And just like that, it’s begun. The Indie Games Winter Uprising we’ve (read: I’ve) been so excited about. Fourteen games spread out over one week month, with plenty of quality pedigrees to go around. And it’s because of those very pedigrees that we’ve decided to put these games under the microscope. The developers are sick of all the crap, we’re sick of all the crap, so why not see if they can manage to really put their money where their mouths are?
Of those fourteen games, I have to admit Epic Dungeon is pretty close to the top of my list. So it goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that I was excited to see that it was chosen as the lead-off. I have a bit of a soft spot for Roguelikes, you see. So I added it to my download queue and promptly shoved all other games to the side while I sat down and gave it a whirl. I was anxious to play it, but also worried that it would be kind of bland, or even worse: terrible.
Well it’s safe to say that it’s certainly not an awful game. In fact, if you enjoy a good Roguelike, there’s a very good chance that you’ll enjoy Epic Dungeon quite a bit as well.
Your adventure begins in a manner befitting most RPGs of this kind: with choosing a character. Four classes are available, including the battle-hardened Berserker, the geeky Tinkerer, the rogue-ish Gambler and the mystical Shaman. Each character offers up a little variety in the beginning, as they all feature one of four special attacks (each mapped to one of the four face buttons), but as you level up you’ll have the option to learn the other characters’ specials as well. So why pick one specific character over another? Well, for one thing, they each start with different stats, like the Berserker’s focus on strength (obviously). They each also look different and have slightly different stories (i.e. starting text). Of course, the flipside to all of this is that you can pick the character you want to play as, then turn them into whatever kind of hero you’d like.
Anyone familiar with Roguelikes will also know to expect a bunch of randomness. Dungeon layouts will change from game to game, some items (including scrolls and potions) will need to be identified before you use them, lest you accidentally ingest an unmarked potion of… I dunno, something nasty… and blow your head off. However, there are a few changes to the classic formula that manage to make the game a bit more accessible and keep things interesting. For starters, scrolls used to identify items are already identified for you. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but trust me, it is. Another huge difference is that there are honest-to-goodness shops, which not only means you can buy and sell items and equipment, but that you can actually use all that damn gold you acquire throughout your travels. Let me tell you, being able to sell your obsolete robes for a bit of cash is much more handy than carrying them around just so you can chuck them at a monster in a desperate attempt at scoring a preemptive hit.
Another change, or at least less used feature, is the ability to control how your character levels up. You can put points into damage, defense, dexterity and luck, not to mention every few levels you can also choose to increase the effectiveness of your special ability or learn new ones to use as well. It’s not out of the question to make yourself a Berserker who can summon a lighting-shooting orb to fight alongside him or a beefy Gambler that can shoot ice bolts. But what really stands out to me as a clever addition is the inclusion of little mini-quests. These appear in the form of gold question marks that can be triggered once you step over them. They can range from freeing fairies trapped in spiderwebs to joining some off-duty goblins in a game of cards. Each one gives you a choice as to how to handle the situation, with positive outcomes netting you swag or permanent stat boosts and screw-ups reducing stats or worse. They work so well it’s amazing to think that no one’s tried adding such an element sooner (that I know of, at least).
And yet, all the character choices, currency exchanging and actual leveling up, complete with stat and ability points, aren’t really what make Epic Dungeon different from other Roguelikes. What makes it stand out is that everything, from the dungeon traversal to the combat, is done in real time. Monsters will move and attack whether you move or not, so you’ll have to be quick and pay attention to your surroundings (and health bar) if you’re going to avoid the genre’s ever-looming threat of permadeath. But before all you dungeon crawlers get worked into a tizzy, you should know that the removal of turn-based actions manage to make this very well-used and possibly stale formula feel new (-ish) again. Enemies can swarm you in moments, standing in one place will only serve to get you killed and some floors utilize environmental hazards that can only be safely avoided with proper timing. Conversely, those same hazards can also be used against your enemies, so it’s entirely possible to stand next to a poison-spewing geyser and lure some hapless dungeon rat to its doom.
So if you like dungeon crawlers, love Roguelikes, or vice-versa, you don’t even need to bother with the trial version of Epic Dungeon. You’re going to like it. Probably a lot.
Things We Liked: Well done retro art style. Pleasant looped music that doesn’t make you want to jam a fork in your ear. Stat points, real time fights and shops, oh my!
Things We Disliked: … I dunno, not enough cowbell?
Target Audience: Roguelike fans (you know who you are) and dungeon spelunkers.
(Epic Dungeon – Developer/Publisher: Eyehook Games. Available for Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Indie Games. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)