Review: ADOM (Ancient Domains Of Mystery)

Store page / View this review on Steam

Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect

If you’ve ever dabbled in the foundational classics of the roguelike genre, you’ve probably heard of ADOM. And it was probably in hushed whispers about cat lords or liches, or some esoteric rules about handling some lost temple somewhere. ADOM built a reputation for being tricky and unforgiving, even when cast against its peers like NetHack and Crawl, and you can still experience plenty of that pain even decades later. Some of the roughest edges have been smoothed over with this more mainstream makeover, but it’s still very much a game about arcane rules and deadly knowledge checks for the player. And now there’s an added element of instability that makes this recommendation an extremely qualified one.

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The fanciful land of Ancardia is in terrible peril. Beneath the Drakalor Chain, the forces of chaos are stirring. Fortunately, you happen to be one of those heroic types that forges forth in search of loot and glory and ends up saving the whole shebang… or dying and restarting, anyway. While the ominous Cavern of Doom hides the source of this corruption that must be excised, there are plenty of other locations across the land that could use your attention. Musty caves, strange pyramids, and mystical temples all contain great dangers, and wondrous rewards for those who brave them.

Whereas ADOM’s contemporaries had you descending into one great dungeon complex, this title gives you an overworld and plenty of additional areas to explore in addition to its great dungeon complex. It gives the early game a little more direction as well, offering you a basic cave to explore before ushering you into a town with a few beginner quests to work through. They’re not all so simple, though… one of those quests is the infamous puppy dungeon, scourge of low-level characters throughout the ages. But I prefer this more open approach to the early game, as opposed to clearing similar dungeon levels over and over as you make new characters.

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Honestly though, this is about the only allowance ADOM makes for new players. As a classic roguelike this one is just as stuffed with obscure keyboard commands and item effects as any of them, and a few of those can end up being deathly important. You’ll have no idea starting out what the relevance of a dedicated wipe-your-face button is, or why blankets end up being so important, or even which corpses you want to make sure you eat. There’s a lot of esoteric knowledge needed to survive past the early game, and it’s not always the kind that you can puzzle out yourself. Just working out the most relevant stats and skills from the deluge the game presents you with can be a tall order, much less figuring out what to do with all the unidentified potions and potentially cursed gear you’ll find.

The real pitfalls, of course, are the enemies. True to classic roguelike fashion you’re not going to know just how deadly a foe is before you engage them, and by then it’s usually too late. My last run was characterized by cleaving through foes that couldn’t do enough damage to overcome my armor, until I ran across an animated pillar of water that killed me in a single hit. These difficulty spikes aren’t even localized in bosses or traps, they’re simply monsters that happen to be the hard counter to whatever your character is, and you’ve pretty much got to eat shit once to learn what a threat they are. Some of these spikes have to be planned for hours in advance as well, so be ready for lots of sudden stops in your runs while you learn the intricacies of this one.

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Even if you come to grips with the combat and the many, many systems, the game could still crash. The Steam version of ADOM is surprisingly unstable, and without unrestricted saving your character could be set back thirty minutes to an hour, or lost altogether. Supposedly it’s the updated tile graphics that cause part of the problem, but that will need to be addressed long term as you can’t have a major feature of your re-release ending runs like that. The graphics aren’t even that spot on, either, because there’s plenty of inconsistent formatting and such. It’s an odd place for a passion project like this to end up, particularly because it’s such a big feature of the roguelike landscape. But you need to be aware that ADOM is still very much the old-school ball-buster it once was, and it might even crash on you when things start getting good. I’d say it still deserves to be explored, but this release might not be the best way to make your mark on Ancardia.

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