When DYSMANTLE initially came out, I bounced off of it pretty quickly. A directionless open world zombie game just wasn't really gripping me in that moment, but I made plans to go back and check it out eventually. Fast-forward to now where the game has recently been updated with a new expansion and I can hardly keep my hands off of it. DYSMANTLE is a pretty amazing title, and the Underworld DLC is a welcome addition for new and old players alike.
DYSMANTLE is a survival and crafting game where you play as a man emerging from a subterranian shelter years after the onset of the zombie apocalypse. All of the underground supplies have been exhausted, so you have to fend for yourself by foraging from the leftovers of civilization to craft tools, cook food, make clothes, and forge weapons to fend off hungry zombies.
This probably sounds all too familiar. It feels like this exact kind of game has been done time and time again. Where DYSMANTLE creates an edge though is in its balance of survival systems. All of the mechanics that usually annoy me in these games aren't there. There's no hunger or thirst meters, weapons can't break, and your inventory is a smart balance of managing the limited amount of space in your backpack to figure out what to dump into crates at campsites scattered across the map, which have unlimited storage. On combat, DYSMANTLE also keep things simple, making the wade through zombie encounters thankfully pretty short but definitely challenging at times.
There isn't a whole lot of story or direction to DYSMANTLE. You simply emerge and then essentially need to figure things out. There are, of course, some tutorial markers near the opening area that teach you the basics of crafting and combat, but those are easily missable as the game opens wide open almost immediately. As an example of this I came across a prompt telling me how to dodge roll around hour 10 of the game. I simply hadn't walked in that direction yet!
This lack of direction can feel frustrating and probably contributed to me putting down the game upon release. It doesn't take a whole lot of time to find tons of things to do, though. Foraging, finding new campsites, and activating towers that reveal regions are almost always an easy thing to pursue, and along the way those can give way to quests, boss fights, finding hidden treasures, and discovering all kinds of new layers to the game that you might not otherwise know are there.
Everything I've written about to this point applies to the base DYSMANTLE experience. With the Underworld update (available for $4.99), the game adds a whole new subterranean area to the game along with new quests, enemies, gear, and more. You can stumble across the entrance to this area at any point in your journey, and it adds a ton of mystique to the game on top of more stuff to do. It's not the easiest region to work through if you haven't crafted or upgraded a lot of gear, but its opening area unlocks a lot of gear blueprints and provides easy forage points for rare materials that can accelerate your progress even if you are just starting the game fresh.
This kind of design is what ended up selling me on DYSMANTLE. Its world feels organic, mysterious, and conquerable at all points of the game. Even though there is some designed gating of areas, DYSMANTLE does a great job of giving you plenty of actually fun things to do and explore without feeling too restrictive or grindy. Underworld gives you even more of that plus some bonus features like an island home base for building up your dream outpost, provided you make it that far.
The bottom line
DYSMANTLE's survival-based gameplay works in large part because of how even-handed 10tons is with its mechanics and systems. Nothing feels foisted upon you, but the amount of things to discover behind walled-off areas or frozen wastelands motivates you to gather and craft materials that let you explore them. This is how all survival crafting games should be.