For anyone who has played the Desktop Dungeons Alpha, you may think that you know what the game is all about. Sure, it’s still a rogue-like dungeon crawler, and some of the enemies and bosses are the same, but that’s where the similarities end. In simple terms, you play as a level one adventurer in each dungeon wherein you use skills and leveling up to defeat the high-level big bad, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the game.
With seven races and 18 classes, there is certainly a lot of variety to Desktop Dungeons. Each class has unique characteristics, such as attacking first or healing from casing spells. In this way, a specific dungeon can be made more challenging depending on your gameplay style and class preferences. For example, I liked the fighter because they could see through the fog of war to where all enemies of similar or lower level are located. However, I often performed best with a sorcerer due to the increased mana and ability to heal by casting spells.
The game gives you the opportunity to learn how to win more consistently by offering puzzle packs. Each puzzle pack explains functionality in the game. Through the Advanced Petrifying tutorial I learned that I could use petrifying to do more than just get rid of enemies – it improves your EXP gain and makes your adventurer level up even when defeating lower level enemies. Once I learned that, I thought I had the game down. Sure, that feeling didn’t last long, but each new skill adds to your own personal ability at playing the game. This offers you, the player, new ways to complete dungeons and gives you the tools to complete more difficult missions. Puzzle packs include introductions to the different races as well as gods.
Oh yes, there is religion in Desktop Dungeons. And trust me, you will find faith while playing, because wow do those gods make a difference sometimes. However, you will earn piety in different ways for each god. Some gods don’t want you to kill certain creatures, other gods might want you to use specific spells. Additionally, they will provide you with a range of rewards. I was so grateful for the Earthmother when I went against a boss that spawned weird mana-burning plants – she could get rid of the plants and give me mana at the same time. Of course, when I ran out of piety, she certainly punished me for hacking through those plants manually.
There is no doubt about it, Desktop Dungeons is difficult. Like, Dark Souls difficult. You will die or fail, a lot. Then you will have a breakthrough and get awesome at the game, at which point the difficulty ramps up again and you will die/fail again. It is actually a really strange experience as a player. Each time, your adventurer starts off at level one; each time you play, the game gives you an opportunity to win. This isn’t about grinding to improve your in-game character – you need to grind in order to learn more and level up as the player. I felt like I became a better human being by playing Desktop Dungeons.
This is where the bite-sized lure of the game seems to fall apart a bit. Sure, each dungeon run is only about 10 minutes long. However, I have yet to manage just one dungeon run. I kept believing that I was so close to winning, surely I could beat it if I tried again. Hours later, still learning and grinding, that bite sized piece turned out to be more than I could chew. The reality is that it will take hours and hours to master Desktop Dungeons – yes, you can just pick up and play, but you can’t pick up and win.
The game is ridiculously clever and meticulously designed. In essence, it is a nerdy, math-based numbers game. However, it goes so far beyond that. The art has been lovingly created with each character getting a unique design. Yet the true brilliance lies in the soundtrack. Danny Baranowsky and Grant Kirkhope bring the game to life with their epic melodies that add mystery and adventure to each moment in the game. Having played the game in Beta, the music certainly take the game to the next level.
As one would expect from a rogue-like, each play through is different and provides a new challenge. In order to help the player through, you can spend your gold to bring extra items into the dungeon with you, or even add to the number of shops, or change the impact of glyphs (spells) on a given play through. This leads to some tough decisions about which items to use, what to convert and the order in which to make these choices. Again, it is a difficult numbers game as you strive to level up your adventurer and defeat each map’s big bad.
Adding to replay value, you can earn specific badges depending on difficult things you do for each map such as killing all the enemies or not consuming any potions. The OCD among you will need to complete each dungeon with all badges and classes. Then again, there are often enough quests on the different maps to help you towards that end anyway. That said, I often found myself to frustrated on my lack of progress that I was just please to finally complete a quest or map – I had little interest in trying it again with a different class or making it even harder on myself. It is this frustration tempered with occasional (immensely satisfying) success that is the game’s selling point and let down. For those who can handle the growing pains and learning curve, this game is a real treat. However, I think it will alienate most gamers who seek instant gratification.
Finally, as much as I enjoyed the game, I really wished it was on a mobile platform. I really wanted to play the game in bite-sized chunks, something that would be much more manageable on a phone or tablet. The game is currently available on Steam for Mac and PC, but I can’t wait for the day it comes to mobiles.
Desktop Dungeons was reviewed by Zoe Hawkins on a PC