Dungeons of Desolation (80 MSP) is a roguelike (think plumbing the depths for ever-greater loot, living and fighting in constant fear of death) in the vein of Cursed Loot or its slightly less-serious PC namesake, Dungeons of Dredmor. Its creative indebtedness to both titles means it doesn’t ultimately differ much from them, but it’s still a nifty dungeon crawler to while away the hours in.
Visually, it’s a downgrade from the aforementioned games. The art lacks any kind of pop, and the animation (for battles and characters) is nearly non-existent, but all the other aspects of a roguelike make the translation intact. Using the town of Desolation as your hub ‘mall’ to purchase and sell goods, you travel below its surface to spelunk the dimly-lit caverns and cellars, running into all manner of monsters you must defeat, which drop all manner of enchanted armor and weapons. Equip and explore, then equip and explore again. Put it all on repeat, sprinkle a hardly-there grade-school plot on top, and you’re all set.
Though with multiple up / down staircases and randomized floor layouts, no two playthroughs are ever the same. The game does its best to keep things fresh too, including a wheel of chance, manned by Death Himself, that you’re forced to spin with every demise met. You’ll usually lose a portion of your acquired XP or gold from that run, which hurts (your pride), but it’s not as completely progress-destroying as some of the other roguelikes that came before it. You’ll be thankful for its mercy early. With literally hundreds of items, potions, weapons, and equipment, finding a good configuration is awesome and equally heartbreaking if you fail to save before a tough room or floor.
Dungeons of Desolation lends itself more toward RPG than action with the inclusion of skill trees that branch out from four areas of expertise; weaponry (stats), black magic (offensive), grey magic (buffs), and white magic (healing). Spend some time bullying the smaller game and you’ll be rewarded. Leveling up gives you the points required to upgrade, allowing you to tailor the game to your proclivities and tackle the bigger, meaner crowds that come later.
Level 1? What is this, amateur hour? Go home, son. Call me when you get your ‘holy aura’.
Those skill trees expand the game’s depth, but can also oversimplify your progress. By the time I had leveled into the mid-30s, I was effectively a walking tank, resisting all elemental attacks, steeped in White Mage power, thus regenerating / healing at a ridiculous rate, and smashing any enemy I came across. I descended each new staircase with ease, finding better equipment, confident that death couldn’t find me no matter how far down I ventured (25 floors in total), and I was right in that assumption. With the game no longer a challenge, exploration lost much of its allure. The final boss was a pushover (and a bit underwhelming).
Roguelikes are won and lost on their ability to kill you off and keep you coming back for more. The challenge trails off towards the end, and it comes in a less-attractive package, but Dungeons of Desolation holds it own amongst the others in its class, offering you plenty of customization, looting, and equipment-comparing for the buck. If you haven’t yet tired of staircases leading endlessly down, it’s worth the time.