Sunday, December 14, 2014

Video Game Review: Desktop Dungeons

Let me start by saying I have nothing against the concept of blending genres. It can work and if done properly it can create a game far greater than the sum of its parts. Desktop Dungeons, a game which attempts to combine a rogue-like dungeon crawl with a puzzle game, could definitely have worked, if only the elements it chose to borrow from those two genres were actually compatible with each other.

Allow me to explain by way of example. As part of the puzzle aspect of the game, your hero only regenerates health and mana when exploring new areas, not when backtracking over old areas. Blind exploration is dicouraged, as doing so at full health means wasting precious healing. This forces you to think about where you want to go next instead of just going out willy nilly. I know it sounds like I'm praising the game and the truth is it could have been a good gameplay mechanic...

...IF you had any way of actually KNOWING where you should go next.

Unexplored areas are always completely blacked out, and since the dungeons are randomly layed out every time you have no way of knowing where you should go next. The fighter class mitigates this somewhat by automatically revealing the location of enemies that are your level or lower, but that hardly helps out the OTHER classes and even with this, you still have no way of knowing where to find valuable power-ups, equippable items, or spells.

The whole game is like that. In fact the greatest challenge in this game is not any enemy, but the game's own vague rules. I talked about this a little in my review of Windforge but it's even more true here: we really, really need to be given accurate, real information for a game like this to work.

For example, there's a speed stat that determines who attacks first in combat, but you can't actually see what your speed stat is. You can see that some enemies have first strike, but even enemies that don't have first strike and which you would expect to go after you in the combat order - like warlocks and zombies - can often end up going first... sometimes. Other times they go second, and since you can't actually see your speed stat or the enemy's the whole thing just comes across as arbitrary.

And that's why this game fails on both fronts. The puzzle aspects are too strictly demanding and the punishment for even one single misstep is too harsh, so the game fails as a rogue-like. At the same time, the rogue-like aspects add too much randomness and too much hidden information, so the game fails as a puzzle.

The worst part is the game has no idea. It demands care, but then forces you to go out blindly, and then punishes you harshly for doing so. It tells you it's all your fault when you fail (and you will) with condescending messages and taunts, but really it's no one's fault because everything is entirely luck-based.

Like I said, the idea of combining a rogue-like and a puzzle game is not entirely terrible. It could have worked, it just didn't in this case. Maybe some other game will come along and get it right. But this one ain't it.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

No comments: