Dungeon Runners Review
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, ATI Radeon 9500 or nVidia FX 5200 video card, 1 GB HD space, internet connection, Windows 2000 or more recent operating system
Someone has to hack. Or slash. Or retrieve 25 warg pelts for some idiot in town who is too lazy to get them himself, despite owning hundreds of powerful magical weapons. That's why the world needs dungeon runners – those foolhardy folk willing to risk their lives to kill tens of thousands of vicious dungeon dwellers, all for the privilege of finding the fancier weapons and armor that will allow them to kill ever more powerful creatures.
Dungeon Runners – the title says it all. What is there to do? Run through dungeons, gather loot and power yourself up to run through even more sinister dungeons. Dungeon Runners is a hack 'n slash romp that owes a deep debt to Diablo, sports colorful, stylized visuals reminiscent of World of Warcraft, and wraps it all up with an ironic, and often adolescent, wit.
This game takes great pride in its genericism, poking fun at every action/role-playing game that came before. You don't just operate out of a fantasy-themed village with a fancy name that everyone calls "town" – your base is Townston. NCsoft already has an action/RPG that takes the 3D Diablo formula to the next level with Guild Wars, and Titan Quest recently brought us an elegant and elevated version of Diablo-style play, so think of Dungeon Runners as a tongue-in-cheek Action/RPG-lite. The kind of game in which starting weapons are made of cardboard and it's hard not to think "Wirt's leg" when you hear the music.
At this point you're thinking, "Sure, I get that it's a cheesy, humorous take on Diablo, but why does it get such a high score?" First, read FI's review criteria. For the scores on this site, quality is important, but so is price. Dungeon Runners is extremely cheap, and that means we're willing (and you should be, too) to forgive a lot in the pursuit of a good bargain.
Dungeon Runners claims to be free, but that isn't quite fair. You can download the game at no charge and play forever without paying a cent. But then you won't get to enjoy the game. From the outset, unless you pay for membership, you can't use the stronger potions (that stack); you don't get access to the bank for storing extra items; and you can't use most of the powerful magic items. Items have several levels of rarity, but to use the ones you'll need to survive, you need to pay for membership. And most quests reward players with "King's Coin" that can be redeemed for member-only items. So think of the free download more as an extensive demo than a free game. The team is working on implementing ads for free players that may give free players access to more and better items, but that remains to be seen.
The real Dungeon Runners costs $5 per month to play. Fortunately, that's still really cheap. You can play for two to four months for the cost of a typical casual game, and play for a year for the cost of a new console game. That's pretty damn good. That's why the rating is so high – you get a lot of game without pulling much out of your wallet. And if you drop your membership, you still get to keep your equipment – the bank simply stays locked up and any fancy members-only items on your character no longer provide their benefits until you re-open your account.
That said, while the game is cheap, there is something of a double standard in Dungeon Runners. The game feels unfinished, with a lot of features yet to be implemented "because it's a free game." In truth, it's a $5 per month game (with no box purchase), but that still carries some expectations. From small issues like not being able to resize the chat box to big issues like the absence of Player vs. Player combat, there's a lot left to add. In a way, Dungeon Runners is a testament to the desirability of polish – you'll miss those little features like the ability to efficiently rearrange your inventory with the press of a button. Some dungeons (like Kog's Gearbox or Vergrim's Vexation) are often so tight that the camera has trouble, there's a lot of repetition of monster models (and animations), and monster pathfinding still needs work.
But again, when you can play two months for $10, is any of that a big deal? Not really.
Once you let the price push you past the minor flaws, there's almost endless dungeon running fun to be had. The dungeons are randomly generated, quests can often be repeated for continued rewards and the development team looks set to keep adding content.
Like other games of its ilk, so much of Dungeon Runners is about hunting for cool stuff, and Dungeon Runners has that in abundance. As tongue-in-cheek as everything else, Dungeon Runners preserves the prefix/suffix system from Diablo-style games, but with its own flair. There's no "Divine Axe of the Giant" in Dungeon Runners. Instead, I've found items like the "Penetrating Blue Suede Shoes of the Heterogeneous Newt" and a "Feverish Ordinary Cereal Box Ring of the Stitching Chinchilla." With items ranging from normal (grey) and superior (green) through rare (yellow), unique (purple) and mythic (rainbow), there are a whole lot of items to find (even if right now half of those items seem to be crossbows).
The game doesn't only make fun of action/RPG items. The quests are equally ridiculous. Players will have to audit various dungeons, collect action figures and get them painted, and deal with cynical and smarmy NPCs. As Sir Kent the Artisan says when granting a quest, "I know you are a person, but all I see standing in front of me right now is a thing that can go kill stuff for me. I mean, I cannot even remember your name at the moment." So much for treating you as the land's savior and hero. No. You're just a dungeon runner. The voice acting is poor, but that's more than made up for by the amusing (if often juvenile) dialog. "Go see Audrey, the potion maker. You slip her a couple of coins and she'll show you her catalysts." The game is just as happy to make fun of current events, too. One of the dungeons taunts a certain ex-Vice President of the United States with an ecologically disastrous dungeon called "Algor's Terror-Dome."
Character development in Dungeon Runners is geared toward flexibility. The initial choice of a fighter, ranger or mage archetype determines your starting skill, but since skills (even passive ones) only work while in the hotkeyed skill bar, completely re-spec-ing your character from warrior to spellcaster is just a matter of a little gold to redistribute your attribute points and moving skills in and out of the hotkey tray. That means you only get one character, but that's all you should need.
Advancement comes both in the form of experience and gold. Experience points gained from killing monsters (and tallied by a mischievous looking demon known as "Karl" at the bottom of the screen) bring the player up in level and accumulate attribute points that make your character smarter, stronger and hardier. By going up in level, it's then possible to use gold to purchase more skills to make your dungeon runner better in combat. But don't expect to sell your items or gold on eBay. This game is meant to be casual, and you can toss gifts on the ground for other players, but there's no trading interface or secondary market. Gold and XP are essentially two complementary commodities necessary for character enhancement.
Dungeon Runners is far from perfect, but it's a lot more than anyone has a right to expect for $5 per month. Where Dungeon Runners really excels is as an "alt game." This is the game you log into after spending hours in your favorite massively multiplayer online game to blow off some steam and dice some Oroks into tiny pieces.