[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.