There aren’t that many games from nearly three decades ago that people are still playing. Sure, some classics like Final Fantasy V and Dragon Quest V live on, but most games fade away gracefully as new titles build on what was laid before. It takes something very special to survive for 26 years, which is one of the reasons the game has now made a very long awaited debut on Steam.
UnReal World was first released in a playable version in 1992 and has been in constant development ever since. There have been with regular updates and enhancements right across its 26-year lifespan, with the ASCII original almost unrecognisable compared to the graphics of the modern versions. Although UnReal World has been available as shareware or freeware in the past, this latest version on Steam is the first time the game has officially been on sale through a retailer.
That’s not to say you should approach this game expecting something with the visual splendour of Skyrim or Witcher. By the standard of today’s AAA titles, UnReal World looks ancient, but to reject the game based on looks would be to miss out on one of the richest and most engrossing titles ever released.
So what is UnReal World? Well, it’s a sort of open world survival RPG with Roguelike elements. The game takes place in mythic Finland, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be fighting demons and goblins. That sort of thing was phased out in a very early update so as to create a more realistic feeling of a fight for survival against nature and the elements. There are magical elements, but these exist more as the varied folklore and rituals of the tribes.
It’s a deep game, with the world being procedurally generated and an open-ended quest or the option to undertake various scenarios that act as a kind of lengthy tutorial. You start off fighting to survive, building your shelter, hunting and gathering as you learn new skills that help you conquer the landscape. Soon you’ll discover how to trap animals and can start trading pelts with nearby friendly tribes. That is, if the nearby tribes are friendly. They might prefer to eat you. How you play, the goals you set, the skills you need; it’s all up to you. Your past characters become part of the world’s lore and you may even hear legends of their exploits.
RockPaperShotgun, who rated UnReal World as the 26th best PC RPG ever recently, said “to describe the game as being ‘a bit ahead of its time’ would be like describing Usain Bolt as ‘quite fast’” and they’re not wrong. The gameplay still stands up today, with the key appeal being the depth of the survival gameplay and the unscripted emergent stories this creates.
You’ll be fighting fit, tracking a deer towards your cunningly placed trap when an unexpected blizzard suddenly sweeps across the landscape. Unprepared and freezing, you stumble through the forest when a wolf attacks you. Barely escaping with your life you stagger, bloody and badly wounded, into an unknown village. And that’s when you notice the cart piled with human bodies…
It’s surprisingly atmospheric stuff, but it’s not for everyone. UnReal World is a game that demands time and attention, and some people won’t get past the basic nature of the graphics or unforgiving first couple of games. If you enjoy games like Dwarf Fortress or King of Dragon Pass, you may well find lots to love here. Many fans of the game have been playing it for years and the retail release on Steam was, in part, prompted by their enthusiasm that the game deserves a wider audience.
UnReal World is available on Steam for under £10, but you can also play it for free on the developer’s website. This is a great try-before-you-buy option for the uncertain. You’ll also find beginner’s guides, the history of the game, and what the developers have planned next. Here’s to the next 26 years…
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