capsule review

Fun and Funny Game Dungeons of Dredmor Is Worth a Crawl

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Dungeons of Dredmor

    PCWorld Rating

Dungeons of Dredmor ($5, buy-only) is a graphical roguelike game, which is not quite as contradictory as it might seem. It follows most of the defining tropes of the genre, but also adds enough new twists that they're worth commenting on. It wraps the standard gameplay in highly stylized, (perhaps too highly stylized) graphics, which are fun, memorable, and charming, and a wonderfully far cry from typical thud-and-blunder fantasy images.

Dungeons of Dredmor screenshot
Sadly, neither your impressive eyebrows nor your purported diseases will keep you from many, many, deaths in the Dungeons of Dredmor.
In Dungeons of Dredmor you control a single adventurer who must make his or her way through a randomly generated dungeon, casting spells, swinging a sword, collecting items, avoiding traps, battling monsters, committing acts of "Heroic Vandalism", gathering lutefisk to sacrifice to the lutefisk god, making grilled cheese sandwiches... wearing a traffic cone... wait, what was that about lutefisk?

Yes, Dungeons of Dredmor blends typical dungeon crawl tropes with a distinctly idiosyncratic style, reflected in the items you find, the monsters you fight, and the occasional flavor text that pops up here and there. It's not a 100% silly game--there's plenty of strait-laced magic swords and shields-but there's a very Pythonesque sense of humor, and I don't mean the programming language. Fortunately, Dungeons of Dredmor falls squarely on the side of "laughing with" rather than "laughing at"--you're never made to feel like you're some kind of idiot if you enjoy non-humorous games in this genre. This is in-group humor, not out-group mockery. It's an important distinction.

Underlying the funny bits is a pretty solid collection of game mechanics. I especially like the skill system, where you create your adventurer by picking seven skills from a large set, all of which seem to have at least some merit. It's quite possible to make truly stupid choices, such as choosing the skill that increases your spellcasting ability while not choosing any spellcasting skills, but most combinations are at least tolerably useful, and picking which mix to try this time-or trying the same mix over until you get it right--is a lot of fun.

You'll be trying a lot, as Dungeons of Dredmor continues the roguelike tradition of frequent and unavoidable death. If you're a hardcore roguelike player, you'll choose the permadeath option: Once you're dead, you begin again at level one. Death can come frequently. Unfortunately, I've died more often due to interface issues than vicious monsters, and here's where the trouble starts.

Dungeons of Dredmor has several unfortunate interface issues. The worst, for me, is that the unusual top-down but two-dimensional perspective makes it sometimes unclear if you can or can't walk through a passage, forcing some trial and error. The second worst, though this is something you can turn off, is that 'click to move' will often walk you through whirling blades, pools of acid, and other hazards. My three best characters all died due to unintentionally walking through dangerous zones created by their own spells.

The crafting system, an otherwise rich and interesting aspect of the game, has some interface problems as well, as selecting recipes and ingredients can sometimes be more confusing than it should be. For example, say you need three bronze ingots and one iron ingot for a recipe. If you have any bronze ingots, the recipe book will show you as being able to perform the recipe, but you may have only one or two ingots. This makes the feature that shows "ingredients possessed" somewhat less useful than it might be. There's also no clear indication of what a product does or is; do you want to use up four diggle eggs to make a diggle omelet? (The answer is yes, you do, but you won't know that until you perform the crafting). Likewise, the recipe book doesn't filter or highlight recipes you're not yet skilled enough to perform, so you must figure out what you can make by simple trial and error.

The other issue I have with Dungeons of Dredmor is that while the variety of items, crafting gear, and skills is very broad, the selection of monsters per dungeon area is small. You can play for quite a while and fight only batties, blobbies, and diggles. Most roguelike games have many varieties of monsters, even on early levels, but, then again, they only need to draw a different colored 'O' to change an Orc Warrior to an Orc Shaman.

Dungeons of Dredmor is a constantly expanding and improving game, typical of indie efforts--a continual stream of upgraded releases instead of one big upgrade every year or two. It has a lot of heart and a lot of humor, and if you like roguelike games, or, if you've avoided them because you can't get into an '@' fighting for its life against a 'D', it's well worth checking out, and at $5, it's an amazing value in terms of gameplay for the price.

--Ian Harac

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Dungeons of Dredmor adds graphics and whimsy to the roguelike game genre.

    Pros

    • Whimsical graphics
    • Challenging gameplay
    • In-depth skills and crafting

    Cons

    • Not as deep as many roguelikes
    • Limited graphic variety
    • Many interface issues
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