Unepic begins with a few friends playing a table top RPG over one or two beers. Our hero, Daniel, gets up to use the bathroom and, mid-toilet break, the lights suddenly go out. He's in the dark feeling around for a light switch when he discovers that he's not actually in the bathroom that he was in before. Daniel has been magically transported to a castle not unlike the setting of the role-playing game that he was just playing with his friends, but he's not exactly worried about it. He brushes off the strangeness of the events as too much beer or a mere hallucination, and so, determined to believe that everything that is happening to him is just in his head, he sets off without a care to find his way home.
What's interesting about this set up is that there's a distinct nonchalance to everything Daniel does because he doesn't truly believe he's in any danger. The castle he's in is very similar to the one being described in the RPG he was playing with his friends, and so he dismisses what's going on as being in his head and decides to just have fun with it. He's from our cynical, modern world, and so he is quick to point out the various tropes of the genre he encounters as the game progresses. The writing is generally light-hearted and amusing, and it's littered with pop culture references and jokes relating to movies or other games that frequently hit the mark – one early Metal Gear Solid joke in particular is sure to raise a smile from any gamer.
Daniel uses his zippo lighter to see in the incredibly dark castle, and soon he can light torches, candles, and oil lamps, too. One of the first things to stand out about this side-scrolling adventure is just how hard it is to see what's going on. Unepic is seriously dark, and while lighting up each screen on the map is a part of the game, it doesn't make squinting at the screen any less frustrating. Making matters worse is the camera which is zoomed out by default so far that Daniel appears as little more than a speck on the map. The on screen text is, too, bafflingly small, and all of these problems make the opening minutes of the game quite a struggle.
Early into his adventure Daniel runs into an evil spirit named Zera that tries and fails to possess our hero. Zera ends up trapped inside Daniel's body unable to control him like he intended, but he is able to talk to him. The spirit works out that the only way he'll be free is if Daniel is killed, and so the two begin a back and forth banter that generally revolves around Zera trying to trick Daniel into killing himself, and Daniel mocking Zera about the by-numbers nature of the RPG world that he inhabits. It's an amusing spin on tutorial sections in modern gaming, with Zera taking on the role of the voice support character that traditionally helps us, but in this case tries to lead us astray.
Daniel can arm himself with a variety of swords, maces, axes, and bows, and each of these has strengths and weaknesses. On his journey he'll come across snakes, ants, and magical creatures that he must dispatch with hacks, slashes, and later, magic. Combat is a fairly uncivilised affair, usually devolving into mashing the smack button while Daniel keeps hitting an enemy until it goes away. Boss battles are a little more involved, but some dodgy hit boxes and the occasional broken targeting means that the challenge is perhaps a little more unfair than it should be. Killing these enemies yields experience points, and experience points allow us to level Daniel up.
The RPG mechanics are impressive and deep with a lot of room for customisation. You can build your character as a warrior or a mage depending on how you distribute experience points, and that, coupled with the wide variety of armour and accessories, means that you can truly make Daniel your own after a few hours. While the game is fairly traditional in terms of RPG mechanics, it also features some light platforming that never feels quite right thanks to the odd way that Daniel controls in the air, and there's some action orientated challenges every now and again, too. This variety is welcome, but the disparate elements of the gameplay never truly come together as well as the writing does.
In the end, Unepic would probably be a better adventure game. This twenty hour or so unabashedly old school RPG is frequently broken up by conversations between characters and these interactions are amusing enough to make the often finicky platforming and combat sections worth persevering with. As a whole, the game has enough charm to recommend to fans of the genre, and those that stick around will likely be impressed by the surprisingly deep RPG mechanics and the Metroidvania approach to level design. However, it's hard not to wonder if the quality of the writing on display here would be better served in a game with a stronger focus on storytelling.
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