Lovecraft and the Souls series. Now where have we heard that before? There is a new game on Kickstarter right now called Unformed that references both of those influences as a Metroidvania influenced by the combat of Dark Souls and Bloodborne and set in a fantasy world inspired by Chinese folklore and the horror atmospheric tales of H.P. Lovecraft. This 2D sprawling side scroller joins fellow current crowdfunding game Blasphemous as another in a new crop of resurgent games that blend the sensibilities of old school hardcore game with modern action. With a playable demo available, we sat down with the game to see what its potential is.
Developed by: Blackfire Games
Published by: : Blackfire Games
Release date: Mid 2018
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (Confirmed) PS Vita, 3DS, Switch (Potentially)
- Character development in Unformed is a complex system that was inspired by the Sphere Grid system from Final Fantasy X and Equipment Skill system from the Monster Hunter series.
- Unformed will offer players a large number of distinct level settings. From underground mines to mountain salt lakes, locations not only look different, they each have unique gameplay features.
- Unlike the majority of 2D action games, the combat system in Unformed is very challenging, heavily inspired by Dark Souls and other games in the Souls series.
- Players will be able to acquire quests from NPCs; these quests may result in changing the game world or provide interesting fluff pieces of the world of Unformed.
Story & Setting
The game takes place in a small kingdom in the south, where the ruler, King Zhao has been seeking immortality. Through research he discovers an earth spirit in a place called Huangting Valley and creates a new Tao-based religion called the Crane, designed to manipulate the human body to create an immortal being similar to the spirit.
To support the body, the person must take a medicine made from the earth spirit constantly unless they transform into a useless, motionless body. To find the medicine, a piece of meat must be cut from one of these earth spirits which do regenerate, leading to the king instituting a mass creation of this drug. Even those who have not transformed can consume this drug to strengthen their bodies.
Another competing religion called Snake learns of a greater entity than the earth spirit which can transform humans into a “child of god’s blood.” The king shows favor on this new religion, causing a schism within the ranks which leads to the theft of the earth spirit. The thief is apprehended and thrown in a dungeon, where the king’s son frees him to take on a new name, the Shadow. Tensions flare and the kingdom, Shadow and Snake religion all face off and the ensuing battle awakens an ancient god. Those who took the drug descend into madness or coma, the rest go into hiding and the landscape is set aflame, as the gates of hell have opened.
At this time, the heroine, a soul-collector travels to the land drawn their by intuition and discovers on arrival that the undeath in the land is actually an ancient curse.
The character progression in Unformed utilizes something called the Raw Stones – Curse Devices system that takes its inspiration from the Sphere Grid system in Final Fantasy X and the Equipment Skill system in Monster Hunter. To improve your heroine, you will be upgrading your curse devices and raw stones which will find as you complete objectives in the game. Eventually the link between the devices will increase the power of the devices and their raw stones.
Raw stones can be acquired randomly through the game and can be improved via upgrade and synthesis. Curse devices are scattered across the world and players will have to explore the locations thoroughly and complete tasks to get the rarest ones.
The levels will feature distinct settings that impact the gameplay. Some will have underground mines, others salt lakes and they will all change dynamically both in the foreground and the background, as well as mirror illusions and puzzle solving due to changing level structure.
The combat in Unformed is heavily inspired by the Dark Souls series of games. Enemies are designed to attack unpredictably similar to the Souls series, causing players to really pay attention to encounters. You can’t go in guns blazing. Complimenting your melee attacks are a variety of magic spells, weapons and enchantments.
Quests can be acquired from NPCs and are designed to be a blend of the standard and unique. These quests can change the world or add to the intrigue and lore of the land. Some of the quests will feature branching storylines so experiencing the entirety of the content will require multiple playthroughs to see how they all play out. In all, Unformed will contain about 10 secondary story arcs to explore in addition to the game’s main story.
When the demo begins you are able to make two choices, one is HuangTing Village and the other is Blood Moon. Selecting HuangTing Village launches the full representation of the game, while Blood Moon is a dedicated boss battle.
When the village demo loads, you have presumably washed up in the fishing town called HuangTing Village and you’ve been brought inside by villagers. The fisherman who rescues you asks for a fair trade: in exchange for saving your life, you must kill the Wuchang of the Netherworld who took the lives of his children. Talk about guilt trip.
