Desktop Dungeons – A Cautionary Review of a Free Micro Rogue-Like Puzzle Game More Addictive than Crack

dekstop dungeons
Desktop Dungeons – A Cautionary Review of a Free Micro Rogue-Like Puzzle Game More Addictive than Crack

Platforms: Windows PC, Mac

Game Name: Desktop Dungeons (Beta)

Publisher: QCF Design

Developer: QCF Design

Genre: Rogue-like, puzzle game

From developers QCF in Capetown South Africa, Desktop Dungeons is an official entrant to IGF’s 2011 Festival that pays tribute to the early dungeon crawler Rogue which used randomly generated dungeons and has since become its own genre. QCF adds a twist by giving the player a finite amount of choices with which to solve the micro maps. Read on for the full review.

Developer Summary:

Desktop Dungeons is a ten-minute “dungeon crawl” adventure that distills the roguelike genre to its most basic components, turning it into a single-screen puzzle adventure comparable to the likes of Oasis and Tower of the Sorcerer. Using absolutely every resource at their disposal, players need to balance dungeon exploration and treasure looting against frequent combat and divine requests.

  • Fight your way through a fantasy dungeon in 10 minutes or less
  • Classic roguelike play re-imagined as a single-screen puzzle game
  • Unlock loads of classes, races and challenge dungeons for awesome replayability
  • Online leaderboard allows you to compare yourself against other players
  • Deep, challenging, randomly-generated gameplay

What We Think:

I haven’t been so instantly cracked out on a game since I first played Bard’s Tale on my Commodore Amiga back in the mid 80’s. I thought I was going to just check out a little Roguelike dungeon crawl – I mean it’s even called a Ten Minute Dungeon Crawl – CUT TO: six and half hours later when I remember that blood should probably be flowing through my legs which are at that point completely numb.

Desktop_Dungeons screen 001

Randomly Generated Puzzle Dungeon Crawler – Wha?

So as you have discovered from the developer’s bullet points, Desktop Dungeons is a rogue-like puzzle game. What does this mean? It means that maps, heroes, objects and monster positions are randomly generated at the start of a round. The puzzle part means that you really have a finite amount of resources with which to solve how to level up and kill your way to the boss.

Perhaps this is where the “ten minute” part of the game description comes in – because there is a sort of timelock. But rest assured ten minutes has nothing to do with the time you will invest trying to solve any given level. They are far more complex than that. It is a sort of chess game wherein there are set number of monster types each with its own idiosyncrasies and as the hero you are constantly evaluating what resources to gather, expend, what risks to take and so on.

There is a solution; things aren’t left to the roll of the dice here–in fact you can mouse over your enemy and the game will tell you whether your next attack is safe to make or whether it will result in Death (though if you use your fireball spell, for example, you can avoid the Death warning because it is an attack that can not be retaliated).

Every time you use a spell you deplete Mana, and though with some classes you can exchange glyphs (aka spells) for Mana, or find a Mana potion, there is still a finite amount – everything you do is technically one precious move that must be calculated against all remaining tasks to be completed. Now the difficulty becomes more apparent; with the variety of monsters, random generated locations, character and race combinations and weapons there is huge amount of possible configurations.

Once you have cleared the initial level, new items, classes, monsters, maps and game types are unlocked. One of these is The Gauntlet wherein every level becomes increasingly difficult, but the promise is that you can post your progress to online leaderboards and revel in the glory of your accomplishment. This is a ruse, like Capitalism is a ruse that promises that if you work really hard, you too can live like Paris Hilton or David Beckham. You will keep chasing that carrot, while in the background, time slips away. “Just one more try” you’ll say to yourself, as your hair sprouts more and more grays.

Now Pay Attention Class

I found playing the typically-average Human/Fighter combination to be daunting and somewhat limited, although I appreciated the assurance that it was a solid pairing. I also like playing a Halfling or Elven Thief for the early level-ups due to high-damage first-attacks (+30%), but found this combo led to mid-level failure when I got outgunned (the gap between a lvl1 and 3 enemy is insignificant as compared the gap between a lvl 6 and 8 regardless of the fact that you are typically at level parity: one tip – try to gather up all the Mana, health and atk modifiers at the very start of the level before hacking away at your first enemy so that you can save those precious healing pots for later on.)

The Eleven or Dwarven Priest combo is also very promising, offering a nice combination of commendable melee and three spell slots to play with.

Here’s an exclusive insider tip:

“Try a Dwarf Rogue, the extra health from conversions helps with the lack of hp at the later levels, as do physical resist items.”

