The most important thing for modern developers is to attract an audience to their projects. And it’s not an easy task – modern gamers already have lots and lots of the most exciting and diverse experiences. Triple-A companies still try to impress everyone with new graphics and other technological advancements, which are not that impressive, actually. But indie devs just don’t have the budget for that, so they have to rely on originality and creative approach. Or a creative approach to making the game feel original.
I mean, there is no such thing as a perfect game. So you can always take well-known classics and add some minor things, or remove them. Or change the style. Or merge one game with another. In other words, every existing game can serve as an inspiration for the whole genre. And in 1980 the game called Rogue actually did become such inspiration for an entire sub-genre, called “roguelike”.
Dungeons of Dredmor is not as complex as other roguelikes. You don’t choose race or class for your character. Only name, sex, and seven skills.
Actually, there is some confusion here – the game uses term “skills” for character’s abilities, like breathing fire or a kick that pushes enemies. And also, for level in crafting – that figure defines what items you can assemble. And also, for those seven areas of expertise you choose for your character at the start.
Just like in most roguelikes, you get experience points for killing enemies, completing quests, and succeeding in other actions. And when you get enough, to advance a level, you select in which area you want to advance. Each new “degree” means new ability (active or passive) and addition to characteristics.
In Dungeons of Dredmor there are 39 “areas” of skills in the base game and 12 in DLC. Each of them belongs to warrior, mage or thief class. And that class defines what characteristics will be increased if you choose to advance in each skill.
Characteristics are Burliness, Sagacity, Nimbleness, Caddishness, Savvy, and Stubbornness. Even with parody names, you can easily guess, what parameters they influence – attack or defense, mana or health. Of course, weapons and equipment influence all parameters as well.
Dungeons of Dredmor feat several types of damage and status afflictions. And not all skills/abilities are equally useful. So even with initial “simple” set up for your alter-ego, you will spend a lot of time figuring out a combination that it’s best for your play style. If you want to beat DoD, you’ll have to put a lot of thought and effort in devising your strategy.
What type of weapon are you going to use? Or will it be magic? Or maybe you want to create golems and charm monsters, so they will fight for you? Some abilities from “thief” area of expertise allow you to sweep across the dungeon unseen and inflict devastating backstabs. And don’t forget about synergy. Magical ranged attacks are perfect fire support for your “pets”. While blacksmith skill is useful to make weapons if you picked proficiency in those.
Just don’t choose “Vampirism” if you intend to rely on food to restore your health (as vampires don’t regenerate naturally). And be mindful of some unpleasant side-effects from Necromancy and some other spells. You don’t want to be disadvantaged in a critical moment.
And believe me, there will be a lot of critical moments. Dungeons’ layout is randomly generated at the start of each playthrough and every room can have a nasty surprise. Traps lie here and there, though you can detect and even disarm them with certain skills. But what will you do if in the next room is a literal “monster zoo”? Sometimes even retreating is a problem. Unless, of course, you have a teleportation spell prepared. Or a spell to create a wall to stop your enemies.
There are many useful abilities, but most have several turns cooldowns. So, calculate your moves beforehand. Otherwise, you will die. Permanently. (Ok, you can turn permadeath off, but what kind of adventurer you would be?)
My little parody
Of course, even with some neat spells and tricks, Dungeons of Dredmor wouldn’t stand out much. After all, more than two decades of rouge-like genre saw every spin in a book… And that’s why the game capitalizes on already well-known ideas, parodying and referencing them.
Even graphics, as simple as it is, made in a parody manner. Monsters and look funny and peculiar. Protagonist’s animation includes playing a handheld console while idling. And of course, descriptions of skills and spells poke fun at rogue-like games and RPGs in general.
And don’t forget the references. Descriptions are full of quotes from games, movies, and books. There are suspiciously familiar items, like Self-sealing Stem Bolt and Vampire Hunter Hat. A whole level is dedicated to Doom (and, yes, there is Doom roguelike by the way). Everyone from Trekkie to Brony, from hardcore gamers to anime fans will find something to laugh at.
Too bad devs haven’t made the story in similar parody way. Or rather, they did – not making the story at all. Just a short tale about Dredmor – the lich, who has awakened on the lowest level of the dungeon and must be destroyed. No NPC or dialogs. The only side-quests you can receive from the goddess Inconsequencia after praying to her statue.
There are two other gods, but they don’t even talk. Krong just upgrades (or degrades, if you’re unlucky) weapons on his anvils. And Lutefisk just grants some stuff if you put some stuff in Horadric Lutefisk Cube.
There are also modding capabilities. If you buy the game on Steam, you should definitely look at Steam Workshop. It’s not that hard to create new items, monsters, and even rooms. Or you can just add stuff created by other users.
No such thing as a perfect game
Honestly, the absence of a compelling story is the biggest Dungeons of Dredmor flaw, in my opinion. Yes, levels are random, but each has its own theme and monsters. Why devs haven’t added some Dredmor’s “generals” as bosses or special quests? Though maybe I’m just too picky.
Still, devs also missed a few important things in the tutorial. For players, who are familiar with the rogue-like genre and its conventions, it’s no big deal, but for the newcomers, it’s not obvious how to deal with gods, for example. There is also counter-intuitive ability to swap places with allied monsters when you move to their tiles using a keyboard (but not the mouse – it just makes you attack them). I mean, if you make a tutorial at all, why omit such important things?
Among other minor problems are no markings on save-files, what difficulty you chose. If you have several games in progress you simply have to memorize. And why Steam-screenshots not working? There are also some bugs, though again rather minor.