wed 17/08/2022

Desktop Dungeons | reviews, news & interviews

Desktop Dungeons

Desktop Dungeons

A tough challenge that rewards strategic play

'Desktop Dungeons': Stick with it and you'll be rewarded

At first glance, Desktop Dungeons is a slick update on the classic "roguelike" dungeon adventure. You move your hero around a maze of passages, carefully juggling your resources as you attempt to survive in a turn-based battle of tactics and wits.

At second glance, Desktop Dungeons seems a bit rubbish. The enemies don’t attack you unless you attack them first and you restart each dungeon with a brand new character that you must laboriously level-up until it is strong enough to defeat the final boss.

At about glance nine or ten you might get an inkling that this grind is actually the point of the game and by the time you realise that you aren’t playing a roguelike at all, but an intricate puzzle and strategy game dressed in roguelike clothes, it is too late. You are hooked.

As it’s name implies, Desktop Dungeons is a PC game. The recent port to iOS and Android has sharpened up the interface somewhat but otherwise this is the same game that has been driving PC and Mac players insane for the last couple of years, Enhanced Edition challenges and all.

The game casts you not as an intrepid dungeoneer but as the administrator of a town. You need to grow your town to ensure its survival and to do so you must send adventurers out to ransack the area’s main resource – dungeons full of treasure and monsters. A dungeon usually contains one or more "boss" monsters and the aim in each is to kill them, a task for which your trembling, level 1 adventurer is entirely unsuited.

Desktop DungeonsThe only way to take down each boss is to level-up your hero by killing lesser minions and gaining experience points. The game is extremely helpful in telling you exactly how each fight is likely to play out – hit that goblin with your sword and it will lose 10 of its 20 hit points, but you will suffer seven points of damage in return.

Hit it again and you could kill it but you will die too. As long as you watch the combat panel closely there should be no surprises and you can make sure you heal up or switch to a magical attack that will do damage without taking any yourself.

You can heal damage (and replenish your mana – magic fuel, in other words) by simply moving around. Every new tile you uncover from the game’s "fog of war" will replenish you, but also gives monsters the chance to heal too.

New tiles are a limited resource so you must balance the need to explore and find both the boss and cannon fodder monsters with being able to restore your stats after a tough fight. There are a handful of mana and healing potions dotted about but you can burn through these quickly. Levelling up will fill both your hit point and mana meters up, so picking the right moment to push your experience points over the top also becomes a vital part of your strategy.

Further complicating matters are the multiple classes and races that you can combine to build each character. Elves make excellent spellcasters, for example, while the Assassin class can gain damage bonuses by exploring tiles near their target. Combined with the plethora of magical glyphs (spells) and other devices the game offers real depth to try out new approaches and strategies.

Once you get the hang of this juggling the game starts to resemble a series of puzzles. How do I get to the point where I can beat the boss without getting killed first? There is a sequence of moves I can make, but what are they? The Enhanced Edition comes with some puzzle challenges which both serve to make this explicit but also, in the case of the introductory puzzles at least, illustrate some of the finer tactical and strategic tricks you need to use.

Desktop DungeonsWhat all this talk of deep strategy and resource juggling doesn’t really convey is just how much fun Desktop Dungeons is. The game is light-hearted, all the spells are puns or silly misspellings of words and the tone plays up the fact that you are a faceless bureaucrat sending hundreds of hapless adventurers to their doom.

The game is tough but rewarding and new features and options are drip fed to you to keep you on the hook with a ruthless skill that any drug pusher would be proud of. Best of all, each game is quick and can be played through during a lunch break or bus journey. If you fail, replaying is quick, easy and tempting.

If you play any of the big "traditional" roguelike games – Angband, ToME, Nethack and their variants – long enough or well enough you will probably find yourself slipping into a cautious, analytical style of play where every move is assessed for potential dangers and possible gains. What Desktop Dungeons does brilliantly is fast-track you to that point and make it fun and accessible. It is a tough challenge that may put off some casual gamers – you will die a lot – but if you stick with it you will find a deep and rewarding game.

Stuart Houghton on Twitter

An intricate puzzle and strategy game dressed in roguelike clothes


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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