The Fall of the Dungeons Guardians – What We Think:
The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians is French dev team Mana Games‘ answer to a question we’re not sure anyone was asking: “What would happen if you crammed MMORPG-style combat into an old school first-person dungeon crawler?” While hardcore RPG fans the world over decry the simplified triad of tank/healer/damage-dealer so ubiquitous in World of Warcraft and its ilk, it actually works here, making for a challenging, combat-oriented new take on a classic style.
First person, party-based dungeon crawlers in the vein of Dungeon Master and the early Might and Magic games have come back in the spotlight in recent years, thanks mostly to the brilliant Legend of Grimrock series, with its fiendish puzzles and deadly traps. The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians draws on similar inspiration – the dungeon walls themselves could be mistaken for one another – but is much more of a slog.
Sent into the dungeon to recover dangerous escaped prisoners – including the likes of undead necromancers, evil elves and the like – your four-character party is more or less a squad of low-level prison guards. Never mind that they might wield flame wands or druid healing abilities rather than truncheons; you’re thugs, albeit thugs on the side of the law, and the game’s focus on bashing groups of monsters is a consistent reminder.
Single Player MMORPG…Is That a Thing?
Luckily, the combat is exquisitely balanced. Yes, it relies on the generic trio of a tank to absorb enemy attacks, a healer to keep the tank standing, and two damage-dealers to to take out the actual enemies. Yes, that’s a bit of an unexpected approach for a game that’s so old school in every other aspect. But it works so shockingly well, it’ll give you a brand new appreciation to the entire mechanic.
For one thing, your tank has to work to keep the enemy interested. Special attacks like taunts and kicks will encourage aggression against him (or “draw aggro,” in MMORPG parlance), but so will your other characters’ special attacks. That even goes to your healer; start healing too aggressively, and the monsters will zoom right in on your healer, and once your healer is gone, you’re toast.
In practice, this means you’ve got to be really careful with all of your attacks, especially against bosses and other higher level enemies. You’ll be tempted to unleash hell and spam your fireballs and other special attacks, but that will bring all of the attention down on your damage-dealers, who are pretty much glass cannons and can be taken out by a single attack from more powerful enemies.
This turns combat into a constant balancing act. Heal, use special abilities, but watch your timing and keep “some in the tank,” as the saying goes, so if something unexpectedly horrible happens – and it probably will – you’re not just standing there in a daze, waiting to be killed. Combat takes place in real time, too; if not for the ability to pause strategically, it would be almost impossible.
Dungeon to Dread More
New school combat or not, the difficulty here is pure old school. Combat is tough, and though there are seven difficulty options – plus additional customization – even the “easier” ones provide plenty of challenge. Auto-mapping comes in the form of magical maps that must be found, so you’ll also have to have a decent memory while you get your bearings on each level. (You can turn on an optional auto-map in the difficulty settings, but it seems counter to the spirit of the game.)
The use of stairs makes navigating the dungeon itself extra tricky. While the dungeon uses a traditional grid-based map, each “level” actually consists of more than one story, with stairs going up and down. Even once you find a map, the map still displays a single level, so you’ll have to work out for yourself which locations on a given level are accessible from which stories. While combat is emphasized over puzzles and exploration, you’ll still need as much brain as brawn to make it out alive.
Giant Spiders and Other Bugs
The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians does have a few things working against it. Some might find the look and mood to be a little generic, what with the overabundance of such tried ‘n’ true enemies as giant spiders, skeleton soldiers and the like. Frankly, though, it’s so unrelentingly standard it feels more like homage than lack of creativity.
It’s also got some bugs, like enemies that suddenly stop attacking and just stand there – which can frankly seem like a stroke of luck when it happens, but clearly isn’t intentional – and other “frozen in combat” glitches. The developers are very active on Steam, however, and are regularly updating the game with new patches.
Minor complaints, aesthetic and otherwise, aside, The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians is a monster of a game. It’s tough, it looks good, and it’s full of classic touches. It’s also huge. Each level will take hours to complete on all but the easiest difficulty level, and there are well over a dozen levels. That’s a meaty meal to fill the heartiest of dungeon crawlers’ appetites. Add in a map editor that lets you build your own twisted tunnels, and you’ve got more skeleton-bashing, spider-squashing fun than you could handle.
The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians below: