I’ve written before how since I’ve finished the Souls series* I’ve been struggling to find a game that I enjoy playing. I heard about this game called Unexplored, which has been described as a cross between Dark Souls and Binding of Isaac. I’ve played the shit out of both of these games/series, and I’ve always said I wanted to play a hybrid. It went on sale at Steam for nine bucks, so I snatched it up. It’s a really cute dungeon crawler in which you’re a one-eyed fluffy circle creature with a cape that has a weapon poking out in front and a side weapon you can throw. Before you enter the dungeon, you talk to this guy, and he gives you tips on the dungeons. You have to buy him beers (5 gold each), and the tips don’t seem that helpful yet.
It’s easy to see the Souls/Isaac influences from the very start. A little bit of Enter the Gungeon, too. The tutorial is straight out of Gungeon, but I didn’t even notice it was there until after I’d done a few failed runs. There will be many comparisons to Souls/Isaac because that’s what the game is clearly modeling itself after. Even with the tutorial, there isn’t much said before you jump into the game. I used keyboard/mouse, but there is gamepad support. However, according to the forums, it’s not intuitive, so I stuck to the keyboard/mouse with the typical WASD movement. I had to switch my keyboard from Dvorak to QWERTY, but I’m just glad I was able to do it. Some games consider this a problem. E is look, which is weird, and TAB is map. I’d prefer M for map, but that’s a little thing. I played on Normal, which was…weird. On the first floor in the first dungeon, I wandered around exploring everything. What I found was a lot of…nothing. I ran into maybe a half dozen enemies and a couple of puzzles, but that’s it. I went down to the next floor, and it was more of the same.
When I die, it’s a perma-death, and the next run is the heir of the first character. So, Mulan Rogue the first gives way to Mulan Rogue the second, etc. I don’t think you keep anything other than your gold for the next run. You start with different items, and I believe it’s procedurally-generated. You can right-click and see what they do, but true to rogues, some things need to be identified. Scrolls, potions, and rings are what I’ve found so far. Scrolls and potions are identified the second you use them (and, also true to rogues, some are positive and some are negative), but I had to wear the ring for five minutes before I knew what it did.
There are libraries with cryptic books, which you can take or copy to your journal. I chose to copy more often than not because there is a limited inventory, of which I am not fond. I hate limited inventories with a passion, and the one mod I used when I played Skyrim was the Convenient Horse mod, which allowed me to carry unlimited items. I do like finding the lore by reading books, which is similar to reading item descriptions in Souls games. I don’t mind finding things out in drips and drabs.
What I don’t like is persistent status effects with no antidote, pun intended. There was one level that had a gas atmosphere, and I couldn’t find a way to counter it. I had to go through it, but my health was dropping at an alarming rate. I lost all interest in the run. To make matters worse, when I was in the middle of a good run, the game started freezing on me, and I had to shut down the game. This happened again, and I lost any interest in playing it.
Look. I have a gaming laptop. I can play Dark Souls III easily on my laptop, which is a resource hog. I certainly should be able to play Unexplored on it with no problem. I think the game is a decent game, but I don’t feel compelled to play it.
Put that in the ‘probably won’t play again’ file with a sigh of disappointment. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but Dark Souls has ruined me for other games. In one of the Prepare to Try episodes I watched, Rory said, “Imagine if Dark Souls was the first game you ever played. It would blow your tiny mind. You couldn’t play anything else.” He was joking, but he’s not far from wrong. Dark Souls isn’t the first hardcore game I’ve played, but it’s close. I started with Torchlight at the recommendation of Ian, my gaming dealer,** which I immediately loved. The protagonist looked Asian if you squinted, and I loved taking her through the dungeons, guns and bows ablazin’. I gobbled up the game and its sequel (which I am in the minority in saying I didn’t like as much as the original), and I was well on my way to being a so-called gamer.
I loved being OP in Torchlight, Diablo III, and Borderlands (the original and the sequel), plus the magical abilities in Derbler III. I loved being a wizard and a demon hunter; it felt so badass. Then, Ian told me about this difficult game called Dark Souls that his brother told him about, and I didn’t think about it immediately. At some point, much later, I decided to try the game. The Prepare to Die edition (with the DLC) was on sale on Steam for ten bucks, and I snapped it up.
I hated the game by the time I finished it, despite how accomplished I felt by beating it. It was only when I replayed it before Dark Souls II: Scholars of the First Sin (re-imagined game with all three DLCs) came out did I remember how much I, um, enjoyed…no. Loved…no. Was challenged by the game. I enjoyed it much more on the second playthrough, and I gobbled up Scholars of the First Sin. By the way, I didn’t find out until recently that it’s considered much harder than the original release because of the enemy placement. I’ve also heard from some games writers that Dark Souls III is the hardest of the games, with which I disagree.
But I digress. I can talk about Souls until the end of time, but my point is that I don’t love the games for the difficulty, though, of course, that is one of the main selling points of the series. First of all, I love being able to play as a caster. As much fun as I’m having as a tank, my heart belongs to my magicks, especially my pyromancy. One of the best things about the series is that you can play it any way you want. Casting? You bet. Sword and board? The heart of the game. Dual-wielding, dex-based, knight, warrior, faith-based, intelligence-based, pyromancer. Yes, yes, and, hell, yes! There are two new classes in III–herald and assassin. I haven’t tried either, but it makes the game endlessly replayable.
I love being able to explore all the nooks and crannies of an elaborate, interwoven world. I’m in the minority who thought II was a great game, but I missed finding shortcuts. That is one of the best parts of the Souls experience. Traversing an area for a half an hour and suddenly, is that a ladder that goes up to the first bonfire (or more likely, down)? HELL YEAH!
I love the imaginative dark fantasy worlds of Miyazaki, who is brilliant, in my opinion. The terrifying environments and horrific creatures that wander through them. The oppressive fear of going into a brand new area and knowing I’m going to get my shit wrecked. But, also knowing I’ll learn from it and hopefully I’ll be a better player. I like the difficult but fair mentality the games display (for the most part. There are always a few cheapies in the game. Like being hit through walls. That’s always fun. But, to be fair, you can do it to enemies, too).
I think my problem is that I want another Souls experience, but nothing else compares. I need a game that isn’t like Souls because otherwise, I’ll always be comparing them, and the new game will inevitably fall short. Of course, I could just wait until Miyazaki comes out with his next game, but who knows when that might be?
*I’m still playing III, enjoying my ridiculously overpowered tank. I’m recently romping through Ashes of Ariandel (the first DLC) on NG+, and I recently took on the optional boss who gave me fits before. I’ve beaten it solo, of course, but I was hoping to call in a phantom to help me because one of the parts of the boss fight is a human who mimics the PvP scene, which, as I’ve said a million times before, I loathe. I waited for a phantom sign, but there was not one. So, I said, fuck it. I went in solo, thinking I’d only try it once then go on with the rest of the game because as I said, this boss is optional. I pulled out my Lorian’s Greatsword +5 because it has fire and beasts are weak to fire, and I went to town. I use a shield, but more as my pacifier. I’m sword and board, but I’ve been playing more two-hand/dodge. My health bar was large, especially because I was embered up, and I went in with frostbite-resistant garb. I went in and just destroyed the boss, tanking damage from the humanoid like it was nothing.
My character is way over-leveled with 40 Vigor, 40 Endurance, 40 Vitality, and 60 Strength. It’s the first time I’ve consciously over-leveled my character, and goddamn is it fun. Is it the ‘right’ way to play a Souls game? Nope. Do I care? Hell, no! I still had some trouble with the Twin Princes, even with the NP summon, but I got it done with the NP summon and a human summon as well.
I loved being able to smack around the optional boss in Ashes of Ariandel like it ain’t no thang. I could get used to being overpowered.
**He’s my BFF and the one who got me hooked on video games.