Roguelike Highlights: Dungeons of Dredmor

[Be sure to check out my introduction to Roguelikes if you haven’t read it yet! Also, click on images for larger versions.]

Dungeons of Dredmor has one serious drawback compared to many other roguelikes: it is not free. But for the small price of $4.99 on Steam, you get one of the best introductory roguelikes around. Indeed, when it was released back in July it shot to the top of the Steam sales charts (to the surprise of its creators), a feat which would be simply impossible if it were not enticing new players who had never tried a roguelike before.

Most roguelikes that are aiming to grab new or inexperienced players make the same mistake — they assume that to be accessible, they must simplify their systems to the point of becoming rather shallow. Dungeons of Dredmor does not make this mistake. Instead, it puts an intuitive interface and easy-to-understand controls on top of a surprisingly deep and complex game. It will teach you how to play a roguelike, but it will also teach you why you should play a roguelike, as it has enough substance to keep you coming back for more, again and again.

Dungeons of Dredmor differs from most roguelikes in some obvious ways. It has graphics, and they’re actually quite nice. There are even animations! There are also sound effects and music. But the main difference is the interface; rather than using the traditional set of keyboard shortcuts, Dungeons of Dredmor can be played entirely with the mouse, and uses graphical windows for managing your inventory, statistics, abilities and spells. There are still a few keyboard shortcuts for convenience, but on the whole the interface is quite easy to understand, especially when compared to traditional roguelikes. The game even features an excellent tutorial, which is separate from the main game as I recommend. Add in three difficulty settings, and the game becomes very easy to pick up and play.

Some of the traditional roguelike systems have been streamlined or removed as well. There is no need to identify items; once you figure out what something does, you will know it even on subsequent playthroughs. There are no cursed items, and as soon as you find a new weapon or piece or armor you will know how it compares to your current equipment. There is no diagonal movement. Spells will not fail due to low casting skill as they do in many roguelikes. The dungeon is only 10 levels, although each level is fairly large, and the difficulty is incremented sharply with each level. There is no hunger system, so you don’t have to worry about dying from starvation.

But don’t worry, you’ll still die. You’ll die a lot. And like the best roguelikes, Dungeons of Dredmor makes it fun to die. You’ll just want to start again, with a fresh dungeon and a new set of skills to try out. Character creation is very streamlined; you simply pick 7 skills out of a possible 34, or elect to have 7 skills assigned randomly for an extra challenge. As you gain levels, you can further improve these skills. The skills themselves range from the mundane, like skill with a certain type of weapon, to the more unusual, like Fleshsmithing, Mathemagic or Necronomiconomics.

If you detected an undercurrent of silliness in those skill names, that’s because the entire game is infused with quite a bit of silliness, from the monsters you encounter to the items you find (and their in-game descriptions) to the statues of Lord Dredmor which you can smash for a “Heroic Vandalism” experience bonus. On the whole, the humor is quite clever and it takes the edge off of the high difficulty.

While I have not played Dungeons of Dredmor as much as I have some other roguelikes, I’ve seen enough to know that there’s quite a lot of content waiting for me. Not only are there a bunch of character skills I haven’t tried yet, there’s also an in-depth crafting system that lets you build anything from weapons and armor, to traps, potions or magic wands. The dungeon appearance and some of its features change as you descend, and new enemies appear as well. And I’m certain there’s tons of humorous and powerful loot waiting to be discovered on the lower levels. Plus, Gaslamp Games, the developers of Dungeons of Dredmor, have been working hard on updating the game; mod support and the option for a female character are only some of the highlights of the next patch. They are even planning a paid expansion to the game, which seems likely to feature an entirely new dungeon setting to explore.

While I could offer a few niggling complaints about inventory management and the need to backtrack through the large dungeon levels, these are quite minor. Dungeons of Dredmor is easy to dive into and complex enough to hook you, and will entertain even veteran roguelike players. I highly recommend it.

Still not convinced? Or is that $4.99 price tag too much for you? The next Roguelike Highlight will be a game that’s a little harder to learn but still a great entry point, and closer to the traditional roguelike design. And it’s free! Stay tuned.

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9 Responses to Roguelike Highlights: Dungeons of Dredmor

  1. Nate Sheetz says:

    “Fun to die” – so true. In recent years I’ve learned to love games that highlight this design point from Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. When death is so likely, and the cost of dying so high, success tastes all the sweeter when it’s actually achieved.

    So: When are we getting around to nethack? 😉

    • waltorious says:

      I haven’t played Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls myself, but they sound very interesting. Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of games that borrow some design elements from Roguelikes and insert them into different genres, often with very good results. I’m probably going to highlight some of these games as well.

