everything in UnderRail, especially if you play with the recommended experience settings where you only gain experience by finding interesting places and items in the world. It might sound a bit silly but when the experience is moved from combat to exploration the game becomes a whole lot more interesting and tense.

Suddenly stealth is valuable for more than just stabbing people in the ass because why waste ammo and precious healing items on a bunch of bandits when you can simply sneak around them, raid their camp for valuables and gain some experience that way.

One of the most memorable moments I had in my 6 hours of play so far was when I was in the middle of a lunatic (enemy faction) camp, completely outgunned and outnumbered but they never actually spotted me as I was ducking and weaving between boxes and pillars, constantly hugging shadowy corners praying I won't bump in to a very surprised man with a rifle.

However, I did survive and I left the camp a few experience points richer and filled with so much loot the poor merchants in the city ran out of money trying to buy off the dozens of pistols I pilfered. I'm sure you could clear the camp with a few grenades and a whole lot of ammo but I still appreciate that UnderRail allows you to sometimes completely avoid combat yet still reap benefits for it rather than just end up underleveled.

I didn't mention this before but its completely up to you to chose which type of experience system the game will use so if you're not really a fan of exploration based leveling you can just go down the standard route of quest & kill exp and play UnderRail like any other RPG.

Oddities in UnderRail give you a reason to explore and provide some nice background information

Oddities are a great way to get the player out in to the world and motivated to explore

The story I can't really tell you much about. In my 6 or so hours of play I've done a bunch of quests and learned a lot about the history of the place but I still don't feel like the "main story" has begun as I'm still completing odd jobs for people rather than doing something of importance.

One thing I can tell you is that the writing is pretty damn solid. I haven't met any spectacular characters as of yet but the ones I did meet feel like unique people with their own opinions and ways of expression. Small details, such as character or location descriptions (green text below), are everywhere and they really make the world feel like an actual place, one I found myself getting quite immersed in.

Oddly enough I haven't met any companion characters yet, a staple of oldschool RPGs. Whether this means I'm just a big old dumbo and completely missed them or if UnderRail is a purely single player RPG I don't know but the all of the stuff I've done so far was seemingly balanced with one character in mind.

If you end up playing UnderRail yourself make sure to go in to the options and increase the text font. I like to pride myself on my excellent eyesight but the default font size is so teeny-weeny I kept straining my eyes before I even thought about there being options to change that sort of thing, not my brightest moment.

In UnderRail even minor characters have interesting interactions and things to say

Even very minor characters have interesting dialogue written for them

My early impressions of UnderRail are so far good. Its obviously designed as an oldschool RPG with all of the benefits and flaws that come along with it so just from that alone you should have an idea if its a game for you.

I think the most important thing I can say about UnderRail is that I am itching to play more of it, to find out where exactly the story is going to lead me and to discover what other insane things I'll be able to pull off with my character's mind control abilities.

Depending on how long the game goes I'll either post the review next or do another article explaining my thoughts as I go through the game, so stick around.

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