I'm still not settled on my game of the year selection for 2018, but disappointment of the year is an easy one. I half-expected that Underworld Ascendant wouldn't live up to my expectations, since they were so unreasonably high, but I did not expect a disaster, wrapped in a train wreck, inside a 25/100 review. It was a heartbreaker by any measure.
The good news, such as it is, is that developer Otherside Entertainment isn't just taking the "L" and walking away from it. The studio posted plans for two major updates today on Steam, the first of which will hopefully go live next week. It will bring an all new save system to the game that will enable players to save anywhere (with a few exceptions), make changes to combat to make it "more dynamic and responsive," tune player movement, and improve quests and levels. Full details will be released next week.
"Our overall goal for Update 2 next year is to continue to make the game more interesting, more fun, easier to understand, and more polished," the update says. "We will continue to improve things like combat, AI and levels. We will also focus efforts on player progression, adding variety to the gameplay and improving the overall player journey through the course of the game."
That update is expected to be out in February 2019, and will make further improvements to combat, level design and quests, and "the overall player experience … to better communicate requirements to complete the game and also reduce the complexity around what players are supposed to be doing to stop Typhon."
Patches aren't likely to address the more foundational problems with the game, however, like the inability to talk to NPCs or the "bizarre structure" of the quest system that make the game very non-Underworld-like. Otherside touched on that concern in a separate statement in which it acknowledged that Underworld Ascendant was "too buggy and shy on polish" when it was released, and that some players were disappointed by how different many of Ascendant's core elements are from Ultima Underworld.
The rationale for that discrepancy isn't very satisfying. "Although we tried to be clear with press and fans during the development of the game, in hindsight we could have done a better job communicating what Underworld Ascendant was and what it was not," the studio wrote, which doesn't jibe too well with Kickstarter promises of "the next epoch of the stories masterpiece."
But "despite the game’s flaws at launch, we believe there is a core of goodness to Underworld Ascendant," it wrote. "Our job now is to address the concerns players have expressed and improve the game; making what is good about the game shine through more brightly."
Improvements are obviously welcome, and I still hold on to an admittedly faint hope that someday Underworld Ascendant will someday be described in terms that don't involve the word "catastrophic." I really hope it works out. But a bad game with improved combat mechanics is still a bad game, and as much as I want Underworld Ascendant to be good—or at least not a complete mess—I worry that even with commitment from Otherside and publisher 505, it might be beyond redemption.