You level up at these groves using “memories” you acquire. You gain skill points for doing so which are still unclear in how they are applied but the game does tell you to acquire something called an original stone to allow you to slot curses, descriptions. Dying does not seem to penalize you these memories, as I had everything I had acquired upon respawning, so it doesn’t seem there is a huge penalty for death as of yet, besides getting tossed all the way back to your checkpoint. The death screen itself is quite familiar, although I can’t seem to put my finger on where I’ve seen it before…
The lighter penalty for death is not necessarily a terrible design choice as the enemies are pretty stout. The combat control scheme is pretty familiar, something of a blend of hack and slash and Souls series button mapping. The combat in action is a bit less fluid as it is very deliberate. Actions are isolated, so if you attack you’re not moving and vice versa. You can raise your block but can’t attack out of it and the same with rolls. You have to complete these actions before making or input queuing an attack and this makes the combat less responsive than you go in anticipating. This is something I also ran into with Shattered during my hands on preview but to a lesser degree. However, you can attack while in midair giving you some more choices.
Your attacks are governed by a stamina bar which also governs your roll, block and jump, making stamina management a strong consideration. You can select from a sword, greatsword, daggers and consumable item mapped to your D-Pad. You can slot 4 consumables and equip 3 different categories of armor: chest, belt and gloves. No helmets because long hair don’t care.
But there’s an interesting wrinkle to the weapons. The sword is your default weapon, and switching to the more powerful greatsword or faster daggers is a timed affair. As you play, a red meter fills up around your sword icon in the top left of the HUD, which indicates the time accrued for your special weapons. Attacking in any sense pauses the meter but landing attacks on foes fills it quickly. Swapping to the greatsword or daggers results in an automatic special attack and it begins depleting the meter gradually. Attacking with these special weapons depletes the meter much more quickly and once it’s empty you are automatically swapped back to the sword and may not swap until the meter has refilled the appropriate amount. This a fun mechanic to play around with and I enjoyed managing the meter and using it I needed some extra heft or speed from the special weapons.
You can also use any gained wind chimes at the glowing plantlike checkpoints to upgrade the amount of plastid flasks you carry, which you consume to replenish health. Similar to estus these recharge every time you die or reach a checkpoint.
The regular foes run the gamut from pretty run of the mill difficulty to very stout and the tougher ones have some diabolical movesets that are varied enough to not be too predictable. They really get their swipes in, so spacing was important and they track very well. There are going to be some frustrating moments for sure.
Blood Moon is a boss level and it’s a tough but fun battle. The enemy combat, especially the big baddies are really where the game shines as they are a lot of fun to tackle and are far from being pushovers.
The graphics are slick, very bright colors with clean, geometric lines. The characters and enemies are almost cartoon like, but not necessarily in a bad way, in this case it’s distinctive. While nothing in particular stands out as gorgeous there isn’t anything to balk at visually, and the levels feature some neat dark, underground and barely lit portions.
As for audio, there isn’t really much to report. Right now there is no musical score and it’s unknown if that’s going to be the case in the future or if they’ll be adding music. The ambient audio that is there is fine; background, environmental sounds, crackling of fire, and weapon attacks. There is no voiced dialogue, and all conversations unfold over text boxes. This is worth noting because as of right now, there are a lot of typos (spelling and grammar) in both the dialogue text and in the UI for item descriptions and the like. This will need some attention, because glaring errors in these could turn people off if the game requires as much reading as it seems to indicate.
Unformed has some potential to be yet another entertaining entry in the resurgent Metroidvania genre of games but right now it’s in a bit of a raw state. So much of it is very promising, just unpolished and that’s understandable given it’s very early stages. What’s encouraging is the foundation that it already has laid out. Similar to fellow raw but intriguing crowdfunding success, Hellpoint, Unformed has the potential to develop into a very satisfying 2D combat and exploration experience if it gets some more time and resources devoted to it. It’s tough to resist the obvious irony in the name, because the game itself is very unformed. This one will be worth watching out for as it takes further shape. Visit their Kickstarter page to check the demo out for yourself.