Developer: Gaslamp Games
Publisher: Gaslamp Games
Released: July 13, 2011
A long time ago on a computer far, far away, a game called Rogue was created for the Unix operating system. This game looked simplistic, even for the time, being made up of only ASCII graphics. I don’t mean that it played like text-adventure by the way, rather the characters and items were represented by symbols – your character was always an “@” for example. You moved your little “@” around a tile based map and fought 26 monsters represented by letters of the alphabet.
The goal of the game was to trawl through increasingly difficult levels of a dungeon to retrieve an amulet, and then bring it all the way back up to the surface. At face value, it seems easy and by the numbers, but the game was brutally difficult, being one of the first games to include permadeath. Once you died, your save was deleted and you had to start all over again. To make matters worse, each time you played the game, the dungeon would be randomly recreated, meaning that you couldn’t even rely on memory like other games of the era. Your success ultimately came down to pure skill and a little bit of luck.
It’s from these humble origins that the Roguelike genre began. I myself have never played the original Rogue, mostly because it looks kind of crappy. But I have played a lot of NetHack, a much more in-depth and rewarding take on Rouge’s gameplay. This is the game that started my love of Roguelikes. So, of course, I squealed like a little fan-girl when I discovered Dungeons of Dredmor.
Developed by Gaslamp Games, Dungeons of Dredmor took that original gameplay of Rogue and NetHack and completely modernised it by including a proper graphical engine. It’s easily approachable for those who are new to the genre and even allows you to turn off the permadeath and choose a lower difficulty level. Of course, it can still be made ridiculously complex to satiate its more hardcore players. My stubbornness, however, has never allowed me to turn permadeath off, which means I have never beaten the game, not even close.
Gaslamp Games have completely nailed the art of taking a niche interest and making it enjoyable for everyone, while keeping a majority of traditionalists happy. They’ve removed some of the randomness, making the game almost winnable. The point and click interface means you no longer have to memorise around 40 key commands. And the game looks fairly pretty as well. The core combat system stayed the same however. It might feel a bit oversimplified to people who are used to RPGs such as Final Fantasy or Baldur’s Gate as all you do is walk up to an enemy then click on them to attack them. If the attack is ranged, you just click on them from afar. The real fun though is the vast variety of spells and skills at your disposal.
The skill system is much more complex than choosing from a foray of various combat classes. The base game has a total of 35 different skill paths; reaching up to 51 if you count the additional DLC. You then get to choose eight of them for your character, all of which slot into a particular archetype, such as warrior, rogue and spellcaster. However, there is so damn much to choose from and so many combinations you will never get bored. Half of the game’s strategy focuses on choosing the right abilities and levelling them up correctly, something that’s right up my dungeon corridor. Some of the skills are just plain hilarious as well, such as being a Communist, studying Emomancy or even being a Tourist – a nice little touch for Discworld fans. These “joke” skills do not exactly re-invent the wheel but they do add some nice flavour to what would otherwise be run-of-the-mill abilities. One of the communist abilities made me laugh simply due to being a healing spell being called “socialized healthcare”.
This leads into one of the best and most refreshing aspects of the game: the humour. Every little piece of flavour text is filled with funny and whimsical lines, while still showing an appreciation for the things they are making fun of. For example, there are constant references to Lovecraftian horror such as one of the skill paths being called Necronomiconomics, a play on the somewhat hard to pronounce Necronomicon from Lovecraft’s work. This is clearly taking a bit of a friendly jab however the skill path itself contains spells that would impress the Great Old Ones themselves.
The weapon system is also incredibly expansive. There’s the usual fantasy trope of the sword, axe, staff etc. In fact, all weapons fall under one of these broad categories. However, the actual variety and customisability is staggering. None of the weapons or armour actually change the appearance of your character, allowing the creator’s imaginations to run wild and tie in with the humour of the game. The weaker equipment in particular is quite funny, allowing you to go into battle wearing a tweed jacket with a traffic cone for a helmet while wielding two staffs joined together should you be so inclined. The shields have a very unique feature as well in that some of them are magical orbs that are designed for sorcerers to use, allowing even purely magic based builds to get some use out of equipment rather than staring wistfully at that nice shiny sword wondering what could have been.
The real genius though comes from how you can customise your equipment. There are anvils throughout each level called “Anvils of Krong” which allow you to modify your weapons and armour. This can range from bonus health, increased vision, or added damage types such as poison, cold or fire. The modification however is completely random and can occasionally completely backfire. Sometimes it causes debuffs and they can be quite brutal; ranging from massive damage reduction to essentially making you blind. I personally adore this concept as it introduces its own risk/reward system that I have never seen any other game utilize before. You end up with a decision to risk your best weapon becoming your worst or alternatively playing it safe and use something weaker which you might throw out in the next level anyway. This use of a random number generator is a really clever way to add some spice to the game and it never feels unfair as you knew exactly what you were getting into right from the beginning.
If that wasn’t enough there is also an in-depth crafting system that allows you to create your own weapons, armour and items from a huge variety of recipes that you find throughout the dungeon. There are skill trees that specialise in each form of crafting ranging from smithing to alchemy to making your own booze, which is used to refill your mana. You can still use crafting tools without the skills, but you will be much less proficient at it and miss out on some really cool gear like a gigantic lightning hammer, bolt of mass destruction or a clockwork chainsaw. I’ve personally not messed with the crafting system much; I usually just use the ingot press to make cheese toasties. But the sheer range of things you can make is staggering, plus it really goes to show that after 54 hours of playing this game I still have not scratched the surface on some aspects of the game, including the crafting.
For what seems like such a simple game, the immensity of its depth is astounding. While the gameplay can seem a little repetitive as you travel down the millionth randomly generated corridor and fight the same enemies there are just so many different ways you can play the game. Not every combination of skills will work cohesively but making mistakes until you find something that works is half the fun. Then you can start again and play a completely different character who specialises in magic instead of crafting and hitting things with sticks. Dungeons of Dredmor can sink hours of your time and you will always want to play just one more run.
Final Score: 4/5
Final Recommendation: Seriously it’s like $5 just buy it now. If you love a bit of a challenge and enjoy rogue-likes then this is the game to get. It’s the most roguelikey of them all.