June 17, 2024
The Land Beneath Us is the latest dungeon crawling roguelite, but will it be a cut above or beneath? The Finger Guns review:

The Land Beneath Us is a dungeon-crawling roguelite set in the distant future and inspired by Welsh mythology. This is currently the second full release for Thailand-based studio FairPlay Studios, with more upcoming releases already announced. With the studio dabbling in multiple genres all at once, I was curious if their understanding of what makes a good roguelite would come through before playing.

Watching the trailer before diving in, I was immediately drawn to the gameplay. It reminded me a lot of Undergrave – an underrated dungeon-crawling puzzler that shares a lot of similar attributes as The Land Beneath Us. But in a sea of roguelites, how does this game set itself apart? Will it be one of the best in the genre? Let’s get into it.

Under The World

The game starts off throwing you straight into the Underworld. You are a robotic creation of the Main PC that controls the distant future cybertech within the domain. Immediately I’m blindsided by the dialogue as Main PC goes on an exposition diatribe about what you’ve been made for and who the “bad guys” are, in the most obnoxious Gen Z way, UwUs included. However, it’s quick and straight to the point so I didn’t have to suffer it for too long before diving into the action.

Which is to say, the action at a glance was pretty fun. I mentioned in the intro about the Undergrave influence I was getting from The Land Beneath Us, that’s because it’s an isometric grid-focused turn-based. Your robotic slave of the Underworld, who later names themself Sven-001, will move one square per directional input. Out on the field, you’ll do the same and per turn, the enemy will move one space also.

Like Undergrave or Crypt of the Necromancer it turns the dungeon crawling aspect into almost a puzzler. But unlike those two games, The Land Beneath Us is a lot more forgiving freedom of gameplay – when it’s playing nice. As you enter the dungeon you’ll pick up a weapon and a relic. The weapon you can apply to one of the four directions you go in and will be that attack for that direction. These range from atypical swords, lances, axes, firearms – you get the gist.

Some will have an Overkill effect which means upon enemy death a power will activate like a heal or an increase on damage next hit. Then you have your relics, think of them as perks. This is where the game flourishes but also faulters in a jumbled way.

Pick Your Poison

By default, you’ll have five slots to have relics equipped. They differ in rarity, making some minor improvements like 20+ HP or a % increase on a critical hit. Others will be almost broken, things like Vel Armour, which gives you 20+ HP and a 50% chance to heal you 1HP. There are many, many examples of this as there’s a plethora of Relics that RN-Gesus can be either kind or punishing and that overwhelmingly dictate how your run is going to go.

Which has me at odds with how much fun I really had with the core gameplay loop. On the one hand, when it works, it’s really fun, frenetic and tactile. On the other, if your Relics are bad and your weapons don’t have a good enough gimmick, it is absolutely impossible to beat, in my experience. It feels counter-intuitive to give you all the toys in the toy box, but only a handful can really help you progress. Then by the third area, you have so much to choose from you’re likely never to see your favourites again.

Unique to other roguelites, The Land Beneath Us doesn’t operate on a one-run-and-done style of beating the game. You’re not developing your build, beating bosses until you get to the end, but rather beating them separately as levels and then going back to headquarters. Whilst this does alleviate that often Hercilian feat that comes with the genre, you lose your build after every level.

So every time is a fresh run. It kind of diminishes any cultivating of builds during your playtime. Didn’t get the weapon you want? Quit out and start again. It’s great for pick and play, but unsatisfying the longer I spent with the game.

Who’s Side Are You On Anyway?!

Outside of the levels, you’ll return to the hubworld and upgrade Sven. At first, it’ll just be with Main PC where you can upgrade the tech side of things, like Sven’s personal attributes. After a few bosses, however, you’ll cross paths with Annwn – A God much like the other Gods you’re killing to retrieve their souls. The souls are being used as an energy resource for Main PC who is also just not nice to you, so my bad-vibes-meter was probably spot on.

Choosing who you upgrade with affects the storyline as you end up picking sides the further in you go. Main PC is obviously in favour of using technology in favour of bettering…something, at the cost of nature. Annwn, on the other hand, is a God amongst nature and all of the lands you come across are inhabited by Gods despite them appearing ravaged.

I have zero knowledge of Welsh mythology, but I assume that some of the characters involved are characterised in a manner that follows it. I don’t think ancient Welsh mythology had a “Random xD” PC pro(an)tagonist, but the love for the land and its natural abilities makes sense. The upgrades for each faction aren’t game-changing, it definitely doesn’t ease your journey – just adjusts to the new difficulty, which is still unnecessarily hard if you don’t have the right loadout.

Combo Breaker

To add more strategy out on the wastelands of the Underworld are combos. You unlock this after the first boss and they’re a cool addition but, for as long as I played, not very handy or thought about. You can carry three combos by default and to execute them you’ll have to input the directions they’re attached to. Think like Helldivers Strategems. There is some leeway as you can move twice without breaking the combo, but they will reset if you’re not consistent.

They can be an offensive move, or a healing ability, and everything in between. Honestly, I never thought about them but sometimes I’d pull them off by just playing as I would and they did come in handy. You’ll also have a teleport which can help you move to a grid outside of danger that uses up your turn. It resets after 10 or so moves, so you can’t abuse the power but it does become a vital tool to utilize in the latter stages of the game.

I got a good chunk of the way through, around 10+ hours before I threw in the towel. The game makes you so reliant on a good build that if you don’t have something good, you will fail. Rooms become smaller with more enemies, minibosses become more devasting as you’re clearing out the area and I just didn’t have the patience to fail and get back up over and over again.

The game has artificially added so many abilities, weapons and combos when in reality there’s so little that actually helps. Once you’ve beaten the level you can go back with modifiers to make it harder for more rewards, but I was struggling with the base game let alone making it harder.

What Is Beneath Us

Enemies are definitely lacking in variety. There are some main staples that you’ll see throughout, but maybe with a different status effect depending on the area. Weapons are the same handful but again with different status effects and a colour change. Also, the levels looking the exact same but for a change in the colour palette. It all becomes very same-y, very quickly and whilst I was figuring out how the game ticks I didn’t mind. I found comfort in knowing how enemies attacked but as I was hitting my head against the wall the wonderment was fading.

I like the pixel art style overall, the tech dystopia is interesting looking enough and Sven has a great design to them. Bosses also look cool and are distinct in their own battles, however, these moments that I see the potential are very few and far between. The Land Beneath Us shows flashes of a really competent turn-based roguelite that gives you a nice variety in the grid-based action by being so experimental, but it’s no way at the fine-tuned level it needs to be for it to be fun the whole time. Like I said, when the game is fun, it really can be but it’s not so much a lot of the time.

Who knows, I could just be entirely bad at this game but I’ve played enough roguelites to know the ways they should tick, and The Land Beneath Us is slightly out of tempo. I appreciate what FairPlay Studios went for, it’s a commendable effort to take on a genre that’s brimming with great titles, this just isn’t one of those unfortunately.

The Land Beneath Us has a lot of ideas thrown into the roguelite dungeon crawler that with a bit more fine-tuning could be great. However, for now, it’s just okay. Whether it’s the weapon/perk bloat or lack of executable builds that’ll help you beat the game, it just doesn’t feel fun when mechanics aren’t going your way.

The Land Beneath Us is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.

Developer: FairPlay Studios
Publisher: Dear Villagers

Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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