What more is there to love than Quests and Dungeons all in one game! If you made a small excited sound at the first word that only got higher in pitch and volume by the second word, this one might be for you. Let’s throw some other terms and see if you faint with excitement. Class based characters: A Warrior, Wizard, Assassin (archer) and Shaman. No nonsense turn based combat. 8 Bit graphics akin to The Escapists, Gameboy Zelda or similar. Items, doors, keys, loot, vendors, bosses and more! If you haven’t had a nerd overdose yet, keep reading and you might.
The game really only has one mode to speak of, unless I’ve missed something major, and this can only really be described as solo dungeon crawler! Half of those reading may have just let out another excited sound, the rest of you may need further convincing. So, everything about this game is quick. You jump in quick, you play quick (after you get to grips with it) and you die quick. You can also expect to die a lot and, if you’re anything like me, permadeath will sting pretty badly when you’ve got attached to your randomly generated, lovingly equipped weapons and armour. Upon death, you not only lose your gear but realistically all evidence that you achieved anything from your time playing. So far, with several good attempts, and a completionist attitude, I have managed to play several games of over an hour only to succumb to death in some unsavoury form and need a little break. Therefore I cannot confirm the existence of the further location and custom game option but see that there are achievements suggesting they exist, that I’m willing to take.
Let’s dive into the meat of this game, where it really shines. At first, on seeing a control screen with most buttons being utilised I was a little apprehensive about getting use out of all the features but can say that the controller layout is spot on. You move using either the left analogue stick or, my preference, the D pad in a square by square motion: Up, down, left or right. An important thing to note is that movement counts as a turn within the turn based combat system so running away is often the worst thing you can do as an enemy will usually just chase you. More usefully your character has a generic attack mapped to A which is a melee strike for all except the Assassin, for whom it’s an arrow loosed from his bow. B is used for skills with each class starting with one and learning more from tomes found throughout the game. The warrior and assassin use skills that aid their main abilities and these reset after so many turns (again, turns include moves from square to square so you can run around an empty room to reset if necessary, though it often, is not).
The Shaman and Wizard have an additional mana bar for casting spells and this makes the Wizard a strong character to play. I found few enemies on any floor that needed more than 2 shots of the Wizards default fire attack to kill and mana hardly ever needed topping up early on as levelling up fills the gauge, meaning the fight can continue! You can find details of health and mana levels, both current and if full, by pressing Y, as well as remaining xp to level. This was useful when running low on mana and considering manually topping up or waiting to level, saving me potions more than once. You’ll also find your inventory and equipment. Some equipment carries bonus attributes, most of which are not clearly displayed (such as critical chance) so I opted for the simple system of using the highest attack and defence values for gear, which seemed to work.
The layout of the map is procedurally generated and the experience was certainly more hit than miss. As mentioned, it wiped the slate clean each playthrough and means no game you’ll have, or anyone will have, will be the same. It reminds me of the dungeon skill added to Runescape some years back but with less emphasis on an all-round experience and more on simple, replayable combat! I said more hit than miss but there is one miss I’d like to mention. I started a new game and the starter room had 2 doors. One of these led into an area which I fully explored, only to find it went back a further room or two. Behind the second starter door was a boss. These bosses are not to be taken lightly and can often kill you in a hit even if you are well prepared (I believed my Wizard was after an hour of play!). Suffice to say, meeting a boss within 2 minutes made for a very quick game.
Overall though, the experience is positive, opening each new room up, clearing it of enemies like a fantasy swat team of 1 and proceeding to smash everything up for loot. Much is tradeable to the shady NPCs when you find them (they all look the same but differ in items). Keys are occasionally needed for particular doors and with good reason, usually housing a couple of chests with decent gear, so do grab them! Some rooms also contain quest stones which direct you to areas of the floor where an item might be or a particular enemy. A few tips here, you start on floor 1 and go down to 2 and so on. Quests will say which floor to check and always seem to be the one you are on. If it is an item to collect, it can appear on the floor in areas you have previously been to, so look out for that and I suggest turning on the adventurer’s log in the options to identify quest enemies as there is a warning that they are stronger. Another tip is to turn on auto pick up. Everything has its price and so even if useless to you, you can flog them to NPCs after pick up. It saved me clicking X, to action pick up every few seconds. Other options include zooming in the view of the play area or the minimap, but both seemed fine to begin with.
The graphics are pleasing to the eye and definitely have a retro feel that is currently in vogue. The character animation of The Escapists is more pleasing but this is a solid 8 bit style game with an expansive play area, clear set of graphics for items, and interesting enemies. It’s a ’90s kid’s dream and should appeal across a wide ranging audience. Parents, do consider that the entire game is about clearing out enemies by force. The PEGI rating of 12 seems appropriate and might need contextualising for some children and the game offers little to do so. That said, it is completely free of gory animations.
The start up menu has a freaky looping sound set that is unnerving enough to have you either start the game up or close it down (especially when idling to write a review late at night home alone!) however in game the ambient sound takes a backseat. Instead the focus is on weapon and death sounds. I can’t decide whether a more distinct musical presence would be a good thing or not for this game. Then I think, if The Escapists kept things various enough to avoid boring, as did Terraria, as did Hotline Miami, maybe there could have been more bravery in this area. 2 distant mid pitch tones, the sound of bubbling lava and a long noise descending in pitch, on a short loop, don’t make for a particularly notable soundscape. As I say, I believe it was never to be focussed upon, but seems an opportunity missed.
At $8.99 (probably £7.99 on the UK Xbox Marketplace) Quest of Dungeons sits in good company on the indie scene. There are prettier games based around odd concepts or play styles and yet this simple game is playing to the letter of the rules and it pays off. It’s a solid experience that plays on the mindset of the fearless adventurer as you level up, gear up, skill up and prosper. JUST DON’T DIE.
Procedurally generated says it all here. Instead of designing a map, the developers have designed a map builder. That map builder will do so in different ways each time and offer up now rewards, bosses and routes. It’s simple, but it’s easy to become invested in. If the gameplay was too simple, it would feel too familiar each time, but in truth, it hasn’t each time I’ve played it and with each death I feel gutted at the investment in skills, levels and gear lost. It’s on the back on that experience that you begin another game, and that is at its core, the appeal of this game. This time, you’ll show them all!
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A pleasing little game with a mass of replayability through its procedurally generated nature. At a bargain launch price, this is a must for fans of no nonsense dungeon crawling adventure! Once more for good measure- don’t die!