Review: Dungeons of Dredmor

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Dungeons of Dredmor ended up being the gateway roguelike for a lot of people on Steam. The ASCII tiles of NetHack and ADOM aren’t the best place to start for everyone, but the goofy classes and antics of Dredmor’s bushy-eyebrowed heroes are an easy sell. It straddles an important line between more mainstream adaptations of the concept and the originators, where neophytes can find easy access and veterans can find a new take on old ideas. And while it may not be perfect in a lot of ways, it passes the main test of being something you can play for way, way too long.

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Dredmor is really a traditional, grid-based, turn-based, everything-random roguelike dressed up in some handsome(ish) graphics and modern(ish) sensibilities. The only story you get is that you’re a hero, and you’re descending into the titular dungeons to whack the equally-titular Lord Dredmor. There’s a thick layer of nerd humor over the whole package that runs more than skin-deep, as it even informs the class and stat systems with entries like Mathemagic and Caddishness. Luckily it’s not the aggravating metahumor of something like Retro City Rampage, and is actually quite snappy and clever for the most part.

The aforementioned class system is probably the big draw of DoD, for newbies and veterans alike. Each character you roll gets seven skill sets to choose from a list of dozens, including everything from sword and shield skills to veganism and communism. Every time you level up, you can unlock another skill from one of your sets, allowing you to knock out one tree with half a dozen levels or diversify as you see fit. Sets tend to be eclectic mixes of active skills and passive bonuses, with some being demonstratively better than others but all of them interesting and worth a try.

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Outside of the skill system, there’s admittedly not a lot of innovation to be found here. You wander the dungeon, grab loot, kill monsters, and so on. There are shrines to pray to, gods to appease, vending machines to shake, traps to disarm, levers to pull, and plenty of things to die to. Unlike the roguelikes of yore, however, death tends not to come all that swiftly in Dredmor. It’s pretty easy to keep your stats and gear up with the challenge presented by enemies if you’re cleaning out the floors, to the point that by floor three or so, nothing’s going to kill you outside of a room completely packed with monsters. Your demise is more likely to come via attrition, by small mistakes adding up to run you out of healing items and eventually health.

This ties into the main problem with Dredmor, the fact that individual runs can get pretty boring after a point. Unlike most roguelikes, the early game is when you need to pay attention to your skills and your loot. Once you get your rhythm locked in, levels start to blend together. The slow default move speed and animations drag things out a bit longer than they should, and your inventory and crafting windows really could have used another pass on usability. For as many steps forward that Dredmor takes as a modern roguelike, it has a couple feet planted firmly in the past.

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All that said, I was able to sink 30 hours into the game before I grew well and truly tired of it. And those were an enjoyable 30 hours of looting, smashing, and giggling at the goofy jokes. The odds aren’t good that you’ll face down Lord Dredmor before boredom claims your character but on the way there, you’ll get to charm diggles and make omelettes and wear a magic traffic cone on your head. Dredmor will go a lot farther with those new to the roguelike genre, but there is undeniably something for everyone, at least while it stays fresh.

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