Daily Independent: Dungeons of Dredmor

NOTE: This review is based on the Mac version.

Dungeons of Dredmor is a very funny game, something of a throwback that feels (to me, anyway), like a spiritual successor to the amazing The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy text-based game produced by Infocom back in 1984. Full of whimsical, self aware humor that might have become annoying had Gaslamp Games not gotten it exactly right, the jokes come so fast you barely have time to decide whether or not it worked before the next one pops up. And the tone – lightly mocking the conventions of exploration-based RPGs while celebrating them – is perfect.

Better still, with large explorable dungeons, a wide array of customization options and adorable, late 80s/early 90s style graphics, it also absolutely nails what a roguelike RPG should feel like. It’s a remarkable little game that provides exactly the right amount of fun and yet also gives the player a personal experience and plenty to keep them occupied in short bursts and even marathon sessions.

The premise is simple: an evil overlord – Dredmor – has ‘ucked up everyone’s shi’ in the game’s magical-land setting. You’ve been chosen by the king to go into Dredmor’s dungeons and take the jerk out once and for all. And that’s the entire game. You wander the dungeons, randomized so that every individual game will feel unique, killing all enemies you find and interacting with whatever non-hostile NPCs you come across. You’ll use your mouse to move, attack and interact. Simple, and expected, right?

Luckily, the game’s sense of humor, packed with cheerful anachronisms, keeps things from getting stale. Sure, you’ll find new supplies by smashing crates, opening chests, exploring. But you can also purchase items from medieval vending machines. The graphics are not revolutionary – Dungeons of Dredmor was obviously created on a shoestring. But they are charming and deliberately old school and the game’s overall simplicity is a perfect fit. And the enemies – an assortment of adorably rendered baddies ranging from bats, to fleshy creatures called “Diggles”, to the evil Lord Dredmor himself – will trash talk you while fighting. “Thou art a hack” and “Thy mother”, that sort of thing.

At the start of a new game, players will choose 7 out of 36 total skills to customize their character. These abilities range from basic concepts like ‘sword’, ‘axe’ and ‘maces’, to more humorously esoteric skills like ‘Necronomiconomics’ and ‘Fleshsmithing’, to flat out silly, like the ‘Archaeology’ skill, which enhances your rogueish abilities (and is represented by a Fedora icon). Other than being limited to 7 skills, players have free range. No ability cancels out another, which makes it possible to create a Vampire who fleshsmiths, uses a sword, wields a magic wand, has super aiming skills, can create golems, and wears a fedora. This guarantees that each time you start a new game, it’ll at least feel different than the one that came before.

Typically tongue-in-cheek, the difficulty settings are: “Elves just wanna have fun”, “Dwarvish Moderation: A practical guide to dungeoneering”, “Going Rogue – because losing is fun!” and “Permadeath”. While these ratings, as far as we were able to discover, don’t change content or unlock hidden rooms, they do make enemies more difficult and resources less abundant. The easiest difficulty then becomes something of a hack n slash while the most difficult requires a bit more strategy. Even so, you are going to die. A lot. You’ll need to put in a cursory amount of level grinding time before tacking the bigger enemies. However, the constant dying is always fun, so Dungeons of Dredmor never becomes so difficult that you want to quit out of spite. You can always start a new game at any time, taking what you learned from one failed attempt to complete the game into the next.

As fun as Dungeons of Dredmore is, it doesn’t quite set the world on fire. The biggest problems are a tendency to stutter during fights, and some lag between the execution of an action – like smashing a barrel with your sword – and the result. Of course, it’s turn based, so stutter and lag won’t cause you to die, but it does get somewhat old. Enemies also have a low vocabulary, and player stats don’t seem to increase sensibly. Most annoying to me personally is how golems you can summon, if you choose that skill, have a tendency to follow you so closely that they box you in. You can’t walk through them and they don’t respond to commands. So if you get stuck in a corner, you’re stuck and have to start over. Gaslamp is aware of the issues, however, and will be rolling out updates to fix some of them.

Of course, if what you want from a roguelike RPG is something like Diablo, then Dungeons of Dredmor is not for you. It really is a casual game in every sense of the word, more the kind of game you’d play on your iPhone than something you want taking up space on your laptop. But at a dirt cheap $4.99, its limitations can be safely ignored. Dungeons of Dredmor is worth every penny, and the 15 minute blocks of time you’ll spend on it.

Visit the official Dungeons of Dredmor site, or purchase on Steam.

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