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Swords and Sorcery: Underworld - Review

by Corwin, 2010-07-20

"They sure don't make them like they used to" is a cry often heard on gaming forums - especially those which focus on more niche games, like RPG's. Some would say that's a good thing, but many of us wax nostalgic about the old 'classics' such as Might and Magic, Wizardry and Bard's Tale. It was in homage to games like these that Swords and Sorcery: Underworld was created.

Let me first address what for many may be the initial stumbling block to enjoying this game: the fairly basic graphics. If you need modern graphics in order to enjoy a game, then read no further; you won't find them here. Yet, after playing for only a short time, not only do you not tend to notice how basic they are, but in a very deliberate way, they fit the game admirably. There's no need for more embellishment - it's all about the gameplay.

This is an old-fashioned, turn based, party RPG and your first job is to roll up a party of adventurers. You can create a party of up to six characters and there are six classes to choose from. Race and gender options are also available, but they didn't appear to make much, if any, real difference during the game. Class certainly did as many items have class restrictions upon them. The six possibilities are Knight, Paladin, Archer, Thief, Priest and Sorcerer. I began with a balanced party, but later swapped to try other builds. You begin in an Inn, with some very primitive gear, a little gold and no idea what to do except explore the town a little. Good Luck.

The town is not a safe place and if you're not careful, you won't survive for long. In fact, surviving until you reach at least level 3 and gain some better equipment is possibly the most difficult part of the game. Fortunately, there are enough fairly simple quests in and about the initial town to allow you to build your party to about level 5 when you should be able to handle the more challenging early encounters. Sometimes, however, using the 'Run' option is your best tactic.

The game is very much a dungeon crawl with an adequate story, a variety of quests (none of which involved the killing of rats), some puzzles, a riddle (which is purely optional thankfully for riddle challenged people like me) and plenty of turn-based combat ranging from a single monster to a hoard of over 40. The early Might & Magic games were clearly an inspiration for this and the similarities are both obvious, and I believe, deliberate. As your characters level up, get better armour, weapons and spells, they will be able to deal out more and more damage which is handy, as the further you explore, the more deadly are your foes.

Battles, of course, mean loot and quests mean rewards and both of these should soon see your party well equipped. You have a limited backpack for each member of the party, with five slots for equipping items and five for storage. You can trade between party members, share food, water and gold, or gather it all with one character. There are one- and two-handed weapons, bows, shields, and a variety of armour pieces and robes. Everything a well dressed band of adventurers could ever need. You can sell excess items for the cash you will soon need for levelling. As in many games of this type, you have to train at each level up and this training cost more and more gold each time.

Magic is an important aspect in most old time rpg's and it certainly is here. In fact, in a couple of places it is essential. Usually in such games, there are tons of spells, but only a tiny few you ever use, or need. Here it's not the case. Spells come in five levels with four spells at each level. Priests and Sorcerers get a different set with only one overlap at level 5, the Portal spell which allows you to set up to 3 portals for fast travel between places.

Sorcerers get primarily attacking and teleportation spells, while Priests - as one would expect - are mainly healers, though they do get one very powerful attacking spell at the beginning of the game. What really impressed me was that I used almost all the spells I had regularly. Frequently, tactical use of the correct spell meant the difference between success and failure. The assorted travel spells are most useful. One will allow you to leave a dungeon and return you to the nearest town, (there are three, but you have to discover two of them), while another, for example, allows you to travel between the towns once they have been discovered. The portal spell saves a great deal of time when you want to return to a dungeon.

The game has some music and sound effects to enhance the atmosphere and while you can use a mouse, everything can be handled quite easily with just the keyboard. Don't look for fancy remapping of keys because it's not there, but the controls are so simple such refinements would actually be superfluous.

So, time for some general observations. First, let me say I found this game both fun and addictive. Once I got immersed, several hours could fly by while I explored just one more section. I was apprehensive when I began, mainly because I found the graphics an initial turn off. They have been improved a little from the first version, but it didn't take long before I forgot the graphics as I tried to figure out how to get into the Catacombs to complete a quest (there are actually three different ways to do this, but I'm not going to spoil you).

Where does the game fall down than? Well, it's certainly not with bugs. I only found a very few minor bugs and the developer fixed each and every one within 24 hours of my reporting it to him. How's that for great service? I'd say by now the game is totally bug free. Where it does fall down a little, as is the case with many AAA games as well, is in the area of balance.

I found one character was somewhat underwhelming for most of the game, while another became almost insanely overpowered after about level 9 (had I had enough gold for a final level up, my characters would have finished at level 30). The other four classes were, on the whole, quite decently balanced. The monsters got steadily more challenging, or more numerous (or both), but I never felt in any real danger once I reached level 9. In fact, the final boss battle was over in less than two rounds. Could this be fixed? Certainly. Should it?, is a different question depending on personal playing preferences. In fact, knowing how the developer closed every exploit I found, by the time you read this, the balance issue might no longer exist.

Bottom line, this is a first effort from a one person Indie developer who could use a great deal of support from people buying this game so he can create a sequel. Is it worth the price of admission? I certainly believe it's a bargain you shouldn't miss if you at all enjoy this type of game. Head over to the Classic Games Remade website and at least grab the demo. Once you get past the old style graphics, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Box Art

Information about

Swords and Sorcery: Underworld

Developer: Olderbytes

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Dungeon Crawler
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: None

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2010-07-17
· Publisher: Olderbytes

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