Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Quick Take: Delver

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 18, 2014

delverOkay. Remember how I like to rant about early access, how awful it is, and how it’s possible to get screwed and all that?

Yeah. Well, Nethack has been “in development” for how many decades now? 🙂 Of course, it’s had a number of “official” releases. It seems there are certain kinds of games, particularly highly replayable ones like roguelikes, that seem to be more “okay” with being in-development than others. The fact that they are constantly tinkered with makes things stay a little fresh.

But I’m still not going to offer a hearty recommendation or anything. But I will say I have been playing the 3D roguelike Delver lately. As far as I’ve gotten, it is complete and playable. There have been some bugs, including one spot where I got completely stuck and unable to move, thus becoming something of a game-killing problem. I haven’t gone back to that save slot again to see if an update has made it possible for me to escape yet from my current position.

So – what is Delver, and what is it like?

In short, it’s a first-person, 3D, action roguelike.  Yep, roguelike, with permadeath, procedural levels, gaining levels and new equipment, fantasy combat, and all that. If you play for a while, you’ll see the same rooms or arrangements over and over again (although the caves may be a bit more random than that). Maybe it doesn’t fit the Berlin Interpretation of a “roguelike,” but it works for me. Call it Roguelike, call it “Procedural Death Labyrinth,” call it whatever. It’s pretty fun.

The graphics are done in sort of a 16-bit style rendered in 3D. Enemies are sprites with very few frames of animation.  For me, it all works fine, and while it gives it a bit of retro charm, this doesn’t make or break the game for me. I can see what’s attacking me – it has character – and get a good idea of what they are doing. That’s key (and based on earlier, alpha screenshots, something missing in older versions).

The game is entirely skill-based. Each time you level up, you get to choose from a selection of stats to improve by one point. This selection is not complete – you may not be offered the opportunity to increase the stat you really want to improve this level. But there are no class limits, and as an adventurer you can be free to wear any armor or use any weapon, wand, or spell in the game.

This is important, as the selection of items in the game isn’t unlimited. As you delve deeper, found armor tends to improve along normal lines, from leather to mail to plate, of varying quality. There are just a few varieties of weapons, also of varying quality, but some are enhanced with bonuses like additional electrical damage. Potions vary in color, and are randomized each game so that you don’t know what a potion of a particular color does until you drink it. However, that color-coding of effects will remain consistent for that particular game until the end (as far as I’ve seen).

delver3Ranged combat occurs through bows and spells (often via wands). These use up charges and arrows, which are in limited supply, so you can’t just turn the game into a first-person shooter. On the receiving end, the spells can be the nastiest – especially from some casters. I die from a ranged blast more often than anything else. You can dodge ranged effects,  or hide behind an obstacle. You can also maneuver so that another enemy is shielding you from ranged attacks, and will take full damage. It does seem like you get experience points whenever an enemy dies, regardless of whether you were the direct cause of death, or they died from another enemy’s attacks or they fell victim to a trap.

Traps are of the pressure-plate variety that I have seen so far, and will reset a few seconds after they go off. Sometimes you have no choice but to step on a pressure plate, as it is perhaps filling the floor in a narrow corridor. In these cases, you have a few choices. If an enemy walks over the plate and takes the damage, you have a few seconds to rush forward and past it before it resets. Or you can throw an object onto it to trigger it, and either rush ahead before it resets, or – if the item landed directly on the plate – leave the item alone and let it keep the trigger pressed, so it never resets. Or, obviously, just run over it and suck up the hit.

Monsters do respawn, although it takes a while. So if you really don’t feel ready for the next level, you can wait a little bit and grind the respawns. The last time I checked, it did feel like the level maps didn’t always fill out completely. Either it doesn’t do that, or some rooms are inaccessible in the builds I’ve played, or there is a much more subtle style of secret door that I missed than usual.

It seems that there’s supposed to be some trading that can eventually be done (one the people outside the dungeon in the beginning of the game offers things for sale), and some overall goal that I haven’t payed attention to. I’ve never gotten to the end of the game, but I have picked up bits of storyline offered at random in journal pages, or by the adventurers that hang around outside the dungeon.

Like any *good* roguelike, death should not seem arbitrary, and it almost always feels like I can blame myself. I got too bold & cocky (often dying with healing spells / potions / food in my inventory), or simply got stupid and ran into a surprise I was not ready for.

Overall, this is a cute, straightforward little game that I’ve had a lot of fun with. I rarely play for more than 15 minutes in a session, but that’s part of what makes me a fan. It’s just the kind of quick-break type of experience I need, and for me, the 3D action / first-person perspective thing is an enhancement to the roguelike experience. I hope it keeps getting expanded on, and that the last bugs get fixed.  It’s worth keeping an eye on this one.


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