Diving in to Desktop Dungeons

Just one more click, I say. And that’s how they get you, isn’t it? “They” in this case being the clever minds behind Desktop Dungeons ($15, PC or Mac), a game that exists somewhere in the gulf between roguelike and puzzler, with a bit of kingdom-building tossed in for good measure.

Lurking behind ho-hum visuals and simplistic mechanics is a fiendishly good time, one that’ll soak up hours of your day in ten minute increments. It’s also pretty funny, which is nice.

Rogue harder

Desktop Dungeons applies standard roguelike rules: combine a race and a class to create a character and delve into a randomly-generated dungeon, wandering down corridors scooping up loot and slaying the ne’er-do-wells lurking within. Killing things nets you experience points, which in turn raises your health and attack power so you’ll live longer and hit harder.

There are a few key differences. Combat is a bit of a tactical affair: you can see an enemy’s level, the amount of damage they’ll do with their next strike, and the amount of damage you’ll do, at every point of a fight. Enemies also won’t give chase—in fact they’re generally frozen in place, attacking only when you do. The trick lies in health regeneration: the bad guys are constantly healing themselves, but you’ll only regain health and mana by using one of your limited items, or stepping into unexplored areas of a dungeon. As you reveal terrain you’ll gain a bit of health and mana—all wasted if you’re already maxed out.

Every fight leaves me at something of an impasse. Instinct demands I sate my inner worrywart and goosestep around foes, ensuring I have the supplies, health, and mana to survive that next scrap. At which point said worrywart reminds me that exploring every nook and cranny would leave me with no place to retreat when fights go awry. It’s far better to take a sort of brazenly cautious approach, zapping foes that look manageable before pulling out, healing up, and looking for the next level-appropriate target. And you’ll want to think strategically: attacking enemies that are a slightly higher level than you yields extra experience points. With the right tactics you’ll be able to climb the ranks quickly and take out a dungeon’s toughest foes.

The rabbit hole gets a little deeper. As your heroes wade through dungeons, hoarding gold and slaying bosses, you’ll fill your town’s coffers, paving the way for upgrades: new races and classes are yours for the taking, once you’ve tracked down the right characters in a dungeon, and upgraded a building to the right level. And then there’s all that loot: much of it is junk you’ll have no use for, but can be readily converted into points that will boost your attributes in interesting ways, depending on the race and class you choose before diving into a dungeon.

Did I mention it’s kind of hard? Kind of really, really hard actually, but in the best possible way.

The game behaves like a puzzle instead of your typical roleplaying game, so you aren’t relying on grinding for experience points or being blessed by the loot fairy and stumbling on that lucky Sword of Pwnage. The other side of that randomly generated coin is that you’re constantly shuffling tactics, trying and retrying a particular zone until you find a class and race combination that works for you.

Loads of fun for $15, and it’s available for the PC and Mac. There’s even a browser version: once you’ve bought the game you can register for an optional Desktop Dungeons account and sync your game to the cloud. It’s easily worth your coin, but don’t take my word for it. Pop on over to the Desktop Dungeons site and grab a copy of the alpha version for free. It’s a rather old build, sporting a decidedly different visual aesthetic and lacking the bells and whistles of the full game, but the mechanics are sound and will give you an idea of what to expect.

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