Underrail Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2015-12-18
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Character Progression and Itemization

Spend more than 10 minutes or so with Underrail though, and there's a very good chance you'll learn to completely ignore its uninspired writing and focus on what it actually does right. There are many things I remember from the 16 hours or so (counted by Steam) I spent with the alpha: a particularly tense encounter with acid-spitting mutant dogs where I had to exploit every trick I had, from my psionic abilities to throwing nets, and barely survived anyway; a frantic run through a couple of sentry turrets that were able to instantly spot me while I was sneaking, depriving me of a crucial skill which otherwise got me out of many difficult situations (little did I know that I could have bypassed them using an alternative passage!); the times I've spent stealing from unsuspecting citizens' apartments to finance my troubled quest for an Armadillo class drill rotor circuit board. It brought back memories of my time with the original Fallout, which was certainly appreciated.

Let's start with the basics: to start an Underrail playthrough you have to build a character, as there are no pre-made options available to help newcomers. You'll find yourself dividing points between its six main stats, called here "base abilities", which affect both skills proper and secondary stats: Strength (which affects melee skills), Dexterity (thieving abilities, throwing, melee criticals), Agility (dodge, movement, stealth), Constituion (hit points and the various resistances), Perception (your aim and the ability to spot hidden creatures and objects), Will (psi and social skills) and Intelligence (scientific disciplines such as hacking). Differently from Fallout and similarly to D&D, you'll get one point to raise your base abilities every 4 levels, which will also give you the chance to raise them beyond their initial cap of 10.

The rest of your character creation time will be divided between distributing points into skills and choosing feats, which work similarly to Fallout's perks and Dungeons & Dragons 3.5's feats. Your start with a pool of 120 points to distribute between the various skills, though you can't put more than 15 into any of them to start. At every level up you get 40 skill points and this cap raises by 5, meaning the average player is likely to specialize into 8 skills and keep putting points into them, but there's no effective obligation to do so, and I can certainly attest to that. By the end of my time with the alpha I had learned how to pickpocket unsuspecting citizens and intimidate gangers into submission, something I'd have no chance of doing with my initial skill setup.

There's a total of 22 skills, divided between Offense, Defense, Subterfuge, Technology, Psi and Social: Guns, Throwing, Crossbow, Melee; Dodge (used against melee and traps), Evasion (used against ranged attacks and area of effect); Stealth, Hacking, Lockpicking, Pickpocketing, Traps; Mechanics, Electronics, Chemistry, Biology, Tailoring (all used for crafting); Thought Control, Psychokinesis, Methatermics; Persuasion, Intimidation, Mercantile. With a few exceptions (Persuasion was checked only a couple of times during the alpha, and Dodge and Evasion feel underpowered as of now) the skills are actually useful and not trap choices, and I have to admit I found myself wishing I had put at least a few points into the ones I had ignored while exploring some of the title's deadly hi-tech ruins. Skill synergies (a bonus derived by a percentage of the points you have put in another skill; e.g. Dodge has a skill synergy with Evasion that amounts to 10%, meaning that if you have 0 points in dodge but 60 in Evasion, Dodge will get automatically raised to 6) help plug some of those expertise holes, but the benefits are too low to rely on them alone, and only really help when you're going for particularly easy skill checks.

Finally, as I already mentioned earlier, feats work more or less like you'd expect them to based on the last 10-15 years of RPG design: you get two at the start, with an additional choice available at every even level. There are also a few feats that you'll gain through in-game events, like Psi Empathy, which grants you the ability to learn psi abilities, and unlocks additional psi-related feats. Most feats consist of flat bonuses like additional abilities, more movement points, enhanced perception when hidden objects are concerned, etc., though a few also involve trade-offs (the chance to score criticals more often in exchange for the same for your enemies), and some even lock other feats out (Tranquility and Psychosis, two psi related feats, are mutually exclusive for example).

Equipment-wise, all characters start with a fairly weak leather armor and a gun (regardless of your starting skill, though, again, it's worth noting this is just an alpha and this is probably subject to change later down the line), some credits to buy more equipment and that's about it. I'd prefer if starting equipment was handled similarly to Arcanum, where you have a fixed amount of money and can choose what to buy before starting the game proper, but at least there are traders you can peruse before you start adventuring out of South Gate Station. Move beyond the starting area, though, and you'll quickly realize there's a huge variety of loot in Underrail: from batteries you can use to recharge technological gizmos and energy weapons, to scraps for crafting, to poisoned bolts for your crossbow, Underrail has just about everything. Items are weightless and your inventory is limitless, so there's not much decision-making involved in looting, but the presence of item durability and equipment encumbrance, plus skill and stat requirements, bonuses and maluses, makes sure you're never just going to equip the heaviest armor and weapon and call it a day. During the later stages of the alpha I felt like I had overcome the resource problems I met at the beginning of my playthrough, which didn't feel like a big thing in the grand scheme of things given the game's encounters and areas were hard enough without scarcity coming into play, but might warrant additional balance passes.