Day 186: Epic Dungeon

Posted: 2011/05/14 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and are not well represented in the top 50 lists on the Xbox Dashboard. Today is day #186, and today’s game is “Epic Dungeon”.

Released as part of the Indie Games Winter Uprising, Epic Dungeon was released to a lot of fanfare and critical acclaim. That said, chatter about it has died down making it a candidate for a Mass Deduction review. Playing it this morning, I wish I hadn’t had to wait so long.

First, from the developer (Eyehook):

“The ultimate dungeon crawling experience!”

Short but sweet, the description above doesn’t tell you a lot about the game, but it does convey the overall feel of Epic Dungeon. The game has you hacking and slashing your way through dungeons as you explore their dank depths. One of the first things I noticed was that, unlike a lot of action RPGs, you don’t simply want to grab, use, and equip everything you come across. Similar to Gauntlet with its poisoned/spoilt food, some objects in Epic Dungeon’s 50 level dungeon can harm you. This is a nice risk/reward system that forces you to take chances and stay on your toes, rather than acting like a fantasy world vacuum cleaner sucking up every grabbable object in your path.

The game takes that risk/reward system further, with floor panels you can choose to either step on or avoid that, when activated, trigger branching (almost “Choose Your Own Adventure”-like) side stories that may end in either good or bad outcomes. When you’re deep in the dungeon with a strong character then there’s both little potential downside and little necessary upside to activating one, and those who enjoy the story elements will likely keep doing so just for the entertainment value rather than the benefit to their character. However, early on when your character is still relatively weak you could reap a significant advantage from activating one of these side-story elements, or could land your character in more trouble than it can handle. That dynamic made the story elements one of the most intriquing (and exciting) elements of the game for me. Your “Luck” stat affects the likelihood of the outcomes being good or bad, but that merely predisposes it to be good or bad and does not guarantee it.

Completing Epic Dungeon doesn’t seem to be the point of the game, as health potions are pretty commonplace; instead, the game seems to be built around the idea of speedrun replays, complete with a high score table to post your best totals to. This means that experienced hardcore adventurers might find a single play through the game is all they get out of it, and at 80 Microsoft Points that’s not an unreasonable proposition, but for those who approach it like a shoot-’em-up they might find a surprising amount of replay here. Epic Dungeon has regenerating enemies which can be useful for those who want to “farm” enemies for more rapid development of their character, but if you take the apparent speedrun intent of the game to heart you’ll want to be pressing forward as much as possible, stopping only when necessary to give your character a boost before a particularly challenging area.

The game implements a “fog of war” system that accomplishes two things: giving the game a stronger feel of exploration, and acts as a sort of auto-mapping system (because fogged out areas are unexplored, visible areas are previously explored). Epic Dungeon has some well placed humour (such as losing a hit point to a nasty paper cut from flipping through an old manuscript), and a deliberately 8-bit look that suits the game. An unusual take on a dungeon crawl, but a well done one, this is one that both fans and non-fans of the genre may appreciate and, as such, the free trial is recommended for most everyone.

Click here to download “Epic Dungeon”, and then please come back after playing to rate the game.

Know someone else who would want to read the review, or rate the game? “Share This” and invite them to.

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