‘Roguelike’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, particularly by me. It seems that almost every indie game that I write about features roguelike elements. The internet is full of conflicting definitions of the term but for me, it’s a game that features randomly generated environments where luck takes centre stage in the player experience. Although, once that player has gained enough skill, they can succeed even if they’ve drawn a bad hand.
This was my experience with Dungeon Souls. The gameplay is addictive, and the skill progression system allows you to become a total badass without ever feeling overpowered. Dungeon Souls also happens to be one of the best roguelikes I’ve played in a long time.
Dungeon Souls is a pixelated hack n’ slash/RPG with the aforementioned roguelike elements. The dungeons are randomly-generated, resulting in each play through being slightly different. The goal of each dungeon is to battle your way through traps and randomly spawning enemies to activate a series of sigils painted on the floor. Once they have all been activated, an invincible demon named ‘The Redeemer’ appears and chases you to the exit, attempting to drain your precious HP. Bold players may make a last ditch effort to visit the shop or earn some extra cash before leaving, although the permanent death system convinced me that it was never worth it.
There’s not a lot of depth to the story. Upon selecting your character, you are summoned from the grave to… clear out the dungeons and activate the sigils. The story’s not important anyway. Dungeon Souls is all about frantically slaying dozens of unearthly enemies all at the same time. Each dungeon is topped off by a giant bullet-sponge (or sword sponge) of a boss. I’m unsure if the game’s ending elaborates on the story, as after amassing 6 hours of playtime, I still haven’t defeated the final boss. I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that I may not be as skilled at gaming as I had believed.
Dungeon Souls features a whopping 9 character classes to choose from. Barbarian, Archer and Thief are available at launch, with the remainder locked until you have completed certain in game challenges. The extra characters are not well-hidden. The character selection screen reveals their names and an explanation on how to unlock them. Each class possesses a unique weapon, statistics and 3 special abilities. They are also divided into two categories: Ranged and melee. The melee classes have more HP and deal more damage, although are slower and must get up close and personal with the enemies. Personally I liked the archer for his fast ranged attacks. He has the lowest max HP, but I found healing potions to be plentiful.
The gameplay is tough. The sheer amount of enemies you face at any given time can be overwhelming, especially as they attack from all directions and occasionally from off-screen. I often found myself in situations where mid-battle I would have to run away and equip healing potions. It reminded me of my time with Bloodborne. On the plus side, enemy projectiles can be knocked out of the air and I found this skill essential for survival. There are just two buttons for attacking and no blocking option. Dungeon Souls is probably what they were referring to when they coined the phrase ‘easy to learn, hard to master’.
Collecting items from enemy drops and making purchases at the store are extremely beneficial, and how you become the badass that I mentioned earlier. Enemies frequently drop healing potions, but less frequently they drop items which improve stats and grant special abilities. There are basic items which might increase speed by +5 or defence by +2, the usual upgrades you find in RPGs and dungeon crawlers. Then there’s the unique items, such as a floating eyeball which attacks the enemies, or the item that allows you to stand in pools of the enemy’s blood to restore 5HP every 3 seconds. What I found really incredible is that there are 72 item slots and you can have that number of items activated at the same time. That’s how you become a total badass.
There was one issue that I had with the game. In the first dungeon, the ghost-like enemies would spawn right on top of me. As it was random, there was no way for me to predict and avoid these attacks. The ghosts only appeared in the first dungeon, so I’m willing to let it slide. It was extremely frustrating to deal with while I was learning the ropes.
Dungeon Souls borrows a lot from the roguelikes that came before it. The developers have taken these ideas, refined them, and granted some leeway for the player to upgrade the character beyond levels that its predecessors would ever consider including in a game. They even accomplished this without compromising on difficulty. I was so caught up in the gameplay that I barely noticed that the story was non-existent.
Dungeon Souls is currently available for purchase through Steam’s Early Access. The game is almost complete, developer Lamina Studios require just a little more time to implement the multiplayer features. Stay tuned to Play Nice Play Now as there may be a Let’s Play Dungeon Souls multiplayer video or article further down the track once that update hits.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer for PN2. You can follow him on Twitter @DrVane