The Unliving Early Access – Undead Expendables

Work those corpses and get them to do your bidding as the Necromancer in The Unliving Early Access. Out now on Steam in, well, Early Access!

The Unliving Early Access is one of the most eco-friendly rogue-likes of 2022. Forget Johnny Public’s daily whinge about climate control, fuel emissions, and how to sort household rubbish. The real issue is what to do with all your rotting corpses. That’s where necromancy is your friend.

Don’t try necromancy at home (or in the wild).

You play the dastardly Necromancer in this game from RocketBrush Studio and Team17. Suffering from a bit of amnesia, the Necromancer will tease with mankind on their turf; slaying them, then summoning their corpses to fight the good (evil) fight, and upon one’s inevitable death, return to the hub, the Edge of Immortality, speak to your chums and piece together bits of the story.

In Early Access, there’s enough fresh dialogue to keep you occupied, along with plenty of unlockable skills. As with any decent rogue-like, the more you die, the better you become. To some extent. Upon death, you’ll return to the hub and restart a run, however, you can carry over two types of currency: arkhe and prima.

The Unliving Early Access - We are legion
We are legion. Source: Screen capture

The first unlocks new spells and sacrificial runes, randomly appearing on each run. The second helps with upgrades for the Necromancer, such as how you recover energy (or lifeforce), speed of movement, and a selection of commands to, well… command your undead army. We’re getting ahead of ourselves based on sacrifices and whatnot, but to clear up this section without return, the Edge of Immortality is your starting point before each run.

When you step through the main portal, you’ll arrive in the squalor to take on the peasants who really don’t like you. The joy of The Unliving Early Access is the haste in which you can assemble an army from nothing. Typically, a few graves allow you to raise a couple of dead folks to fight for you, but your numbers will come from those you defeat. Pressing R on the keyboard anytime you see a green glowing skull will add them to your roster, then right-clicking the mouse will send your minions to wherever you choose while you stomp along with W, A, S and D.

Something else that is swell about The Unliving is the unrestricted caps on recruitment (with no visible slowdown!). However… there is a time limit on the dead, and they will decompose once the time’s up. Alternatively, you can sacrifice them and replenish health and energy (used for attacks and casting), plus runes and spells might mean the dead will explode or seek out an enemy before they kick the bucket.

Throughout the spacious medieval map, there will be altars that reward with a choice of spells or sacrifices. These are predominantly attack-based, even the defensive types, as they’ll do damage when you use them. Gold can be collected to buy more health bars (lifesparks), currency to take through to the hub, and the occasional transmutation option to boost your attacks, though I’ve only found these a few times.

Initially, I thought this might play like an RTS, but it’s undoubtedly a rogue-like (like Team17’s other title Neon Abyss, though less neon) and will put up a decent challenge. Runs are well-paced as you have the buffer of raising the dead to protect you, but the Necromancer is a little delicate. Melee damage isn’t much of a threat (aside from some ruthless werewolves – they’re utter bastards), but the ranged enemies will often use a charged attack that can take off more them half a lifespark. They’re easy to dodge, but when there’s a lot on screen, expect to lose a wedge of health. Note that lifesparks can only be recovered through altars or by buying from a merchant. Getting to a boss section and having only one lifespark left blows ass.

In short, The Unliving Early Access is an excellent rogue-like. It’s dead good. Leading a legion to their deaths (again) on your behalf is fun, as you can step back and watch the carnage. Just don’t expect it to be a walk in the park. The AI is good, but there’s a lifespan (deathspan?) on the dead. It wasn’t uncommon for me to repeat another run again and again, and surely that’s a core feature of a rogue-like? I think so. And as for future developments, check out the Early Access roadmap (via the Steam page); otherwise, go check it out.