Enchanted Cave 2 opens in a typical RPG town, full of townspeople sharing the requisite warnings about the boundless dangers and wonderful treasures found in the nearby cursed cave, but this is not quite an RPG. I quickly discovered that the cursed cave is a randomly-generated dungeon of treasure and death, perfect for roguelike exploration. Adventurers battle their way through, looting bags of cash, weapons, armor, and crafting ingredients (like unicorn poop or exploding limes). If you let your adventurer run out of health, he’ll die in the cave, never to be seen again. More importantly, you’ll lose all the gold, loot, and skills you’ve acquired in that dungeon run, so keep an eye on the all-important health bar. This gives a great tension to battles, and makes those healing potions incredibly precious.
One does not simply walk out of the Enchanted Cave, though. If you’ve maximized your treasure, are almost out of health, and want to get out, you’ll need to find a set of Escape Wings, hidden in a chest somewhere, and use them to flee the cave safely. Artifacts, identified by a yellow border, can be removed from the cave, along with gold, skills and experience gained…. unless your adventurer meets a tragic end in the caves. Everything in your inventory besides artifacts turns to dust, so it’s goodbye to all those regular weapons, armor, potions, and crafting supplies that you collected.
Monsters don’t move or give chase, and even the scariest, toughest monsters won’t react to adventurers looting chests right beside them. I enjoyed the variety of mythical monsters, from bats to wyverns, frost giants to trolls. On each level, players need to decide whether to kill everything in sight, or plan the easiest path to the next level. Now, I rarely notice UI unless it’s awful, so it’s worth mentioning that in Enchanted Cave 2, my hero can automatically loot a sack of gold as he paths through it on the way to killing a monster, but it’s hard to accidentally engage a monster when looting treasure. Well done.
Enchanted Cave 2 is very well-balanced. Each run, my adventurer gained experience from battling enemies, which I spent improving my stats on the skill tree, and turned to more powerful armor and weapons, for the next run. And each run, I got a little bit further than before, keeping an even challenge throughout the game. No boring grinding, no punishingly difficult monsters, just balanced challenges in randomly-generated dungeons.
Every ten levels down, there’s a shop. Now, I’m not entirely sure about the economic good sense of opening a supply shop in a deadly dungeon, but I was glad to sell off my junk and buy new healing potions at regular intervals. Shops also act as checkpoints: after fleeing with the Escape Wings, adventurers can pick up their exploration from any shop they’ve previously passed. (Or start from zero again and get all the loot. I’m just saying.)
The crafting and enchanting system is surprisingly robust for a mobile game, with a variety of ingredients offering enchantment bonuses to attack, defense, hitpoints, health regeneration, and a variety of magical schools. Everything’s a meaningful choice, too. Should I spend my high-impact crafting supplies, like fractal cabbages or explosive limes, immediately? What if I waste them on making an awesome sword, only to find a better one in a moment? What if I hang on to them too long and they turn to dust when I leave the cave?
The challenge comes from balancing the need to escape the cave with your adventurer’s loot and skills intact, with the risks of going just a little further to see what’s around the next corner.
This roguelike crams a lot of world building crammed into a few snippets of text. On some levels, a glint in the cave wall would encourage me to investigate, and that glimmering wall would open into a secret, treasure-filled study. (Don’t we all have one of those? I’m sitting next to my chest of potions, sack of gold, and priceless artifacts right now.) Each desk contains a different diary snippet, written by the evil mage who lives deep in the cave. The Epic Diary of Plot Exposition is usually an overused and underwhelming device, causing massive eyerolls in players, but in Enchanted Cave 2, each diary fragment is just a couple sentences, with a wonderful mixture of metasnark and intriguing tidbits. The very evil mage is gathering souls for very evil reasons, and players get plenty of warning that the big boss is waiting on level 100. The mage also notes that an entire town sprang up outside the cave, that greedy, would-be heroes keep sacrificing their lives and souls for a couple gold pieces, and – my personal favorite – that he often dresses up as a helpless wanderer and asks adventurers for their Escape Wings.
Overall, Enchanted Cave 2 offers loads of loot, dungeon strategies, and the tensions of a roguelike, without the punishing forced replaying found in many roguelike games. The boss battles, both against the mage’s minions throughout the game, and the culminating fight against the mage himself on level 100, added a little to the narrative, but were secondary to the simple, fun mechanics of exploring and looting the randomly-generated cave levels.
Brimming with storied RPG goodness, plus the tensions of a roguelike minus the incessant replays.