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Quest of the Dungeons / 20th of September 2015

The “roguelike” genre seems to getting rather popular these days, though effectively they amount to little more than tedious dungeon crawlers as far I’m concerned, offering little of interest in terms of either game mechanics or aesthetics, regardless of their attempts to harken back to another period of gaming. And so it was that I entered into Upfall Studios’ Quest of Dungeons with a little trepidation, and yet, quite unexpectedly, I actually rather enjoyed it, though it’s hardly a title that’s going to draw me away from the myriad AAA releases hitting stores over the coming months. But still, it’s a start, right?

A major issue for me, which will likely infuriate those who enjoy this type of experience, is its permadeath punishment for players, it’s an old fashioned mechanic that died out for good reason, and whilst yes, it may very well prove to be reminiscent of my early years of gaming, the only positive aspect about it in my eyes is that I no longer need to rewind the tape and reload the whole damn thing. Personally, if my character dies, I’m not going to go diving into another adventure, I’m going to stop playing it, only to then return at a later date, if the game deserves it. To me, this type of punishment deprives the game of achieving any level of genuine immersion as death, and an inevitable exit from the game lies only just around the next corner.

This is accentuated by the game’s reliance on procedural generation, meaning that no two games are alike, yet of course, in the good old days, this generally wasn’t the case, allowing gamers to learn item and enemy placements as though the back of their hands, encouraging the search for the perfect run. Of course, on the flip side of this, procedurally generated worlds keep players on their toes, ensures that the game stays fresh and potentially provides ample replay value, should the genre appeal, that is. Of course, procedural generation is a staple of the genre, so I won’t hold an entirely personal gripe against the game too much.

Now that my whingeing is over with though, I’ll attempt to highlight some of the game’s many strengths, starting with a most interesting fact. Upfall Studios is, in reality, just one man, David Amador, which itself is a real nod back to the early eight-bit days, when bedroom coders managed to define an industry still in its infancy. Frankly, this is reason enough to cut Quest of Dungeons a little slack in my book, but generally, it doesn’t really need it. Typically, the story here is pitifully weak, but its weaved with a wry dose of humour that’s bound to raise a smile, from the opening sequence, to the many messages that one will stumble upon mid-game and upon dying, so yeah, you’re going to see these, a lot.

For anyone who has had any experience with a roguelike game, the basics are all here; the player will, at the start of the game, select a character to control (there are four to choose from) and enter into a series of dungeons that house a range of items to collect and enemies to destroy, from grunts to bosses, everything is represented here as expected. What may not appear to be clear at first is the fact the game is actually turn based, seeing player and computer controlled enemies move alternately, surprisingly, despite this, the game still plays out at a fair pace, and the ability to switch between targets on the fly also helps players avoid particularly nasty situations as three or more opponents move in for the kill. This lends the game a slight tactical edge, meaning that numbers may be decreased, or tougher opponents can be targeted first, depending on the situation and the player’s reading of it.

There are also quests that can be collected from what appear to be small stone shrines that typically direct the player towards a tougher enemy that needs to be swiftly eradicated, these are all fairly simple and non-obtrusive, though they still manage to provide some sense of direction to what would otherwise have been a pretty purposeless game. Likewise, loot stashes, traps and power-ups lay in wait for the discerning explorer, ensuring that it pays off to search every inch of the map. In addition, there are also keys to be discovered, these allow access to locked doors and chests, which may play host to higher level equipment, this is obviously essential in surviving the quest which, ultimately, sets players the task of descending level upon level until they meet a final confrontation that must be bested if they are to restore light to world plagued by darkness.

Inventory management rears its head, as items are dropped willy-nilly by bested opponents, loaded chests and shattered items (barrels, urns etc.), space is naturally limited, so it’s handy that there are also merchants to be found to sell unwanted treasure too, earning gold which can be used to pick up health items or superior weapons and armour. Tomes can also be picked up along the way too, these grant access to a range of special abilities that the chosen character can equip and swap around on the fly (well, via the inventory menu), this presents another tactical option, allowing the player to tailor their loadout for any given situation, which is certainly a most welcome treat.

Visually speaking, there isn’t much to write home about, it certainly does the job though and the designs are nice enough, but then, that isn’t really why you’d play a game like this, I suppose. However, kudos must go out for the audio though, sound effects are functional, but the soundtrack, which is something of a curious success, is a mix of ambient, downkey compositions that add to the overriding sense of relaxation that pervades the entire game, and that, perhaps most of all, is presumably why I actually enjoyed David Amador’s effort as much as I did.

In all, fans of the genre will most certainly find reasons to play and love Quest of Dungeons, whilst for those – like myself – who may not find themselves overly enamoured with roguelike games or the notion of permadeath, I’d still recommend that you give it a shot, after all it costs only a little over £7, and you never know, you might just be surprised.

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