When I first saw The Unliving I was intrigued by the premise. I am not the biggest fan of rogue-lite games. I generally like Pikmin style games though where you control a group of minions that do your bidding. The idea of playing as a necromancer was interesting as well since each enemy you kill would just increase your number of minions. The Unliving has intriguing potential, but has a few things it needs to work on before its final release.
In The Unliving you play as the Necromancer. You wake up with no memory of your past. To regain your memories and recoup your power, you must destroy anyone that stands in your way.
The Unliving is a mixture of a rogue-lite game mixed with minion control mechanics.
The game is broken into runs. You have one life to complete your mission. If you lose all of your health you temporarily “die”, and return to your headquarters. From there you can use the resources you earned on your last run to purchase upgrades as well as talk with your cult members. When you are ready you can then begin a new run from the beginning.
As the Necromancer you have access to a number of attacks including a melee slash attack and a ranged attack. You will acquire additional special abilities in your run which use various resources you acquire from killing enemies. Your health is broken up into sections. Once you lose a section of health you can only recover it my acquiring a special item. When you lose all of your health, your run ends.
Since you are wildly outnumbered, you need more than just your own attacks. With the ability of a necromancer, you can raise the dead to help you. You can resurrect any enemy you defeat to fight on your side. In order to resurrect an enemy you need to defeat all of the enemies in its group. Then with the press of a button, all of them become your minions to guide.
Guiding your minions is rather simple as you just need to press the right mouse button to guide them. Your horde of minions will move to the location that you click on and attack nearby enemies. Your minions have a limited amount of health though and will decay over time. When they are close to death, you can sacrifice a minion in order to gain a temporary special ability.
The main reason The Unliving intrigued me when I first saw it was due to the necromancy minion mechanics. The idea of commanding an ever-growing horde of the undead had promise. In some ways I think the game succeeds, and in others I think it needs some refining before the final version.
I think The Unliving has a good foundation in place. The idea of controlling a horde of undead is fun. While you start with only a few minions, your forces grow pretty quickly. Every enemy you defeat increases your own army after all. You will eventually have a substantial army which can overrun most enemies that you encounter.
The game controls fairly well. The gameplay is quite strightforward. You move with the typical WASD, and there are a couple of buttons that use the special abilities that you acquire. Otherwise the left mouse button attacks with the Necromancer and the right mouse button directs your minions on where they should go next.
It is surprisingly satisfying once you acquire a large army. When you have a large enough army you can easily swarm a group of enemies and take them down quickly. You feel pretty powerful when you have a good run. You aren’t so powerful that you can be careless, but you sometimes get to the point where you can sit back and watch your horde tear down the enemy and create an even larger army for yourself.
This can be a little hit or miss though. I think a lot of this is due to the game’s rogue-lite mechanics. You will die regularly in the game. You don’t get to carry any of your gained abilities or other upgrades into the next run. Thankfully you get to purchase upgrades which seem to make you more powerful.
To actually succeed in the game you pretty much need to die in order to upgrade your character. Maybe I just got unlucky, but my first couple of runs didn’t go far. After some upgrades though I did start to do better. Maybe this was due to getting better at the game, or maybe the upgrades are really helpful.
Either way I would say that The Unliving is kind of difficult at this point. If you die you have to restart from the very beginning even if you defeat one of the end of level bosses. I think part of the reason why the game is difficult is that your success kind of relies on luck. You will start to build up your forces, but your continued success really depends on the enemies that you end up facing. If you can get a really large army, you likely will do pretty well. If you don’t, you will likely die early.
The problem is that this doesn’t seem to be solely due to your skill. Each run is randomly generated which includes the enemy layouts. To do well you generally need to have more troops than the enemy that you are facing off against. If you get overwhelmed, you will likely get decimated. This is where the luck comes into play. There were runs where I thought I was doing pretty well and then I hit an area packed with several large groups of enemies. My army was decimated and I lost shortly afterwards. It felt like there wasn’t really anything that I could have done to avoid this fate as I didn’t have enough troops to deal with all of these enemies at once.
This isn’t helped by the fact that your troops can be kind of stupid at times. Your units are usually smart enough to congregate around the area you tell them to go to. There were a couple of times though when my troops just stood there and didn’t follow my directions. When the troops do get to the location, your mileage can vary. Some of them will attack right away and do a fairly good job. Too many just stand there doing nothing though if there is anything in the way of their target. This leads to some troops dying without helping you in any meaningful way.
Ultimately I found the combat to be fun, but it could use some tweaking. It is fun when you can overwhelm your enemies and grow your army. At times there is a little too much micromanaging though. I wish your troops had a little more self awareness where they would attack nearby enemies instead of just standing in the line of fire doing nothing. This leads to a situation where you have to constantly give them new directions to tell them what to do next. The combat has the potential to be really fun, but it gets a little repetitive after a while.
While the gameplay is pretty straightforward for the most part, I do think The Unliving could have done a better job explaining some of the mechanics. I ended up figuring them out on my own, but I didn’t really understand some of them for a number of runs. The game has quite a few different types of resources that you can use for various spells/special abilities that it can sometimes be hard to keep them all straight. I don’t think the game needs a long tutorial, but I think it could explain some of the mechanics a little better.
Lets move onto the story and atmosphere. I generally thought the atmosphere was pretty good. The game uses a pixel style which I liked. If you don’t like pixel art games it probably won’t be for you, but I think it works for the game.
As for The Unliving’s story, I am not a fan at this time. The game actually seems to have more of the story in place than I expected for an early access game. I personally found it kind of hard to follow though. The game uses a bunch of its own lingo which was hard to follow. At this time I didn’t really find any of the characters to be all that interesting either. This could just be me though as I could have missed elements early in the story which made it harder to follow later on.
As for length The Unliving is in Early Access so it is not surprising that there isn’t a ton of content in the game at this moment. Apparently the game currently has three main areas. I have only been able to beat the first boss so far, so I can’t confirm or deny that. Each area seems to be relatively big. The levels are also randomly generated. As the game is a rogue-lite you will also die a lot. I would guess you could get at least a few hours out of the game at this point. Based on the game’s roadmap it also seems like quite a bit more content should be added before the final release.
Ultimately there are things that I liked about The Unliving and there are some things that I think could be improved. I generally liked the premise and think there is a good foundation in place. The combat is entertaining as controlling a horde of the undead is fun. The game is kind of hard though as you can expect to die a lot as you upgrade your character. Your troops follow your directions fairly well, but at times they just stand there doing nothing. With a few tweaks I think the combat could be really fun.
As for the story and atmosphere I like the visuals as the pixel art looks really nice. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the story though as I found it kind of hard to follow.
My recommendation for The Unliving comes down to your thoughts on the premise. If you aren’t really interested in the premise, I would maybe wait a little to see where the game goes. If you are really intrigued by the premise though and are willing to work through some of the game’s current issues, I think you should consider picking up The Unliving.
Release Date: Early Access – November 7th, 2022 | Systems: PC
Developer: RocketBrush Studio | Publisher: Team17 Digital | ESRB Rating: Not Rated
Genres: Action, Indie, RPG, Rogue-Lite
Official Website: https://theunlivinggame.com
- A fun interesting twist on the typical minion control genre.
- Surprisingly satisfying creating and controlling a horde of the undead.
- You will die a lot in order to upgrade your character.
- Your troops will sometimes just stand there while they are being destroyed by enemies.
Recommendation: For those interested in the premise and willing to work through some of the game’s current issues.
Where to Purchase: Steam
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank RocketBrush Studio, and Team17 Digital for the review copy of The Unliving used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.