Dungeons of Dredmor Review
Developer: Gaslamp Games
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Core 2 Duo/Athlon 64, 1 GB RAM, DirectX-compatible video card, 400 MB HD space, Windows XP or more recent operating system
The once dread-lord (now lich) Dredmor was defeated and bound both physically and magically deep underground in a trap-filled dungeon. That was long ago. Dredmor has been slowly freeing himself from his bonds and is prepared to make his move against the land of the living – the surface dwellers. That means someone must venture into Dredmor's dungeon to defeat him. Sadly, that person is you.
I have many fond memories of Rogue-like games. Beneath Apple Manor is one of my more vivid early gaming memories. These primitive, almost proto-gaming experiences were both engrossing and deeply frustrating. They were engrossing because they offered rich worlds. Most were randomly generated and so different every time. They were frustrating because death was frequent and immediate.
That's part of the charm. Rogue-like games were challenging. Especially back when games were controlled with flaked obsidian and you had to keep the campfire stoked lest the game crash, so much detail was astounding, even if it was presented as hand-carved ASCII characters. I loved those games, but none of them ever made me laugh. Dungeons of Dredmor contains all that fun and depth, in a fancier graphical package. More importantly, it's funny. Dungeons of Dredmor is laugh-out-loud, I-can't-breathe-and-my-belly-hurts funny.
Frankly, as much as I enjoyed Dungeons of Dredmor, this is a game for a limited audience. If you had to follow the link to find out what a Rogue-like game is, or if your first gaming experience was on a console, go talk to those old men setting in rocking chairs playing Archon in front of the hardware store before you consider taking up Dungeons of Dredmore. You'll only risk $5, and it will be worth it, but go into the experience prepared. If you remember chiseling small triangles into clay tablets and trying to stuff them into a 14.4 kbit/s modem, this is about the best way you can spend that $5 you were considering dropping on a fancy coffee.
Like other games of its ilk, you choose a few character parameters and wander, woefully unprepared, into a dungeon filled with death. In the case of Dungeons of Dredmor, you pick a difficulty level and a couple of skills that range from the conventional to the crazy. Players can be accomplished in the use of axes or wands, but can also become accomplished Archaeologists, able to avoid traps and call on Marcus Brody to correct you when "This translation is all wrong!" That doesn't even get into the stranger skills like Necronomiconomics or Golemancy that allows advanced practitioners to summon a dangerous and animate moustache.
This skill choice helps determine your character's primary and secondary statistics. In the style of most Dungeons & Dragons-descended games, you'll have a few basic statistics and lots of derived abilities. In Dungeons of Dredmor, the usual names are replaced with "Caddishness" ("...it revolves around not caring about the feelings of others.") and "Sagacity" ("...mostly about being a know-it-all.") Armed with a few, weak skills (and usually a few equally useless items), you venture into the dungeon. Most of the time, you die. Occasionally, you last long enough to find a few decent items to help you progress
I had planned to castigate Dungeons of Dredmor for its low difficulty, since I executed Lord Dredmor on my first foray. Then I played the game a bit more. I'd happened upon a lucky combination of skills, and been fortunate in my dungeon exploration. That lucky streak didn't continue. Dungeons of Dredmor is as challenging as many such games. If it goes easy on players, it's only insofar as allowing us to turn off "permadeath," an option I steadfastly refuse to explore. I continued on to die a lot, usually very early on.
Get past the opening rooms, and every move in this turn-based adventure is a carefully calculated decision designed to keep you alive long enough to reach Dredmor. The mere effort to survive makes every decision filled with tension. Dungeons of Dredmor's tremendous boon to all players is somehow maintaining that tension endemic to Rogue-like games, but inserting so many laughs that you forget you are spreading spores and harvesting fungus from corpses to survive.
When you fight, you'll inflict (and receive) ordinary "slashing" or "piercing" damage. But there's also "conflagratory" and "voltaic" damage (yes, they're just fire and electric). Then you get to the fun stuff. There's "righteous" damage, and even "existential" damage ("It bypasses your opponent's armour, if it exists.").
So much of the amusement comes from ordinary-uses for fantasy objects, such as the ability to use the ingot press to warm a potent grilled cheese sandwich while wearing a powerful Tweed Coat. When I took too long to move, my avatar picked up a handheld console and started playing while he waited for me to get back to the game. Plenty of the jokes are also based on niche entertainment, popular shows and classic video games. It's worth reading the monster descriptions to discover hidden jokes, also present in item descriptions and even skill trees. It's important to remember that if you pursue psionics, using the "Nerve Staple" skill can provoke economic sanctions.
Past the jokes, there's still a splendid adventure available every time you load up Dungeons of Dredmor. The randomization of dungeon elements and items could work a bit better, and the skills are hardly balanced, but that's not really the point. There is an incredible depth of game for a bargain-basement price. Dungeons of Dredmor is easy to pick up and play, even for just a moment, and even easier on the wallet to purchase.