      As for Nethack, I actually haven’t played it as much as some others, but I am going to discuss it when I get to the “hardcore” roguelikes. I’m planning to compare and contrast a few of them and talk a little more about my personal favorite.

  2. Nate Sheetz says:

    Just about done with Bastion. Think I’ll try this one next.

    • Nate Sheetz says:

      For anyone contemplating this game, definitely turn on Permadeath. I had a character that had loaded saves several times after death and without the threat of having to start over I was starting to find it a little boring. Oh no, I walked into a trap and then encountered a super powerful demon that could easily kill me, no big deal, I’ll just re-load….

      I almost gave up on the game, but decided to give it another chance with Permadeath turned on, and I’m having a lot more fun with it now. I enjoy tweaking my build a little bit each time I die, for one thing!

      • waltorious says:

        Yeah, permadeath is definitely the best way to play the game. The option to turn it off can be nice for new players, though, as it gives them a chance to learn how the game works before they start playing for real.

  3. Nate Sheetz says:

    I’ve got a character on dungeon level 9 now, normal difficulty with permadeath. Swords/Crossbow/Dual Wielding/Flesh Shaping/Artful Dodging/Perception/Assassination.

    My first run of builds was all Pyromancy focused with Ley Walking (the final ley ability is so boss! hop across any obstacle you can see across!). I had a character without permadeath several levels down but he’d died a bunch of times. I resolved to never load a save with him again, but I didn’t die for quite a while after that and I felt my gains were all ill-gotten so I re-rolled.

    My pure melee builds all got killed over and over again at first. Just not enough healing. Flesh Shaping has really put this one over the top though: I haven’t put any points into it but Meat Shield is my absolute bread and butter; I keep it up at all times and it gives me enough health regen to survive (so far, knock wood). I maxed out Dual Wielding and Swords first, then Assassination, then Perception. If I had it all to do over again I might go straight for Perception: I was having a lot less fun at the beginning, because I literally had to take one step at a time, then stop and look for traps. Now I’ve got trap sight distance of like 8 and total sight distance of like 9 so I can just walk around normally. I would consider the Perception tree an absolute must for any future characters I might roll… it just makes walking around mechanically less tedious by a huge margin.

    Dual swords with Assassination is completely ridiculous, by the way. When I hit a monster zoo I just stand there and 1- or 2-shot every mob as they walk out, supplementing with Crossbow (which is also going to get insane when I start investing in the skill tree) and the occasional Eye Laser, and backing off to heal up a handful of times. For zoos specifically it helps that I have massive Sneak right now, since the mobs don’t all gun straight for me. Before I got my sneak up I had to back off to a choke point where I could force them to fight me one at a time, and hope nothing too nasty came up behind me. Now, amusingly, I have the opposite problem: My sneak is so high that I have to go out of my way to pull mobs that are only a couple steps away. Often they don’t see me even in an adjacent space until I actually hit them.

    At this point the only things that threaten me are the occasional surprisingly overleveled quest boss that’s resistant to one of my major damage types (necro and slashing with my current weapons) and the mobs that spawn from those evil chests. But I keep my super powerful crossbow bolts, wands, and healing potions in reserve for those occasions. I’d probably go to Hard difficulty next time I re-roll, or just move on to something like Dungeon Crawl.

    Random side note, I definitely see the Uberchest issue that nobody seems to have resolved yet. Levels 5 and 6 (or so) each had 4 Uberchests and zero levers that unlocked any of them. Boo. But now that I’m on level 9 anything in those chests would be obsolete by now anyway.

    • waltorious says:

      Sounds cool. I actually haven’t spent as much time with Dredmor as I wanted to, mostly because I got all caught up in Dungeon Crawl again after I started writing about it. Most of what I did play of Dredmor was before the patch, so I definitely need to sit down and really dive into it again. But realistically that won’t happen until sometime after Skyrim, which I’m planning to start as soon as I’ve got through the batch of indie games I’m playing at the moment. I am so behind. Of course, too many games to play is always better than too few, so I’m not complaining.

      • Nate Sheetz says:

        Having played most of the way through the Dredmor base game (with 5 more levels to go after that) it feels like more of a gateway game to “real” roguelikes than a game a roguelike player will find particularly interesting on its own. The system isn’t really that deep as far as I can tell. Not to say I’m not enjoying it, but it does leave me thirsting for a more complex game environment.

      • waltorious says:

        Yeah, I’ve heard others say similar things, but I still want to play it some more. It can be a nice break from the tougher roguelikes, and I was enjoying messing with the crafting systems. I don’t expect to keep playing nearly as long as I have with Dungeon Crawl though.

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