I can see why – beginning with a Dwarven Thief in the qualifying round – beyond the fact that the Dwarf can convert glyphs to base health modifiers, the thief class uses potions for replenishing both health and Mana at the same time (for eg. a health pot restores Mana also and vice versa.) After you have completed the qualifying round, you unlock the Rogue class which comes with a painful reduction of 5 health per level, but boosts the opening attack to an crippling (yeah, right) 50% bonus dmg.

I guess for the same reason the Elven/Priest combo worked – melee and magic, fairly balanced with Mana conversions. Ironically, pairing the priest up with a deity was a really bad choice as he kept being penalized for using standard attacks in lieu of magic. Found it best to keep the Dungeon Crawl agnostic.

Of course no one class is the “secret weapon” but hey, take all the info you can get – you’re gonna need it.

Ultimately every combo has its weakness to match its strengths. With a game like this you can only pray that the system is well balanced, because you really are placing your trust in the devs. I have yet to decide if it is, or whether certain race/class combos need to be nerfed or boosted.

After clearing the first “qualification” level (playing as a Priest) I unlocked the Monk class. Hits like a wet sock but can take a punch.

I also unlocked a new enemy – snakes. Snakes suck. They poison you and thus deplete health over time (there are also other monsters or deities that can drain mana). This can be stopped with a potion, but a better strategy is to wait until you are just about to level before taking on serpents because “Dinging Wewt” restores health and mana and resets any DoTs.

All Your Base Are Belong

Adding to the strategy of the game are the various deities to whom you can pay allegiance by worshiping at their respective altars. Each deity allows you to exchange Piety points for semi-permanent buffs, base modifiers or bonuses like a big stack of gold or maybe hit points. Piety points are earned from doing things that please them whether that be killing less of a certain type of mozzie to using melee vs magic.

At first, I was just glomming on to whatever demigod would have me, then I started to match up my class with the appropriate deity, but at length I started trying out alternate combinations. You can certainly clear a level without the aid of a deity, but it certainly adds a whole new level of gameplay when you do align because the deities are very particular about how they want their disciples to behave and so will reward or penalize you based on your combat tactics.

For example: I was doing very well in a Gauntlet level and had almost completed it, when all of a sudden the Vampiric deity Dracul zapped me out of existence because he frowned upon my using too much magic (or something like that, I am not exactly certain at this point what I did to piss him off).

The Little Things Count

Another interesting thing I felt about this title is that though it looks like an old school rogue-like, it is a new game, (in fact they have developed it for Unity, and iPhone etc – this would be killer on an iPad and more fun than COD on any Netbook) and so it has nice miniature graphics, groovy little particle effects and 16-bit sampled sounds that just add that little extra zing.

A final quirk is the appearance of Super Meat Boy who, when in Boss Form (aka the single, randomly generated level ten enemy on a given level) booms something at the hero about not mentioning intellectual property infringement. Not sure if there is a direct connection between QCF and Team Meat or it is paying tribute to a “modern classic” but there are little SMBs populating every level in the game.

I really can’t find any gripes about Desktop Dungeons except that it is really F-ing hard and really addictive and I should probably be out somewhere helping the poor or saving kittens from trees. But it’s not gonna happen until I solve this level. OK just one more try….

Honestly, the complexity that begins to reveal itself as you stick with the game is staggering albeit subtle and nuanced. This is indie work created by pros who know what they are doing.

I recommend checking out the 2 minute survival guide video below created by the devs at QCF – it might save you hours and hours of your life.

Also, because this game really is very difficult, I strongly urge you to also read through the Desktop Dungeons Wiki’s strategy guides.

[xrr rating=”4.5/5″]

Download Desktop Dungeons absolutely free from QCF Design

Download version 0.15 (updated 17 October, 4.3 MB, Windows only)

Please visit the official site for QCF and Desktop Dungeons for the latest version

3 thoughts on “Desktop Dungeons – A Cautionary Review of a Free Micro Rogue-Like Puzzle Game More Addictive than Crack

  1. You know, I thought there was just not enough to this game.

    Sure, it’s hard. But why would someone play this rather than, say, Angband?

    1. For me, the reason is time: a single playthrough in Angband is a major time commitment. That’s perfect for many people (and has been perfect for me at various times in my life), but right now I like to spend a half-hour to an hour at a time, and it’s nice if the game can fit into that window.

  2. I’m down with the game, but they never release it! It’s been in beta for 4 years! I bought the game..But whats the deal, must be a worlds record for pre-release purchasing…

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