The followup to the highly influential Ultima Underworld games from the early ’90s, Underworld Ascendant aims to dazzle gamers with an atypical style of fantasy role-playing. The original games were lauded for their sense of immersion; they are considered the first RPGs to offer first-person action in a true 3D environment. While many modern RPGs bombard players with millions of words of text, Underworld Ascendant will attempt to captivate gamers with environmental immersion and unscripted player-driven narrative. In many ways, the game is a throwback in the sense that the developer wants the player to put himself or herself in the game, as opposed to following the adventures of a heavily scripted character.
Underworld Ascendant will give players all kinds of choices, whether it’s character development or puzzle solving. As far as character creation goes, there are three types of skill sets that players can draw from: fighter, rogue, and mage. The skills can be mixed and mashed, accommodating a wide variety of player styles. Similarly, encounters with monsters and environmental puzzles can be handled in drastically different ways. Again, the emphasis is on player choice. You’ll be able to play Underworld Ascendant with the character you want to be, adventuring in the way you want to adventure.
Occupying the Stygian Abyss are three rival factions. There are dark elves, dwarves, and shamblers to encounter. The developer was quick to note that these races don’t fit into typical RPG trappings. For example, the dwarves in Underworld Ascendant will not have Scottish accents. The shamblers are particularly interesting — fungus-like creatures with mushroom heads that operate in a hive-mind society. The way you interact with and help (or not) these factions will alter how you experience Underworld Ascendant.
The interview below was lots of fun for me on several levels. First off, Otherside Entertainment founder & CEO Paul Neurath is a frickin’ legend. The man founded Looking Glass Studios, one of the all-time great game developers. Looking at the list of games Paul has worked on is mind blowing. He should be put on exhibit at The Smithsonian. Also in the chat below is design director Joe Fielder. I met Joe in the late ’90s when I was a corporate hack at Ziff-Davis and he was heading up GameSpot. He was one of the first videogame journalists I met and it’s awesome watching his career in game development burgeon.
Anyway, check out my chat with Paul and Joe below for more details on Underworld Ascendant, as well as lots of gameplay footage.