macholucha's Dungeons of Dredmor (PC) review

Dread The Random Difficulty

Tile based procedurally generated dungeon crawler.

From that alone most people will already know whether this is the type of game they want to play. If that's the kind of game that appeals to you, then you'll be happy to know that Dungeons of Dredmor offers a pretty polished experience in that vein.

However, the game is sadly a victim of the typical problems of procedurally generated games. Just as the items that litter the dungeon floor and the level layout are random, so are the enemy placements and sheer volumes of them, the knock on effect is you can wander floor after floor with few health recovering items being spawned while being expected to clear out swaths of enemies. The difficulty of enemies and power of the weapons found does increase as you progress through the dungeon; the usual difficulty curve that you'd expect, but because of the random nature, whether its actually possible to progress more than a couple of floors leaves you entirely at the whims of the game's random number generator.

The game features the concept of a "Monster Zoo", which is basically behind a door you'll find a room filled to the brim with enemies. Clear the room out and you'll be rewarded, though if you use stairs to escape to the safety of another floor, you'll forfeit the reward. These are cool the first couple of items you encounter them, but on later floors they're just a nuisance. I've had the first door I've opened on a floor be a Monster Zoo and been completely annihilated in mere turns.

The lone shopkeeper in the game also seems to be randomly generated rather than guaranteed every 'x' floors, which can lead to some frustration, especially when you're flush with gold and nowhere to spend it or simply tired of lugging a hundred items in your inventory intended for resale. The items he has on offer also vary each time, so you can be at Dredmor's doorstep only to find him trying to flog the types of items you didn't even bother picking up on the first floor.

As such whether you'll enjoy the dungeon crawling on offer here is purely down to your luck with what the game spawns for you. On the one hand, this is par for the course with these types of games, but that doesn't really make up for the fact that the game basically decides randomly whether it will be fun to play or not.

Destroying monsters, disarming traps, unlocking doors or smashing statues (for some reason) will provide experience, however level ups themselves aren't really of that much use. Instead of the traditional major boost to your stats (you get your health and mana raised by a painfully small amount), they basically just provide you a way of unlocking a skill in one of the skill trees you selected at the beginning of the game (so make sure you actually choose something worth levelling up, as appealing as it is to just let the game randomise it).

The game offers a lot of different ways to spec your character, but almost to the point of overkill. The game doesn't take itself too seriously and that extends to the options available here, but they only serve to muddy the waters as a lot aren't worth using. The steam workshop does feature a number of additional ones you can add to your game to extend it a little, some of which I found to be more useful than the default ones available.

The game provides a whole host of different weapon classes to choose from, but generally swords and arrows seem to be the most commonly found type in the dungeon. The game also boasts a magic system, but I was never able to work out how to make it work. In addition there are also wands you can use to cast spells regardless of your innate talent for the mystical, which are used in the same way as class based skills.

The item limit does feel a little restricting, but it does prevent you from trying to be a jack of all trades, since you simply don't have the space to fit all your alchemy ingredients alongside the ingots of metal you want to stockpile since they might prove useful at some point. I rarely ended up using them, but never failed up pick them up, something feels wrong about leaving loot lying around on the floor.

The game isn't the most aesthetically pleasing, but does at least feature a fair number of different enemies and the level tile sets fit together to make levels that fit together well. Each floor also makes use of a different tileset but for the most part that's all that sets floors apart so it can start to feel very "samey" by the time you've made it to later floors, though some do have some gimmicks like specific tiles that will erupt into flames when you walk over them.

As mentioned, the game is a light hearted affair (though that can go out the window when you're fuming over your most recent death), so the item descriptions feature of a lot of "references" or a simply "funny" designs themselves, such as the traffic cone helmet. Of course the enemies are all fairly whimsical too, for the most part you'll be finding some kind of penguin hybrid called diggles or black balls with arms, legs, a face... and a huge moustache. The most common health restoring item found in the game are various forms of cheese, though if that's a reference it was completely lost on me.

The game does feature a rather hefty, though initially confusing, crafting system. With the correct ingredients and a high enough ability in the corresponding skill you can craft everything from potions to armour to cheese on toast, the list of options gets rather long, and there's "hidden" recipes in the game that are uncovered by investigating bookshelves. However the limitations on inventory space led me to ignore the crafting aspect entirely for the most part.

Despite its shortcomings, the game can be enjoyable to play (if you can get a decent dungeon to play in), and scratches the itch of looting dungeons for progressively better items pretty well. Each floor can take a substantial amount of time to fully investigate as well, usually around 20-30 minutes I found. While the random nature of the dungeons does make the game infuriating at times and feel unbalanced, it plays well and the dungeon generation does at least feel different enough each time to offer up a reason to replay.


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