"Normally, with puzzle games, if it seems too hard then you're generally just doing it wrong. With Desktop Dungeons, it's just too hard." — Kakie, Corsual Live Viewer
I have a confession to make. I'm not proud of it, but I haven't finished Desktop Dungeons. I strive to complete all of the games I review prior to writing, but in this case the cross was too great to bear.
My failure came not through lack of trying — I tried for many, many hours — but from an overwhelming level of difficulty. Not the bad kind of difficulty, where cheap opponents consistently barrage you until you die hurling an overpriced controller against the nearest wall, but the good kind of difficulty, that will see you thinking — really thinking — about every move you make, every time you make it, lest your adventure come to a inconveniently early end.
Fortunately, I appreciate a challenge. Hell, I crave it. But in the end, it turned out that there was more to accomplish, collect and unlock in this roguelike dungeon crawler than I could ever hope to discover in just 2 weeks, and so, I began my review in advance.
WITHOUT FURTHER ADO...
I first saw Desktop Dungeons while watching MANvsGAME; Danny Baranowsky and Grant Kirkhope, who composed the soundtrack, were there alongside one of the core developers, Danny Day.
They discussed many of the basic game concepts; the randomly generated dungeons and roguelike nature, spell-casting warriors, the coming mobile release, the difference between a harpsichord and clavinet and the origins of Granny Kirkanowsky.
Listening in, amidst the constant laughter, I quickly learned that DD has something of a cult following that grew around an alpha build released to the public years back and available free today, which led to it winning the IGF Award Winning for Game Design. Immediately, I downloaded it to take a look.
IN THE BEGINNING
The alpha turned out to be a crude version of the one MAN was playing. It looked very different — the hand-drawn art wasn't present, instead offering a more traditional pixel art style, and the entire progression mechanic was missing, so choosing a dungeon was as simple as selecting a race, class and difficulty.
Though I was watching MAN play a clearly superior version, I still felt entirely engaged playing the alpha due to the 'roguelike' nature of the gameplay. Every dungeon was different, and though my imminent demise was almost always a single click away, the ability to head straight back in, new knowledge in hand, to a completely new dungeon, maintained my interest throughout the entire night.
That's when I made my purchase, gained access to the browser-operated (sans-soundtrack) beta and began to compare.
NEW IS ALWAYS BETTER
After a brief serving of story and a short tutorial explaining the basics I was directed to my very own kingdom, a world map of sorts, comprised mostly of open space and human inhabited houses. After completing a dungeon, more buildings appeared. An elven habitat, a mage tower, a church...
I quickly realised that the original 'choose race, choose class, choose difficulty' menu featured in the alpha had been replaced here with progressive RPG elements via the kingdom, including a huge host of quests, and that unlike the alpha, races and classes here required an unlock before they could be used.
The game continued forward, revealing multiple new features. Gold could be collected from dungeons and kept afterward, and then used to purchase preparation items that could be used in future dungeon attempts, or saved to unlock new buildings in the kingdom.
Eventually, I was introduced to the tavern, which served as a hub allowing access to multiple dungeon types. It was here that the largest difference between the alpha and beta made their appearance — there's more than one dungeon type in the full version. A lot more.
DON'T ♥♥♥♥ OFF THE DEITIES
That's when things started getting tough, and it was at about that time that the full Steam release arrived, this one complete with Granny K's masterpiece soundtrack.
I was happy to learn that the progress I'd made in the beta was saved, and too, that even though I could now play the full release on Steam, I could continue to do so from my browser if I chose. Everything is saved online, so portable gaming is a legitimate option. A good thing, too, as Desktop Dungeons lends itself perfectly to quick gaming when you've only got 10 minutes to spare. Come on mobile version...
Where was I... oh, right. It's hard. Even the normal dungeons are hard. And the hard dungeons are a lot f@&ing harder. God only knows if there are even harder dungeons around the bend, but if there are, you'll likely need God's help to complete them. Well, at least one of the Gods, anyway.
Yes, yes... I know. Terrible segway, yada-yada. Gods are the key to victory in many of the dungeons, yet they're also a leading cause of death. The decision to adopt a deity is usually a hard one — on the one hand, they offer amazing buffs and bonuses that are generally the key to victory, on the other, they'll restrict you in various ways, punishing you severely for whatever they deem misconduct — though mastering their ways is essential.
THIS IS THE GAME THAT NEV-ER ENDS
That's where the other 'game mode' really helps: Puzzles. After unlocking the Explorer's Guild building in your kingdom you'll have access to a series of puzzles - dungeons that aren't generated randomly, but instead, have a single specific solution that you must discover in order to succeed.
They double as great ways to learn more information about the various items, weapons, spells, deities and conversion materials on offer, and though not everyone will need them, they're highly advised if you're having difficulty completing certain quests or dungeons.
And that's everything I know. Almost. I know that of the nine classes I've unlocked there are another nine to go. I know that of the four races I've unlocked there are another... actually I don't know how many more there are. One, at least. I found him once — a Halfling trapped in a dungeon within a dungeon who nicked my last potion— but failed and haven't seen him since. That's a lot of the fun in Desktop Dungeons; every dungeon is different, and you never know what you're going to get. If you like The Binding of Isaac, or Spelunky, or more appropriately, Rogue Legacy, which offers a similar style of 'progressive roguelike' gameplay, then there's a great chance you'll love Desktop Dungeons, too. It's as hard as the others — perhaps even harder in its own way — but if you're not one to shy from a challenge then there's a lot to enjoy.