Dungeons of Dredmor ReviewJoe Shaffer
It has been our obsession of late to relive the glory days. Developers, be they indie or established names, have featured references and throwbacks, subtle and noticeable, to the bygone eras. Some have even gone so far as to craft whole games with a completely old school setup. Dungeons of Dredmor is just such a beast. Borrowing from the aniquated action-RPG Rogue, Dredmor thrusts you into ten levels worth of randomly generated dungeons whilst assaulting you with slick humor. It aims to appease cronies like myself by seducing us with its old school presentation. From there, it can successfully addict us and commence sucking our precious life force.
Dungeons of Dredmor used Seduce with Old School Presentation. It's super effective!
Dredmor came to me like a vixen, wagging its finger in that to and fro motion. I, a sucker for point and click quests, could do nothing but abide the summoning. I was hooked from floor one, where I searched every nook and cranny for any piece of loot I could find: a regular sword, a piece of cheese, some chalk, a magical cube that turns any item into a piece of fish, a grilled cheese sandwich... I never knew what I was going to find. Each new room brought something different and reinforced the lighthearted humor. After nabbing a potion that caused my body to temporarily create gold coins, I found a small fridge with some goodies. Across the hall from that was a barbeque grill and a vending machine carrying assorted explosives. Two rooms later was a fish idol called a Lutefisk, which demanded tithes of the aforementioned pieces of fish in exchange for exotic equipment.
Traversing the pit was not a matter of strolling around and kicking doors open. Traps waited for my careless step. Most triggered projectile shots from evil masks hanging on walls, others pelted me with various magics, while a few cheap ones even permanently tarnished some of my equipment. The traps, however, were the least of my worries. Cartoony creatures roamed the dungeons, each one with murder on its mind. Penguin-like diggles surrounded me while vicious dragons blasted me from a few rows back. Witch doctors cursed me from afar while chunky red devils pounded on me in melee combat.
The going was rough. A slew of enemies would approach and wear down my HP. I'd fight them off, eat all of my foodstuffs, use a potion or two, then rush back into the fray. Each step I took or action I performed exhausted a turn (think Mystery Dungeon), so I had to plan my moves wisely. With a little strategy, I learned to deal with vast numbers. What really helped, though, was the astute character customization. My character had several skills like sword proficiency, blacksmithing, magic, and a whole slew of others that I could improve with every level up. Nothing new, but Dredmor places a firmer emphasis than some games on taking advantage of skills. The gains from them are significant. I noticed my character's combat prowess grow with each skill I beefed up. Each gain was worthwhile, evident by the piles of bodies that piled up after every beefing.
Stages rose and fell in a familiar arc, even though they were all randomly generated. I scoured the dungeon for goods, equipped any stronger personal effects, sold off or tithed the junk, and slaughtered the vile. It was a pleasing and addictive experience for the first five levels. It's thanks to this repetition, though, that Dredmor's spell began to wear off. The further I advanced, the less addicted I became. I soon came to realize that I had a real life outside of the dungeons. That's odd, I thought, point and click RPGs are usually really good at tricking me into thinking that they are the only things that matter.
Dredmor's charm wore off when I'd done several hours of the exact same thing, hacked up the same sprites repeatedly, and had seen all the sights. It only took a few levels. It was funny the first time I found a small fridge in a fantasy dungeon. That sort of humor stopped after the first stage. The game had no new jokes to unload, and its material was became stale. The first couple of stages were wondrous, but that sense of wonder dwindled later on. The game threw all of its surprises out at one time and left nothing to discover later on.
The challenge was all that kept me playing. The combat was still solid regardless of how tired I'd become of seeing the same enemies appear again and again. I so relished the tough battles until I realize just how fraudulent the challenge was. The easiest and least costly way to recover health was to repeatedly skip turns or just wander around the dungeon. Every few turns, I recovered health. With the help of special equipment, I could even increase my regeneration rate. Since there was no time limit, I could just skip turns until I had full health before knocking down a door.
While I balked at how easy this feature made everything, I was also glad the game had it. There were some parts that were legitimately hard even with full health. Every stage had a rotten surprise waiting behind a random door. Just when I thought that I was feeling like a major badass, I'd kick down a door and see the words MONSTER ZOO emblazoned on the screen. Various monsters occupied every space within the "zoo." This phenomenon never became less terrifying. All of the creatures would pour out and diminish the space around me, while the yellow puddle at my feet would continue to grow. Apart from zoos, the game also nailed me side quests and special traps starring some mean boss-like adversaries. If I let my guard down too long, these meanies would tear me to pieces, the words Congratulations! You have died. would greet me, and I would curse.
I didn't completely lose faith in Dredmor. I continued until the titular villain was a bloody pile at my feet, but just the same I didn't enjoy the last few levels as much as I should have, and certainly not as much as the first few levels.
It's a lightly fun title, but it blows its load way too early. It would have been a much better experience had the developers continued to build on the sense of wonder that came with level one. Toss in some new jokes or funny set pieces with each stage, add some stage-specific phenomena. Do something other than cosmetic to remind me that I'm not just playing level one in a different arrangement for ten stages.
I reached the conclusion that Dungeons of Dredmor isn't really the kind of game you turn into a major project. It's a game you play to complement another title. While breaking from Skyrim or Diablo III or whatever your flavor of the week is, it's nice to have a simple title like Dredmor around to cleanse your palate. However, if you go full force into this game, you're likely to wind up burnt out like I was. That's a shame, because no one should feel burnt out experiencing this lovely little indie title.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.