by Emma Kostopolus, Video Game Columnist
Every gamer has a Game. This is the game they fall back on in times of stress, the game they always have downloaded, the game that no matter how many hours they log in it, it still seems fresh and new and fun every time they log in. Whenever other people ask for recommendations of games to play, and even when they do not, this is the game a gamer will wax poetic about for hours in the hopes of sharing its magic with others. Every gamer has a Game, and my Game is “Dungeons of Dredmor.”
“Dredmor” is a roguelike created by the team at Gaslamp Games, a small studio that flies mostly under the radar of many gamers. So far they’ve released two games: “Dredmor” and a Steam Punk colony-building game called “Clockwork Empires.” I haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying the latter, if only because my soul is still held in thrall by their first IP, but I’ve heard nothing but good things.
A roguelike, for those who may be unfamiliar with the genre, is a type of role-playing game where the player creates a character that will then embark on a long, procedurally-generated dungeon crawl. Roguelikes also often contain turn-based gameplay, a tile-based movement system, and permadeath (or, dying automatically starts a new game). In short, they’re old-school, totally random, and really, really hard.
“Dredmor” is no exception to these rules, although it does have an option to turn off permadeath, as well as three different tiers of difficulty, from “Elves just want to have fun” to “Going Rogue: Because Losing is Fun.” The story behind “Dredmor” is simple, to accommodate for all the randomly-generated monsters and levels the game throws at the player. Even the floorplan of each level of the dungeon is random, so gamers never play through the exact same game twice.
What separates “Dredmor” from the scads of indie roguelikes is its sense of humor. Everything about the game is designed to upend traditional conventions of the genre. Side quests are gained from praying before a statue of the goddess Inconsequentia (see what they did there?), and the enemies talk back as you attack them, lamenting that this was their last day before retirement. The player is still meant to be an intrepid hero, but that doesn’t mean you still aren’t tromping through someone else’s home destroying things in the name of the greater good, and “Dredmor” does not let you forget it.
The flagship bad guys in the game are also a testament to its weirdness. Diggles are small, sort of birdlike animals with drill-shaped proboscises and nubby little limbs who make squeaking noises when they attack the player. Normal diggles are adorable and odd enough, but the game also has variants such as the enraged diggle, the sickly diggle, and the special DLC boss Vlad Digula, all of whom are thoroughly unintimidating, which is how they get you.
Each time a player begins a new campaign, they have to select seven skills to develop as they play. These skills range from the standard hack-and-slash swordsmanship to silly things like “Emomancy” and “Killer Vegan,” and each deeply affect how you maneuver through the dungeon, making for an almost entirely different experience of play.
There are a total of 50 different skill trees and while the sheer number of skill sets available to your character may at first seem daunting, what they really do is increase the replay value of the game so the different ways to play are, for the practical purposes of most gamers, unlimited. Depending on your selected skills, different items become valuable and the way you approach enemies changes, so a dungeon level you charged right through as an axe-wielding barbarian suddenly becomes one your low-defense sorcerer has to carefully sneak across.
Despite it being my Game, I have to admit “Dredmor” isn’t perfect. The combat system is limited to repeatedly pressing one or two buttons, so the act of fighting your umpteenth Diggle can feel a bit stale, and some of the fights are brutally difficult to the point of being unfair, even with a well-equipped character. But even despite these drawbacks in combat, “Dungeons of Dredmor” is an incredibly goofy game that supplies the player with infinite hours of fun and unique gameplay, making it well more than worth the $4.99 price for the base game on Steam.