Roguelike and roguelite games are more popular than ever, despite their origins going back to the original Rogue in 1980. Exploration has always been as important as actually fighting monsters. How do you make a roguelite where combat isn’t the primary mechanic? In Unexplored 2: The Wayfarer’s Legacy, the latest game from Dutch developer Ludomotion, combat has been largely de-emphasized in favor of that exploration. Your character is more of an archeologist and explorer than a fighter, and the real fun of the game is piecing together a mystery or finding unique treasures or stumbling upon a cave system.
The first Unexplored by Ludomotion in 2017 was a roguelite that felt so much like a traditional roguelike that the most accurate comparisons were Rogue and its classic descendants like Nethack. Unexplored breathed new life into an ancient genre and brought the traditional roguelite/like into the 21st century in a way that few other games bar Caves of Qud were able to achieve. After playing 300 hours of the thing, I had never gotten bored of it in the slightest.
There was also plenty new about Unexplored 1 that separated it from other roguelites of old. One of those feature being its cyclical dungeon generation that created its randomly generated dungeon levels. That mechanic returns in Unexplored 2, but it’s applied to an entire region instead of just a dungeon. Every world, including the caves, towns, and other areas, is new every time you create one.
Unlike the dungeon delving and amulet retrieval of the first, Unexplored 2‘s story deviates from that classic Rogue plot for a more involved one: You play as the Wayfarer, who has been tasked by the Raafi people to destroy the Staff of Yendor at the First Valley, which is randomly generated when you create a world. While the original Unexplored did include exploration as a mechanic, it is emphasized to a higher degree here as you traverse the randomly generated world. Instead of linearly moving your character forward towards the goal, Unexplored 2 allows for exploration and subplots in areas that are far removed from searching for the First Valley.
Combat still exists in Unexplored 2, but it’s de-emphasized in favor of exploring. Your character, at least the starting class, is not strong and doesn’t have access to weapons, so instead it favors stealth, avoidance and even talking to avoid aggressive situations. When you do get into combat, it is a similar real-time system similar to Unexplored 1 and other rogue-lites. This change is a novel one and creates a radically different play style even if it keeps some core elements of classic rogue-like play. The Staff of Yendor can be used for magical attacks and effects aside from being another blunt weapon to use, but those features must be used sparingly in order to not raise your Presence and alert enemies to your position.
There are many other novel mechanics in Unexplored 2 that create depth and variety in the gameplay. For instance, you have “hope” points that if you lose them will affect some of the abilities you selected when you created your character. There is a “pool” system used for negotiating with unfamiliar travelers, disabling turrets, climbing cliffs, picking locks and other activities. While it may seem like a chore to go through this system every time you need to, say, read an unknown etching on a wall, it adds to the story and the mechanic itself is intuitive and never gets old. This system is one of the best new additions to a roguelite in years. There is also no money in Unexplored 2, and goods can be obtained only by bartering with a merchant with other items in your inventory. This adds a bit of logical reasoning to this process, and is something that should be seen more often in roguelites of this scope.
These new mechanics are also introduced to new players in a logical way between a tutorial level and a Garden of Yendor area in the main game. It never feels overwhelming to have, say, traveling encounters and effects explained shortly after the magic or how lockpicking works or how to camp and heal your character.
Traveling in the game is segmented, and there is no fast travel option unless you barter with a traveling merchant to take you to another town. This can be a slog to get between one place or another, but on the other hand, it does add a bit of a tabletop roll-of-the-dice that isn’t often found in roguelites. It harkens back to a game like Baldur’s Gate, where travel on the map was also sometimes halted by random encounters.
The permadeath mechanic found in other roguelikes comes into play here too. In a TYF interview last year, Unexplored creator Joris Dormans touched upon how the death of your character affects what happens to the world and your subsequent playthroughs. But the basic gist is when your character dies, the world sees changes to what tribe controls what areas, or where you’ll find imperial enemies. If you die too many times in a world, it becomes “lost” and unplayable, and you must create a new world with a new hero. This twist on permadeath makes your character’s death reverberate through subsequent plays and it carries more weight than it did in Unexplored 1.
The game’s graphics are lively and colorful, and add as much depth to the game as all the mechanics it introduces. Unexplored 2 feels huge in scope, and is a worthy followup to its predecessor. Due to the radically different gameplay styles, it does not supplant Unexplored 1 like you may expect. If you’re looking for a dungeon delving experience, Unexplored 1 is still your game. But if you want a slower paced, epic fantasy story, Unexplored 2 will be more your speed.
Unexplored 2 is an imaginative game that blends complex mechanics with engaging gameplay, both of which set it apart from other games of its type. If you are looking for something a little different in a rogue-like or rogue-lite, you might find it in Unexplored 2 with its focus on exploration and where combat is optional.