Dungeons of Dredmor
Damn, has it really been almost three weeks since I last posted? Huh. That’s the longest time between posts I’ve ever had.
Hi, guys. Sorry for disappearing for awhile. If you want to know why, well… Let’s just say a certain thing happened. A thing happened that drained away my creative energy. In fact, it sapped me of pretty much all my energy, creative or otherwise. I’ll probably elaborate on my other blog at some point, but for now let’s just say it was personal. A personal thing happened.
I’m going to try to bring my spirit back by forcing myself to write again. So here’s Dungeons of Dredmor.
I first tried Dungeons of Dredmor quite awhile ago. I opened it up, spent a good five minutes or so choosing the skills for my character, started off on my adventure and got killed by a monster in the very first room.
I exited and let the game collect dust.
DoD is a Roguelike. For the uninitiated, a roguelike is defined by Wikipedia as “a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by randomization for replayability, permanent death.” I would add that they’re also characterized by being impenetrable. They are often represented through blocks of text, as with the classic Nethack:
They also generally have horribly complex and unintuitive control schemes wherein every single button on the keyboard serves a function. To top it off, they’ll generally have an almost vertical difficulty curve and no tutorial whatsoever.
So yeah, after my first attempt I just assumed that DoD was just another typical, inaccessible roguelike and left it to rot. But then I read Jarenth’s retrospective on it and it inspired me to give the game a second chance. Now, well, now I dare say I’ve become rather obsessed with it.
Let’s look at all the things DoD sets itself apart from most roguelikes.
Well, for starters, it looks a hell of a lot better than most — that is to say, it actually has an appealing aesthetic. Yes, this has nothing to do with gameplay mechanics, but despite what a lot of old-school gamers might say, visual design matters. This game is presented in classic indie pixel art, and it’s charming and cute.
The game provides a number of thorough tutorials that teach you pretty much all the basics of the game — movement, combat, equipment, consumables, abilities, leveling, the works. Some of these are fairly obvious and intuitive gameplay elements, but the crucial thing is that by running through the tutorials you can be assured that you aren’t missing anything important. This is something a lot of roguelikes and a lot of older RPGs failed to cover; I remember it taking me quite awhile just to figure out how to rest in Fallout.
Of course, the game includes the usual obstacles that a roguelikes provides — gratuitous difficulty, permanent death, and grueling length. But let me show you one of the screens you encounter before starting a new game…
Is it just too tough for you? Switch down to easy mode. Are you sick of having to start over from the beginning? Turn permadeath off. Is grinding getting tedious? Switch it to quick mode. This isn’t to say the game will be a cakewalk with all these features introduced — it’s still very challenging, even on easy mode. But it’s more accessible and less mean-spirited.
Truth be told, I’ve actually been playing on medium with permadeath on. Unlike with The Binding of Isaac, in this game I’m actually alright with starting all over from the beginning now and again. The game hosts a myriad of skills that you get to pick from at the beginning, and with each attempt you can try out different combinations until you find one that suits you best.
I’ve talked down about games that force you to make all the important choices before you start the game, but in this case it actually feels appropriate. In Morrowind you’re stuck with those decisions you made for several dozen hours, assuming you’re not going to get paranoid and start over. In this game each playthrough generally only lasts a few hours, so you can keep testing the different skills and see which ones complement one another.
And that’s ultimately indicative of the game as a whole. This isn’t a game about winning; it’s a game about learning. Every time you lose the game says, “Congratulations! You have died.” In pretty much any other game I would interpret this as the designer laughing in my face, but with DoD it actually makes sense to me. Congratulations! Now you can start fresh with a new hero and a new dungeon!
Gaslamp Games has done something impressive here; they’ve taken a genre that’s famous (or infamous, depending on where you stand) for its inaccessibility and managed to transform it into something anybody (well, any gamer) can get into. Sure, it’s tough, but it isn’t mean-spirited. It lets you in so it can smash you down. Then it helps you up so it can smash you down again.
One day I’ll beat that Dredmor…