Back in the mid-90’s, Interplay’s internal teams were working on two CRPGs: their big bet was the eagerly awaited Descent to Undermountain, while the other was a side-project named Fallout.
This may sound weird today, so some context is needed. Interplay scored a hit in 1994 by publishing Descent, a 3D zero-gravity FPS were you controlled a spaceship and could move in any direction. Around the same time the company bought the license to make games based on AD&D, and thus a bold idea was born: a fully 3D Dungeons & Dragons multi-player dungeon crawler based on the Descent engine!
While a clever business decision, the technical side was a disaster. Unfamiliar with the engine, the team struggled and the game was delayed for years, then suddenly rushed out for 1997’s Christmas – without multi-player (which was still listed on the box). Worst, it was practically unplayable, with constant crashes, slowdowns, enemies floating in mid-air, a brain-dead AI, unclimbable ladders and many other serious bugs.
Even if you got the game to work, combat was a mess. The AD&D rules were crudely adapted into a real-time Action-RPG, as monsters and the player just keep missing each other until someone scores a lucky dice roll – in which case a single blow can kill your character during the first several hours.
Similarly, you can play as a Fighter, Cleric, Thief or Mage (or even multi-class) – with iconic spells like Fireball, Invisibility and Feather Fall. But until you level up a few times, you’re limited to one spell per day. After that, your options are to battle monsters with a dagger or to find a (rare) safe place to rest.
There isn’t much enemy or environment variety, but at least the setting and lore are both well employed, with Undermountain, a massive dungeon beneath the city of Waterdeep, being a great location for a CRPG.
Composed of 4 hubs and several interconnected dungeons, Undermountain is filled with traps, hidden passages, optional areas, a great soundtrack and NPCs with unusual quests and dialogs. The dungeons are also well done, although too relying on illusory walls.
Sadly, any quality to Descent to Undermountain is buried deep beneath a barely working engine, game-breaking bugs, muddy graphics, tedious combat and many unfulfilled promises. Felipe Pepe