Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 23, 2011
I have died dozens of times now. Many times in the first or second room of the dungeon. I’m not so much rolling up new characters as creating the latest incarnation of my last dead character. But those bird-like Diggles who taunt with the creativity of the French knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail have been having a field day at my expense. I feel like the world’s worst dungeon delver.
Yet I keep coming back for more punishment. And laughs.
I’m playing the beta of the upcoming indie graphical roguelike Dungeons of Dredmor. It’s a game with its tongue in its cheek that takes advantage of its randomness with amusing word combinations and general silliness. The 2D art and animations, the descriptions, the objects, many of the feats (“Fleshsmithing,” “Necronomiconomics,” and “Fungal Arts”), and so forth are filled with humor and silliness that all seems to say, “Don’t take this game too seriously!”
But it wraps a set of mechanics that belong in a pretty serious roguelike. The player must explore a randomly generated series of dungeon levels filled with traps, treasures, and monsters. Everything is turn-based, though an extended lack of input will cause your character to whip out a mobile gaming device and amuse himself. At least at medium difficulty – it doesn’t hold your hand to keep your initial forays in any way easy… or even balanced. In one dungeon, I opened the one and only door leading out of the first room to get swarmed by Diggles with no real hope of victory. Fortunately, that bit of bad luck has proven to be an exception, but the pile of corpses I’ve left in the dungeons are a testament that “survivable” doesn’t mean “easy.” But after leveling a couple of times and picking up some halfway decent gear (and potions), things tend to go more smoothly.
Dungeons of Dredmor lacks the complicated key-chords and ASCII graphics of its kin. In addition, it (currently) does not nuke your save game when your character dies, making it far more “soft-core” than your run-of-the-mill roguelike. In fact, while not exactly user-friendly, its interface is downright tame and should seem fairly familiar to experienced RPG fans. There are certainly places that have been streamlined from some roguelikes I’ve played in the past, but I don’t feel it’s been significantly “dumbed down.” The learning curve is still pretty steep, but the more straightforward mouse-driven interface means that just learning how to move my character and pick up items isn’t a significant part of the challenge.
Part of the appeal of roguelikes for me is the ability to find opportunity in complexity. Those games don’t tend to reward the brute-force approach of many mainstream RPGs, but rather a cautious approach, sometimes employing the kind of cheap tactics that might have gotten your account banned on some MMORPGs. Dredmor has this, and goes a step further with a deep crafting system. The game is littered with crafting materials and crafting stations for adventurers to build their own gear.
To give the money earned (“zorkmids” – that sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?) some use, shops can be found throughout the dungeon offering a very limited trading options. Those with the archeologist skill line also gain the ability to send artifacts back to a museum (or shadowy government warehouse, according to the skill description) to directly gain experience from the value of the item.
Characters are created not by rolling up stats (though the stats are there) and choosing a class, but rather by picking a combination of skills (or actually, skill lines). You can build your own perfect class this way. As you gain levels, you gain points where you can advance any of your skill lines to give your character new and improved abilities.
There’s just a lot to the game, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I don’t know if Dungeons of Dredmor is exactly a gateway drug to roguelikes, but it’s married the genre with the conventions of more mainstream RPGs in what for me feels like a great combination. I don’t play the game and think, “roguelike.” I think, “role-playing game.” But it’s an RPG with most of the advantages of roguelikes and few of the disadvantages, filled with plenty of humor.
For roguelike fans and RPG fans alike, this is a game to keep an eye on as it nears release.
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