Jan 2, 2012

Review: Dungeons of Dredmor

Dungeons of Dredmor + Realm of the Diggle Gods DLC

Brought to us by indie games developer Gaslamp Games, Dungeons of Dredmor (DoD) is something as rare as a commercial Roguelike game released July 2011 for online distribution on PC/Mac/Linux.  In it, the player takes on the role of an unfortunate soul shoved down into a dungeon filled with monsters and traps, but also the main villain himself Dredmor who must of course be vanquished.

Roguelike games are a genre that may need a bit of introduction for gamers not familiar with them. A roguelike game is a turnbased rpg adventure heavily based on randomly generated content (usually some sinister dungeon), you will never know what is behind that next door you open. Roguelikes are also harshly unforgiving because of said randomness, and normally have no issues pitting you against overwhelming numbers of enemies even upon taking the first few steps with your new character. A true roguelike also allows no saving and reloading as you play. While technically possible on a number of these games it is referred to as save scumming and is typically looked down on by fans of the genre.  And finally, the bulk of roguelike games out there use ASCII symbols for graphics to represent the dungeons.  Your character might be an @, a goblin might be a blue colour lowercase g, and a hobgobling a green one, and so forth.

Dying is fun!

As such, Dungeons of Dredmor stands out as a roguelike title already in a couple of these aspects. First thing you'll notice is this game has graphics, rather decently put together 2D tiles and and animated game sprites as well as ingame music and sound effects.  The graphics are in no way jawdropping, but functional and have a certain charm.  The next difference from other games of its genre is that Dungeons of Dredmor has an option that allows you to save your character as you play (although it is disabled by default to encourage playing with permadeath).

Survived a Monster Zoo, somehow

This and certain other aspects of of the game that I will also touch on means that DoD is a great place to start if you are just starting out with roguelike games.  Even on its easiest setting, DoD can be cruel in its ways to get your character killed for beginners.  Even so, playing with permadeath is greatly preferred (at least for me), as there is a whole lot of fun to be had experimenting with different skill sets for your character and figuring out their advantages, and of course their weaknesses.

Despite the sometimes cruel random encounters and deaths you're bound to experience, DoD still has to be considered an easy roguelike game compared to some of its peers.  It is also very basic in its game features.  There is no choice of races to play as or long lists of available classes to choose, instead character creation consists of playing male or female character (purely cosmetic choice) and picking your skills from a list that are considered warrior, rogue, wizard or crafting skills. Each time you gain a level all your stats increase slightly and one skill point is spent to improve one of these skills, which will also give bonus stats relevant to the skill.

The game controls are also simplified a bit as well, allowing your character and monsters to move only up, down, left or right and all creatures move and attack at the same speed, one action per turn.  This in contrast to other roguelikes which allows diagonal movement and attacks and usually features somewhat complex movement and attack speed formulas.  This took me a bit to get used to, and is perhaps the first thing experienced roguelike players will immediately dislike when playing DoD.  The game is in other words as far as roguelikes go, rather shallow.

That's not to say the game is bad.  While designed to be accessible for beginners, there are certainly a lot of challenges and fun to be had exploring the dungeon, and a wide range of skill choices coupled with the randomly generated levels, loot and enemies make for a game that is true to its genre very replayable.  Figuring out if this is a game for you can be a bit hit and miss, there are certainly many who will not fall for this game whether it is roguelike pro players or those who just don't like the turn based exploration and combat.  If you are not one of those though you can expect to spend many, many hours on DoD.  I myself must have rolled more than 100 different characters on it, and I'm not quite ready to put the game away yet either.

To keep things interesting down there, DoD is also full of all sorts of references and nutty or sadistic humour wherever you look, even down to the stat explanations on your character page. Or the screen congratulating you each time your character dies.

Yeah thanks, feels good!

On launch, DoD was full of all sorts of bugs that have for the most part been ironed out now through patches, but there are still quite a few left.  There's even a Steam achievement for having the game crash on you.  Its not only game performance and stability that has suffered, but also various gameplay bugs such as skills not working at all like they should, ability effects calculated from the wrong stats and stuff like that. Most of these have now been fixed and I'm sure the rest will soon follow, though, Gaslamp Games seem to take post release game maintenance quite seriously and follow feedback from their players closely.  Don't think I've often seen suggestions posted on a developer forum and seeing the game update with it through a patch shortly thereafter, it certainly impressed me.

Also available for a pittance is a newly released DLC which adds a solid bit of content to the game and is well worth getting if the game is enjoyable.  The DLC expands the dungeon from 10 to 15 floors, adds several new character skill trees, ton of new monsters and items and also a lot of new floor layouts etc even on the earlier levels.  I'd be sceptical to such an update sold as DLC to flesh out and make the game more varied, but it offers so much content I have to say its well worth the small sum it costs.

To form some form of conclusion here:  DoD is a great entry point for players new to roguelikes.  I've read about many who have started playing this, got hooked and then moved on to ADOM or Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup and such.  Even if you're used to the genre the game should still offer many hours of funs, but personal taste will matter a bit more. Personally I enjoy DoD immensely and expect to spend a lot more time on it.  Even though it is a somewhat simple roguelike compared to others, I still have a long way to go before I can say I've mastered everything it has to offer.

On a 1 - 10 scale then, I'd rate Dungeons of Dredmor an 8.  Fantastic game in my opinion with points withdrawn for all its bugs, and that it is not quite as deep a roguelike as I'd normally prefer.  Still, its well worth a look!


+ Solid roguelike game thats easy to get into
+ Art, Music and SFX instead of just ASCII and your imagination
+ Replayability. Don't be surprised to see on Steam stats that you've spent several hundred hours on this thing, once you first get stuck in.
+ Hundreds of references to other games, films, books, musics and probably a lot more that I've not spotted yet
+ Mod support! Allows heavy tweaking of DoD, including stuff like more skill trees to choose from, new monsters to encounter, fancier stuff to craft or discover on the dungeon floors, etc etc

- Gameplay mechanics a bit too simple for my taste
- No manuals or guide available for the stuff that isn't self-explanatory. How is one supposed to know what skills on character creation belong to which type of build? (warrior, rogue, mage)
- Still has its bugs.

As always, I'd love to hear your comments about my reviews! It doesn't matter if you thought it was a fantastic read, or it made your face pop with rage, let me hear about it! :)


Anonymous said...

Great review for a cool game!

Vads said...

That it is. :)

Glad for the feedback, cheers!