Underrail (formerly Timelapse Vertigo) is a dark isometric RPG that I’d been craving to sink my fangs into since I first encountered it a few years back. Although it was still in early development, I could already imagine it held great potential. Drawing inspiration from the first two titles of the Fallout series (Fallout 1 & 2), Underrail manages to distinguish itself with a unique style and obscure lore. As a new recruit at South Gate Station, the player is sent forth to scour underground caverns, abandoned outposts, and neighboring settlements in search of vital resources while exploring a mysterious subterranean world.
Dec. 18, 2015
Underrail has a retro vibe reminiscent of classic isometric RPGs yet still manages to feel like a brand new experience. The gameplay mainly focuses on turn-based combat and exploration. The player is offered two distinct leveling systems to choose from. Whether you prefer the traditional grinding of enemies for experience or a more exploration based playthrough, Underrail’s classic and oddity leveling systems will each give you a unique experience.
Character creation provides a blank slate to create any type of character you desire. There are several player portraits to choose from but unfortunately the character model doesn’t change to reflect the portrait you select. This was merely a cosmetic issue and only a minor annoyance. The character stats are similar to Fallout’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L system and you are similarly awarded with perks every few levels. Investing points into stats like strength or perception grants you the freedom to create and customize a character that suits your preferred playstyle. Ever dream of being a sledgehammer wielding brute? Done! How about sneaking around as stealthy sniper or backstabbing ninja? No problem! You can even create a cyberpunk-esque hacker, a mind-bending psychic monk, or a deadly mix of both.
After distributing stat points, you must allocate points to specific skills. Weapon skills include melee, guns, throwing weapons, and crossbows. There are also various crafting skills to help you create top-of-the-line armors, weapons, electronics, and consumable items. Other skills such as hacking and lockpicking are extremely useful during exploration. Persuasion and intimidation skills can be used to discover lore, alternate solutions to quests, or even to avoid certain battles. Most skills have a synergy with related skills. Increasing one skill may also raise another skill. I was so pleased with the freedom of choice available that I replayed the beginning at least 10 times just testing different builds before making any significant progress. Experimenting with different playstyles was very entertaining and soon I realized that having at least one combat skill is absolutely necessary to complete specific areas of the game (even if you’ve invested every point into stealth and persuasion/intimidation skills.)
Exploration in Underrail mainly consists of following word of mouth directions while navigating various maps in a completely open world environment. Some areas only become accessible after specific story events are completed, but exploration is nearly unlimited after finishing just the first few quests. Other than brief notes in your quest journal, the only directions you’ll receive are through dialogue with various NPCs or an occasional road sign (which are so rare that they’re hardly worth mentioning.) There is no mini-map, HUD, or map screen to reference during your travels within the caves and tunnels of Underrail. The player should be wary of skipping through conversations to avoid wandering aimlessly or getting lost. The oddity experience system provides various oddities to collect and will serve as the main source of experience points for your character. Some oddities are found in locked boxes or lockers that require the lockpicking or hacking skills to open, some are found on the remains of defeated creatures and enemies, and others are strewn throughout hidden nooks and crannies, so remember to search everywhere!
As a fan of turn-based combat, I really loved picking fights in this game. I played a willpower and constitution based character who specialized in all areas of psychic phenomena. One skill focuses on mind control, the second involves manipulating temperature, and the third skill deals with projecting force and causing electrical damage. Combat as a psi-user was a blast! Bombing mutants with giant fireballs and exploding ice orbs felt amazing. Cornering a fleeing enemy by blocking a doorway with a force field before finishing them off with telekinetic force punch was equally satisfying. Enraging a group of enemies causing them to go berserk and attack their allies was also an effective strategy when dealing with larger groups.
If you love to loot and pillage, look no further! You may be pleased to find that nearly every enemy you encounter can be looted for most of their possessions. Beasts and creatures can be harvested for various skins and organs. Those materials, along with scavenged metals and components, are combined using a rather extensive crafting system. You have the ability to create consumables, stimulants, weapons, armor, energy shields, and even psionic amplifiers. Investing in crafting skills can mean the difference between life and death in the heat of battle. Some crafted items are imbued with passive bonuses that increase stats, skills, and damage resistance while equipped. Players who don’t enjoy crafting can ignore this feature without completely gimping their characters, but the best gear is reserved to those who craft.
My favorite aspects of Underrail are the and shady characters. Although the game takes place completely underground, the range of different environments you will traverse are surprisingly diverse . Junkyards controlled by gangsters, A “dominating” gladiator arena, secluded taverns, repurposed metro stations, insect-infested tunnels, abandoned bases with patrolling robotic guardians, and even a massive multi-storied city are all places you may discover during your journey. Each location holds unique enemies and NPCs for you to battle or converse with. Every major base or settlement contains a handful of merchants you may visit to restock on supplies or purchase new equipment. Many NPCs belong to factions which may eventually offer you the opportunity to join their ranks. Be warned, however, that joining a gang or faction will likely turn rival faction members hostile. Depending on which factions you assist, the future and power structure of Underrail may be dramatically altered…for better or worse.
Final Judgment: 88%
If you’re a fan of Fallout 1 & 2, Underrail should be a familiar and enjoyable experience. My biggest gripes with the gameplay were minor, but a few issues made the overall playthrough slightly less enjoyable. The biggest issue for me was that unoptimized character builds will have an extremely hard time finishing the game if unprepared (even on easy), but the same can be said about most RPGs so more experienced RPG players may not find that surprising. As long as you don’t spread your points too thin it won’t be a problem. I would’ve appreciated an option to adjust skin tone to match my portrait. Other than that, I was extremely impressed and entertained by Underrail.
- Excellent storyline & setting
- Obscure and interesting lore to discover
- Great character creation
- Unique weapons, armor, and items
- Choices matter
- Oddity system is original and fun
- Numerous side quests, mini-bosses, and secrets
- Directions can be unclear or confusing at times
- Non-lethal playthroughs are impossible
- No color options or appearance customization