Checks Out Dungeonmans — 50th episode!

Merry Christmas, Christmas-celebrating indie RPG fans! (And for those of us who do not celebrate Christmas: Happy Gratuitous Day Off From Work Day!)

Adventurepro Games was good enough to send me a build of their (now finished and released) graphical roguelike Dungeonmans. I had a look at a pre-alpha version of this game last year, but I had strangely little to say about it in my write-up at the time. I expect this post should make up for that. On to the video!

So, what did I think?

Dungeonmans is the rare case where I both ended up playing a lot more of the game than I was able to show in the video, and did so before I made the video. Consequently, I went into the video with some very firm opinions about it already in place.

The game gets a lot of things right: it sports a light-hearted tone; some genuinely funny dialogue and flavor text; it has attractive 2D graphics (much improved from the pre-alpha build I played last year) that allow you to read the situation onscreen at a glance; it offers a variety of character classes and dozens of distinct character skills; it offers a variety of enemies with their own abilities that combine to present unique tactical challenges; and it offers a variety of ways to improve your position in the world that survive the deaths of your individual characters. It even lets you take your current progress and generate a brand new continent to explore with your current character, in case you work yourself into a stalemate (or just want some more level-appropriate dungeons to raid).

The thing that impresses me most about Dungeonmans is how it manages to thread the needle between depth and accessibility. It plays very very quickly; but if you actually blaze through the game at top speed without stopping to think, you are going to find yourself very suddenly and very unexpectedly dead. The game’s various elements combine nicely to produce tense and interesting tactical situations, with movement-based attacks from enemies proving particularly dangerous–and simultaneously, you’re given a wide variety of skills to help you deal with things when they get hairy. Is there as much going on in Dungeonmans as in–say–ADOM or Nethack? Probably not. However, Dungeonmans is so much more playable than these other titles that it doesn’t matter. Whatever Dungeonmans loses from not having been in development for 20+ years, it makes up for in time the player doesn’t have to spend desperately trying to remember several dozen hotkeys just to get by.

Still, there seems to be a much greater variety of content in Dungeonmans now than there was back when I looked last year. In my view, this has really helped the game to come together as a roguelike. I particularly love the way the world reacts to your successes (and failures); the first time an enemy founded a new dungeon in celebration of killing my hero on the road, I found myself inadvertently cackling in glee.

I love it–and because I’m greedy, I want still more of it. Particularly, I find myself wanting the world to be more dynamic. I want towns to get attacked; I want factions to rise and found their own dungeons; I want the towns to differ in more than the selections of their shops; I want to run into non-monster NPCs out on the road. I want things to happen without me, in other words–this would go a long way toward making the world feel real. The game is good even without these things, but I’m convinced that just a touch of the old Soldak magic would do wonders for Dungeonmans.

Beyond my personal desire for more going on in the game’s world, I don’t have many criticisms of Dungeonmans in its current incarnation. The best I can muster is that the game’s difficulty progression can be somewhat uneven. At any given point in time, you will typically have the option of attempting several dungeons at or around your character’s level. However, due to the rather steep increase in difficulty between the levels of any individual dungeon, you’ll be forced to juggle between the upper levels of multiple dungeons before you’re strong enough to actually attempt clearing any of them. And if you do, in fact, end up strong enough to clear one of the dungeons before moving on to the others, that oftentimes means you can expect the upper floors of all the other dungeons in the area to prove trivially easy for you after you emerge. (For instance: if you beat the very first dungeon in the game–the Convenient Scrobold Warren–before moving on to the other beginner dungeons in the area, you’ll be too powerful for them by the time you’re done, and won’t even be given the option of actually exploring them.) Of course, this is a fairly minor issue, one that you’ll soon learn to circumvent by tackling multiple dungeons simultaneously.

I’d dearly love to see Dungeonmans get the sort of ongoing development and incredible wealth of content that older, more mature roguelikes have received, but I’ll understand if Jim Shepard wants to move on to other things. While Dungeonmans could benefit from more development, frankly, the game doesn’t need it–right here and now, Dungeonmans is a fantastic roguelike. What Dungeonmans needs, really, is for you to go buy it. Details on that here.

(In other news, this is now our 50th episode of Checks Out! It’s been a great pleasure giving you an early look at a wide array of indie RPGs these past couple of years, and I hope to continue doing so on into the future. Thanks for sticking with the site, loyal readers!)

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