Editor’s note: when we originally reviewed the Desktop Dungeons beta in 2010, we called it “more addictive than crack.” Since then the game has undergone three whole years of further tweaking, to both visuals and gameplay and added towns and banking for your gold. We decided this was a significant enough transformation to merit a fresh take by a different writer. Here is a brand new set of eyes on QCF’s Desktop Dungeons, the commercial release now on Steam.
Desktop Dungeons: What We Think
Desktop Dungeons from QCF Design is not quite a Rogue-like, not exactly a dungeon-crawler, not simply a puzzle game, but it draws inspiration from many places, and slathers its tongue across your cheek. What at first blush appears a charming little title that might belong on a smart phone, it has enough variety and replay value that it would be perfectly at home being pre-installed on all computers as a quirky little time killer with enough meat (and Super Meat Boy) that it could unseat the almighty Minesweeper.
If I had to give it a singular genre without likening it to anything else, I’d call it a problem-solving puzzler, with a dungeon crawl theme. (Hrm, still not quite as succinct as one would hope). The goal of every level is to explore a randomly generated one-floor dungeon, bash monsters weak enough for you to bash in order to level up, then attack the stronger monsters until you eventually are powerful enough to defeat the highest level baddies in the dungeon, and exit the level.
Now keeping in mind this is more of a puzzle game than a hack n’ slash, monsters just stand where they are found, waiting to be attacked. The game is more about making decisions in how to tackle each level than on the power of your gear and quick reflexes.
Arrange your Desktop
Do you want to kill higher level monsters for experience bonuses, or do you want to kill everything that’s lower level than you first? Do you want to convert this spell you picked up that you might need later for a bonus that lasts until the end of the level? This monster with first-strike will kill you in an exchange of blows, but maybe you can slow it down so you can land the fatal blow before it can retaliate, thus winning you the day, a level, and a fully restored pool of Health and Mana.
Desktop Dungeons is deceptively complex; beneath its newly renovated, cute aesthetics lay tactics and numbers to make you stop and think. For example you may weigh the following: should kill an enemy with that spell that destroys it in one shot, but gives you no experience points, but also makes the next enemy you kill give you 50% more XP? Making these choices – usually before you have explored and uncovered the entire floor – will be the key to a successful clearing of the board.
Quests for the Thinking Barbarian
In addition to the main game of building up a town of adventurers and diving into incrementally more dangerous levels, there is also a Puzzle mode where your actions must be completed in a very specific way lest you end in failure. These puzzles are not just an easy side quest either; they are devious, thoughtful, and they teach you valuable survival skills to use in the rest of the game.
The Newness. You Have It.
Everything you do earns you gold which you can spend to upgrade your town for getting unlocks – new playable races, classes, abilities, monsters, the developers have done a good job in making it feel like you are always progressing.
One of the areas where the most change is felt between the free prototype version and the new release is the sheer amount of unlockables. Being able to mix and match so many races and classes increases the variety substantially. Races determines bonuses you get when you trash or ‘Convert’ items you don’t need. Classes determine your inherent abilities.
The whole concept of a town and guilds that you upgrade therein is also a new addition, as are such buildings as the Blacksmith where you can buy equipment.
QCF has also added a narrative that gives some further immersion and culture to the game. This shows up in text windows you click on as you progress. Inside dungeons, there are also text dispensers that offer tips. The game has a lot of humor in it that gets showcased in these dialogues, the names of spells and more.
If that is not enough, there is also the new “Goatperson” DLC available on Steam released in tandem with the game proper. In addition to the new Goatperson playable class (that adds the need to eat rations like in more traditional Rogue-likes) it features a series of “Triple Quests” that throw in a gauntlet against three sequential, randomly generated dungeons that also reveal more about the lore of the world of Desktop Dungeons.
In this easy-to-pick-up, hard-to-put-down indie title, game sessions are quick; the whole experience goes down easy like potato chips, and like potato chips you won’t be able to stop at just one. Desktop Dungeons won’t blow your socks off with stunning visuals – though they are nicely done – but it’s so engaging you won’t find yourself ever wanting to stop playing.
The free version of the prototype is still available for download from the official site below. It has the older 16-bit graphics style, but it was the version that originally hooked us. – Ed.
Get a lesson in Adventuring 101 from QCF Design: