Get ready to dungeon crawl! After many delays, the sequel to the classic Ultima Underworld games has finally seen a Linux release.
First off—to address the elephant in the room—Underworld Ascendant was absolutely savaged during its initial release. There were bugs aplenty and I saw complaints that it felt like an unfinished product. It’s been about nine months since its original release and, since then, there have been several major updates to the title. I haven’t followed development closely enough to assure you that all of these concerns have been addressed but the patch notes since read like rather major changes across the board.
From the hour or so that I’ve spent with the game, the Linux port seems to be a solid one. Performance was steady and there were no stability problems. The only real issue I’ve noticed is that the brightness slider doesn’t seem to do anything. Judging from forum posts, however, that may well be a cross-platform issue introduced in this latest patch and will hopefully get sorted out soon.
Underworld Ascendant is otherwise a first-person dungeon crawler that sees players deal with all sorts of obstacles and enemies. There’s a heavy emphasis on lateral thinking with the physics and elements of the areas being possible ways to deal with adversity. As an example, wooden doors can be burned down or bashed in lieu of using a key and enemies can be coaxed to walk into traps.
I haven’t played enough to be able to tell you more than just the basics of the system but I did notice that the AI reacts to things like illumination and how stealthily you approach it. There’s also a robust magic system and no preordained classes when it comes to character building so you can build up the kind of character that you prefer as you go along. From what I’ve seen thus far there’s plenty of room for experimentation in how areas and enemies can be approached.
That said, I did notice a few less-than-stellar issues with combat and the AI that make me think that not all the issues have been sorted yet. Combat feels a bit clunky and not as smooth as I may have liked, judging from my first couple of encounters. It’s not sufficient to turn me off from the game yet but things like silly clipping and enemies attacking from the other side of a closed door certainly haven’t left a particularly positive impression upon me.
I’m cautiously optimistic about what I’ve seen so far and look forward to sinking in more time with the game in the coming days and weeks. It’s an ambitious game for sure and the long wait we Linux gamers have had to endure may be well worth the price for all the balance and polish the game has gotten since launch.