Dungeons of Dredmor

By: Paul Millen

Published: August 16, 2011 Posted in: Review

What a weird game.  I stumbled into my first dungeon, casually swinging my mace at stuff, not paying too much attention to spells or health, and played for a good 45 minutes before something clawed my throat out.  Second time around – embarked like a cat, with caution and strategy – dead within a minute.  Third time around, dead within five.  It seems the more familiar I become with Dredmor, the more cruelly it treats me.  Like my birth mother.

Dungeons of Dredmor is, as I’m sure you know, a roguelike and this type of game assumes certain parameters: it’s hard, everything’s random, you die lots and death is final.  Except that Dredmor posits itself as rougelike – lite.  Fun-size Dwarf Fortress partybites, if you will.  It’s all very fluffy and amusing, with big smiley graphics, an extensive tutorial and a Kingdom of Loathing sense of humour.  There’s also an option to turn off perma-death, the very presence of which probably offends the roguelike hardcore, and thus is something of a bold statement.

However, fundamentally Dredmor is still extremely challenging.  This is down to the old roguelike turn-based mechanic, as demonstrated explicitly in Desktop Dungeon, meaning that you move – regaining health and mana as you do, then the monsters take a turn, and so on.  When things are going well, the experience can be almost Diablo-esque but as soon as challenging situations arise, you really need to start counting movement tiles, working out regeneration rates and likely damage per turn.

It’s a bit of a dichotomy really.  I approached Dredmor thinking it the kind of game that’ll demand little from me in terms of time and intellectual investment.  You jump in when you feel the urge and have a micro adventure.  The randomness and the oddities that the game threw at me, like the Princess Inconsequentia shrine or the lutefish for the Lutefish God thing, is what drew me back to the game.  I want to see interesting things and find new and fun items but the thing is, to really get anywhere in Dredmor, you have to commit.

You have to experiment with the combinations of skills during your character build, the balance and effectiveness of which vary wildly.  You really need to get a handle on crafting, be it tinkering, alchemy or smithery to give yourself a bit of an edge.  You need to learn what traps are likely to kill you in one go.  You need to count the turns during combat, identify effective spells, find effective combinations and monitor their upkeep.  To get anywhere in Dredmor you need to invest some time to learn the game.

Some will relish this, some will see it as an unwelcome grind that asks more than they want to give for such a short-form roguelike.  Horses for courses.  I saw Dredmor as a game inviting me to jump in and have a bit of no-strings fun and was often left frustrated.  If you put the time and effort in, it opens up – if you have those precious commodities to spare.

Paul Millen