Descent to Undermountain Preview

Interplay shows that an action engine can do more than just run and shoot in this strange new RPG

Had to happen. You don't just come out with something like the Descent engine and leave it alone. No, you pick that sucker up and run like a faucet for the goal posts. Descent to Undermountain is definitely well into the end zone, and takes the popular X-Y-Z movement/combat scheme of Descent and Descent 2 into the dungeon-prowling, waste-wandering, town-crawling realm of the sword-and-sorcery Dungeons and Dragons universe. Interplay and TSR (the D&D people) already have a great relationship going via RPG crossover titles; Dragon Dice will grab the cliquish fans of the Magic: The Gathering ilk; Blood and Magic will capture the hearts of strategy fans; and now Descent to Undermountain will try to bring in the raw-eyed and twitching action/shooter contingent. Interplay's either gonna have one big, happy (and geeky) fan-base, or, at the very least, some of the most entertaining squabbles ever seen this side of a TSR dealer's table.

Undermountain will fuse the adventure challenge of a Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game with real-time action and combat. Dungeons, caverns, and other settings are portrayed as 3-D environments, with crumbling stairwells, slopes, ledges, and rises, from which any number of creatures living or dead can come charging out at you. Role-playing games rarely change radically, or so it seems after a few million titles of the same genre, but Undermountain's spooky ranged and melee combat will certainly keep you awake, and may even deliver the occasional real shock when something you thought was dead comes barreling up out of the shadows to say howdy (or, in medieval-speak, "Yoeth").

A few very encouraging words on melee combat: Anyone who's been reduced to the unenviable state of having to use the axe in Quake or bare fists in Marathon knows that - short of being forced to play Zoop for Game Boy for the duration of a nighttime trans-Atlantic flight - this is just about the last gaming situation you want to be in. Not only is it ridiculously dangerous, virtual-world wise, but it is often a paralyzingly repetitive, zero-brainer activity. Undermountain's melee combat includes one super-nifty bonus: combat with swords and other such implements is governed by mouse movement, allowing for strikes, parrys, and lunges independent of the adventurer's compass movement. I know this sounds like it takes some getting used to, and believe me, it does. But it's worth it; the resulting high-fantasy duck and hack and slash is about the truest to the spirit of the genre yet, and may well continue to be so until Die By The Sword makes its appearance. Descent to Undermountain's true test, however, will be in its crossover appeal to those gamers who - like yours truly - are yea and verily often put off by the likes of Middle Earth, Janarrah, Orcville, and The Leaned and Festering Forreste of Shemp, or whatever. Undermountain is fantasy role-playing with a critical action edge and some genuinely unnerving kinetic moments which give the RPG experience that critical first-person tension that so many of us live for.

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