A Rougelike That Brings in Newcomers, and Respects the Fans.
Roguelikes are a niche video game genre that is popular for being incredibly hard and challenging, to the point where it becomes practically inaccessible to outsiders who want to get into the genre. The most streamlined and accessible rougelike in recent years - in my personal opinion - was the 3D PS3-exclusive Demon’s Souls. But that game was still incredible hard to get into for people who didn’t have a FAQ at their side the entire time thanks to the poorly implemented tutorial (it’s hard to find a more esoteric tutorial than looking at the floor which is filled with hundreds of random facts about the game). Thankfully, Epic Dungeon from Eyehook Games is easily the most accessible roguelike to date. And while that doesn’t necessarily equate to “quality”, I can tell you now that Epic Dungeon is one of the most excellent titles on the Xbox Live Indie Games service to date.
Epic Dungeon, in the tradition of its rougelike ancestry, is a top-down 2D hack ‘n slash RPG where you navigate 50 levels of an “epic” classic sword-and-sorcery dungeon. Your only objective is to reach the descending ladder of each floor and continue to move downwards to the very bottom of the dungeon so your character can escape. But how you reach the end is really up to you. Will you grind out levels on previous floors so you can have a pumped-up duder ready to take on any crazy monster this dungeon can throw at you? Will you rush through each dungeon as fast as you can, while in the process ignoring all of the loot? Or will you explore every single nook-and-cranny of the floor to try and obtain all of the treasure that awaits you, even if it means risking your life unnecessarily? It’s all up to you.
But thanks to the game’s excellent tutorial, it won’t take you very long to learn about the world and the design of Epic Dungeon to the point where you can start constructing your perfect build. The game doesn’t throw you straight into the middle of the world and say “Good luck!”, it starts off slowly, easing you into the game and introducing some of the more important concepts (which can be turned off by experts), and there’s a well-designed difficulty curve in the game where it ramps up at a steady and reliable pace. But the game also knows not to hold your hand too much, as there’s a separate “Help” section which contains tons more info that can be naturally figured out by the player themselves without the game’s direct influence on you. It’s there if you need it, and it’s not forcing itself down your throat. Epic Dungeon is accessible to newcomers without treating them like complete morons and it never underestimates the player’s intelligence. That alone makes the game a great title that’s well worth its $1 price point.
But Epic Dungeon goes even further and completely stuns with its visual style. The sprints are animated well, and they look great, but the visual “tricks” and the illusion of a 3D world is what earns Epic Dungeon a place in one of my favorite Xbox Live Indie Games ever. It’s hard to explain as you really need to play the game yourself to fully appreciate what I’m getting at, but here goes nothing. Visual effects like “fog of war” and “light” are stunning in Epic Dungeon; the clouds which represent the fog of war seem to pop out from the tradional 2D environment and give the game a sense of depth that makes it the best fog of war in any game to date. And the light is actually a dynamic effect which responds to the environment in some very subtle and cool ways, and even serves as a handy tool for finding secret rooms. Another cool effect is when you kill an enemy and its blood and guts go flying around all over the place. The game is chock full of these impressive weird 3D-esque visual tricks, and my words aren’t doing it justice. Go watch a video, and just take from this that the game looks absolutely brilliant.
Covering the subject of content, Epic Dungeon has a ton of loot to collect and the character building system, while a-typical for the genre, actually has a seriously strong impact on your performance in the game. I played through the game several times with completely different characters before I got to the final level (but wasn’t able to finish it), which added up to about 5 hours of total play time. And I’m nowhere close to being finished with this game, since I still need to actually finish it. Also, if rougelike fans are concerned by the game possibly being too easy, don’t fret. While the controls actually work and are well-designed and as it does slowly ease you into the experience, the game gets incredibly difficult towards the end. So the game has you covered on your masochistic needs.
Epic Dungeon is the rare example of a game that takes a niche genre and brings it to the masses without abandoning the fans of the genre, forming an excellent and well-designed package that is well worth your $1. For people who’ve always wanted to get into a rougelike, this is your game. And for fans that are looking for the next big thing in the genre, here it is. Epic Dungeon is a beautiful, expertly-designed, accessible, and highly addicting experience that is one of the year’s best games. If Epic Dungeon is any indicator of the quality of the upcoming games in the Indie Games Winter Uprising, it’s going to be quite an amazing week indeed.