Remember when roguelikes were a rare beast of a game that may have appeared here and there but ultimately made up an incalculable amount of the video game market? Since that time, roguelikes have risen to such prominence that they are starting to remind me of an insurgent force that takes over the evil dictator. Whereas once they were seen as the champion of the little guy, they’re now starting to settle into a role of a dictator themselves, as the fire that lit their creative revolution has been cooled by the comfort of complacency.
Or, to put it in a less metaphorical way, roguelikes are starting to get a bit stale.
Desktop Dungeons bills itself in part as a roguelike, but like many roguelikes these days it is in fact several genres mixed into one. Upon starting Desktop Dungeons, in fact, you’re greeted with a game that resembles a free to play town builder more than anything as you quickly discover that your billed goal in this game is to expand a small settlement into a kingdom, by venturing into various dungeons and using the plunder found there for your warchest.
Ultimately, however, this settlement serves as a hub for the real game which takes place in the dungeons. It’s there where the rougelike elements come into play, as you pick a race and a class (all of the typical RPG mold, though often accentuated with a touch of referential humor) and enter a randomly generated dungeon that is mostly covered with a fog of war effect.
By venturing into the dark you not only uncover treasures, monuments and enemies, but in a stroke of game design brilliance you restore health and mana to your hero. This means that exploration is both paramount to survival, and detrimental as you may run into a situation that you aren’t prepared for.
Although thanks to the way the combat system works in Desktop Dungeons, you are rarely in a dangerous situation you didn’t create based on your own actions. This is because the strength of your foes are clearly marked by a number under their character, and that you don’t have to fight them unless you initiate combat.
Effectively, this makes Desktop Dungeons a combat puzzle game, that’s placement and use of enemies often reminds me of Minesweeper. Oh sure you choose to fight, but fighting at some point does become necessary, and even though the fights themselves consists of simply touching the enemy while mixing in some magical attacks here and there, it’s the strategic element of deciding which order to approach your enemies that makes things so compelling.
This is where the true depth of Desktop Dungeons comes through. Depending on your race and class, there are many subtleties to combat to consider and implement if you ever hope to escape alive. My favorite example of this is the priest class, who gain their abilities through a point based piety system. For instance you may find an altar to a god that can grant you incredible strength, but detests magic and wishes for you to sacrifice any magical attacks you come across to him. Alternatively you can use magic, but doing so earns you the wrath of the god who can smite your unpious ass should you push him to far.
Even better, these dungeon escapades tend to last somewhere around the 10 minute mark on average meaning they’re more than doable in the typical mobile gaming play session. Unfortnately, for you at least, most of these sessions will end with you facing defeat as Desktop Dungeons is a brutal game. Sometimes it’s a matter of your luck in enemy and item placement, as many randomly generated games can be, but more often than not it’s down to your ability to assess and conquer your given situation with the tools available. And let me tell you; the thrill of conquering a dungeon and expanding your in-game town, and therefore the amount of races, classes and resources available to you for your next dungeon, is exhilarating. What we have here in Desktop Dungeons is a perpetual motion RPG that flows so brilliantly into its next element, and leads to a well of infinite gameplay enjoyment.
Unfortunately for Android players, this proves to be mostly all for naught as Desktop Dungeons is undone by one crippling flaw. It fundamentally does not work on the mobile format.
Let me explain. Desktop Dungeons began life as a PC game, and therefore was built around the kind of precision controls you only get through use of a mouse. While other Android games have begun their lives as PC games and made the transition just fine despite that handicap, what makes it so very tough in the case of Desktop Dungeons is that your points of detection are incredibly tiny. Many people will find they are far tinier than the size of the average adult fingertip.
To help counter this problem, the game is only available for Android tablets. While this was a wise move as I can’t begin to imagine trying to play this game on a phone, it doesn’t really fix the issue that 95% of what makes the game great is reliant on some levels of pinpoint precision that are very difficult to pull off in this format. The developers did all they could to help get around this, and the game certainly isn’t broken, but for a game that is intentionally designed in some part to be infuriating and challenging, having controls that are so prone to accidents is a big, big problem.
I wish it weren’t the case as the design of Desktop Dungeons is so very, very good but I can’t really recommend that Android gamers shell out the $10 asking price for a game that’s true version is a mere $5 more dollars, and basic PC away from experiencing.
Is it Hardcore?
An ingeniously designed game that is unfortunately hindered by the basic nature of touch controls.