Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Dungeons of Dredmor

Post-Launch Review
Dungeons of Dredmor
Developer: Gaslamp Games
Released: July 2011
Played: 25h:36min


The evil lich Dredmor is attempting to break out of his ancient prison, and he must be stopped! Wield silly skills, face ridiculous monsters, and hoard strange items as you die repeatedly trying to stop Dredmor.

At Launch

Dungeons of Dredmor received positive reviews, with an average score of 79%. Reviewers praised the game's humour, accessibility, and depth. The interface was frowned on, and some critics found that the random elements made strategy difficult.

Post Launch

A bunch of patches have fixed bugs and rebalanced some stuff, as well as added occasional free content in the form of new skills, weapon types, items, and monsters.
Three DLC packs have been released. You can buy them separately, or pick up the Complete version with all DLC included for $7.
  • Conquest of the Wizardlands ($3): adds encrusting (weapon modifying system), magical graffiti and pocket dimensions, new monsters, music, items, and skill trees.
  • You Have To Name The Expansion Pack (free): adds new enemies, items, skills, and dungeon rooms.
  • Realm of the Diggle Gods ($3): adds items, monsters, rooms, traps, portals, and skills, as well as extending the dungeon 5 levels deeper.
The entire story.
Dungeons of Dredmor is only the second roguelike I've ever played. The first was The Binding of Isaac, which I didn't really like because it felt too random (though that factor has actually been patched since I last played it). Since I knew almost nothing about roguelikes and The Binding of Isaac was critically well received, I assumed it was representative of the genre, so I put off Dungeons of Dredmor for about a year.

Turns out that was a mistake. After trying Dredmor I looked up the actual definition of roguelike, and it seems that Isaac's real-time monster movement is an exception - most roguelikes are turn based. Even then, Dungeons of Dredmor is more like an old-school dungeon crawler: skills, items, and loot have the same stats on all playthroughs (for example, a given potion always has the same effect), which makes it feel like a consistent fantasy world.

Side note, before you start playing you should probably turn on all the autoloot features, because the UI is a little unwieldly otherwise - you have to manually click every item into your inventory. But with that out of the way...

Dredmor gave me more control than Isaac. Item abilities are consistent, and stats are shown and explained. You roll a character by choosing 7 skills from a selection of 36, or you can allow the game to give you a random set of skills (DLC packs add more skill options). The crafting skills are especially appreciated, since they allow you to reliably produce specific items when you can't seem to find them anywhere.
The default skill selection
Many of the skills are what you'd expect in a fantasy game - weapon masteries, crafting, and various types of magic, for example. But some are hilarious, like Mathemagic, Necronomiconomics, or my favourite, Archaeology (which starts your character with a fedora, and one of the skill upgrades is "It belongs in a museum!" which allows you to turn artifacts into XP by sending them to the warehouse).

As I mentioned above, gameplay is turn based, though you may not notice until you find some monsters. Basically, for every action you take, each enemy can also take one action - move, attack, cast a spell, pull a lever, pick up an item, etc. It's nice because you have time to plan each move, but as you progress further into the game, monsters tend to have more complex attack animations and you see more monsters at once, so it takes longer to calculate everyone's actions. Not absurdly long by any means - a few seconds at most - but it still feels noticeably slower than early game combat or moving around.
As a dungeon crawler this game really exploits love of exploration. Actually, since progress is so incremental without major milestones or plot points or anything, I find it very easy to lose track of time while playing. I've had a hard time playing games for long stretches recently, but with Dungeons of Dredmor I played for six hours without even realizing how long it had been.
One minor nitpick: the game doesn't work with the Steam overlay by default, but if you right click on it in your Steam library, hit Properties, select Set Launch Options, and type in -opengl, the overlay works and you can screenshot.

At ont point I was on level 5 and doing quite well - just hunting down the last monster in a zoo - when the game locked up. Animations were still running as if a turn was still being calculated, but the action log wasn't progressing. I waited a minute or two and nothing happened, so I figured I'd Ctrl+Alt+Del, close the window, and load from autosave. But for some reason, when I tried to load, there were no saves. I was pretty upset, because being halfway through level 5 was a bit of a time investment. But the next time I started the game, my save was there! Hooray!

But then I died halfway through level 7, and since I'd played many attempts over 12 hours and still hadn't seen the final boss, I figured I'd try out "I don't have time to grind" mode: smaller dungeon floors with the same amount of experience, so playthroughs don't take as long. My first few level ups happened very quickly, but as it turns out the dungeon floors aren't as much smaller as I expected. I like this mode - you earn new skills more quickly, and it's less devastating to lose a character after a long run.

A larger nitpick is that the stat system is difficult to get into. There are six core stats that influence the 19 secondary stats (one of which is hidden), 2 health and 2 mana stats, as well as 16 damage types that can be dealt or resisted. All of these are represented on gear and skills by little symbols. On your character sheet you can mouse over each symbol to see what it does, but such a high number of stats to track is overwhelming at first. The tutorial tries to keep things simple by stating "you don't really need to know all this, just remember that higher numbers are better" - but that doesn't help when you're trying to decide between a sword that has 3 slash, 2 crit chance, and 2 counter chance and one that has 1 slash, 2 toxic, and 3 magic resist.
Fortunately there are some difficulty settings that help with accessibility. You can choose easy (elf), normal (dwarf), or hard mode (going rogue). You can also choose whether permanent death is active (whether you restart the game if you die). And I've already mentioned the no time to grind mode. If you're finding the stats opaque and having a hard time getting into things, try turning off permadeath, turning on no time to grind, and switching to elf difficulty.

The DLC is totally worth the price. One pack is free, and the other two are $3. Or you can take advantage of the Complete edition and get the whole thing for $7 total (savings of $3). I noticed the difference as soon as I installed the DLC packs - more skills to choose from, greater room variety in dungeons, more item types, and a new crafting option (encrusting, which modifies existing items).

 A lot of the new skills are interesting and do some really cool stuff, but are tricky to manage, coming with downsides and penalties that can still pay off in a risk/reward kind of way. Others are more straightforward but still cool. My favourites are Battle Geology and Egyptian Magic - the first for the funny spin on geomancy, and the second because of how the glyphs work. So yeah, get the DLC - the new skills offer a lot to experiment with, and the extra variety while exploring is welcome.

So how is it overall?

Recommendation: play it.

As someone who thought he wasn't a fan of roguelikes, I didn't have high expectations going in, but I haven't played a game as addictive as Dungeons of Dredmor in quite a while. It's not for everyone and there's zero story, but if you're a fan of dungeon crawling and building characters, this game will have you tinkering for quite a long time, trying out new skill combinations as you try to make it to the final boss. The DLC packs add a lot and definitely make the game more interesting and replayable. If that's not enough praise, I'll add this: usually when I finish reviewing a game, I uninstall it. But I'll be keeping Dungeons of Dredmor around.

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