While Kevin has been reviewing all sorts of big name titles around here (CoD: Black Ops, Goldeneye, Bloodstone 007, The Force Unleashed II and Fallout: New Vegas just last month), lately I’ve found myself buried neck high in some interesting indies — thanks in part both to Steam’s Thanksgiving sale that saw several five-game indie bundles going for 95% off, as well as several reputable Xbox Live Indie Game developers (that’s right, several) coming together to form the eye-grabbing Indie Games Winter Uprising promotion.
Eyehook’s dollar crawler Epic Dungeon leads-off the XBLIG December releases. If the game represents the quality of titles the unofficial 360 promotion offers up this month, we’re in for some very enjoyable and inexpensive holiday gaming.
Usually fun, always addicting.
Epic Dungeon has you slashing floor-by-floor though the titular structure, with loot-dropping enemies growing progressively meaner and more aggressive as you make your way through. Rats and spiders give-way to witches and vampires who give-way to much more daunting foes, but how you deal with these would-be killers is entirely up to your choosing.
The game starts with you selecting one of four playable classes: The Barbarian, The Shaman, The Tinkerer and The Gambler. All can swing a mean stick (or sword, or hammer, or mace, or whatever you can find down there) and each class has their own special ability. For instance the Tinkerer can create an orb to do much of his fighting for him, while the Shaman can freeze his enemies momentarily. These abilities are available for any of the characters to use and put stat points in to build up to the player’s choosing, with the specific classes getting a head-start with their preassigned ability.
A nice touch, and ultimately a key gameplay element, are the aforementioned abilities and the player’s capability to chain them together to keep a larger, longer barrage of attacks up simply by demonstrating a bit of timing through all of the chaos. Each ability is assigned one of the four one-lettered Xbox 360 controller buttons (Y, B, A, X). Pressing them once activates the attack, pressing again at the moment when the button icon shrinks back into it’s standard size will cause the move to occur again and again several times depending on the amount of stat points assigned to any particular move.
The caveat here is that if your timing is off either way, you’ll break your button and will have to wait about five seconds for it to restore itself for use. In this game, five seconds is a damn eternity for your attackers to maul your now much less defended hide. While the risk of using them wrong and being punished is there, you can only play it safe for a while before having to rely heavily on attempting max chains — often with two, three or four buttons at the same time.
The game packs 50 floors and if you happen to expire, you’re dead for good. The cool side of this is the following character you take down will find your former character’s grave along with one of his items to keep for himself — a small consolation for the unfortunate demise. My rule of thumb on the matter: Whatever you pull off the grave you should sell immediately. Remember, it was your dumb ass wearing/swinging that shitty piece of equipment when you died in the first place.
Unlike standard rogue-likes, the game is in real time as opposed to step time. This means standing around outside of your stat sheets and inventory menu will find you surrounded by attacking enemies, endlessly respawning across the randomly-generated levels you must traverse. It makes for fast, frantic action from start to finish while still offering plenty of loot to equip, stat points to delegate and weapons/armor to upgrade. Just what you’d expect from any good dungeon crawler; usually fun, always addicting.
Like any RPG you can decide the pace you traverse the world, as well as the pace of leveling up. Regardless of whether you choose to stick near an item shop and over-level, or are testing your medal by flying through each level as fast as you can, once you reach the last 10 levels you’ll find yourself having to pull off some pretty fancy moves to progress through and complete this dungeon of oh so awesome and mind-boggling proportions.
Perhaps the unsung hero of all the different gameplay components are the unique encounters you come across. Think of them as role-playing Monopoly chance cards, with the outcome affected by class and stats among other specifics. If luck swings your way you could be walking away with a new item, free experience/stats, or something else completely awesome. Choose poorly however, and you may be besieged with enemies, robbed, perhaps even lose a small body part — don’t know if you know this but I became the Nine-toed Tinkerer after an event around level 30.
Some may take issue with Epic Dungeon’s lack of extreme difficulty rogue-like veterans often prefer, but that’s not to say the game is at all easy. Death is permanent, and if the monsters happen to catch your brain or fingers napping for just a few seconds they can make quick work of your health. Still the right-trigger potion system can be abused too easily.
Also, while I completely agree that 50 levels is more than worth the price of admission ($1), and there’s plenty of replay value there…secretly I wish the game had more like 500 levels. Not really a complaint, more of a testament to the fact that I wasn’t entirely satiated, which has to be good because when I feel otherwise I tend to lose interest and move onto to another game.
Hell, you could have sent me through the same fifty levels again, as long as you called them levels 51-100 I wouldn’t have batted an eye (alright maybe a little given the fluctuating strength of the monsters.) Even when it feels like a grind, there’s still a good time to be had. Notably, the developer has mentioned in an interview with RPGamer the possibility of a sequel and that he still has “a lot of ideas for future releases.” So hopefully the more I’m asking for is on the way.
All that said, any faults the game may have it more than makes up for by being so damn accessible to get into. It’s polished, you can drop in and out at anytime and it really can be played and enjoyed by anyone; especially those with nostalgia for the simple, old-school NES/SNES periods.
Bottom line: Epic Dungeon is ridiculously simple and fun to play, and once you’re swept up it’s hard to put down. On several occasions I found myself thinking “Just one more dungeon, and then I’ll do something real and productive outside of this,” only to find the laundry never got started, my family generally was unattended to and I even damn near forgot meals on a few occasions. Relax and eat yourself stomach, I’ve got dexterity bonuses to finagle.
Try/Buy Epic Dungeon here.