Desktop Dungeons Rewind Review - Tough and Flawed Crawling
For those not in the know, Desktop Dungeons Rewind (DD: R) is a remake/sequel from a game released in 2010, a game you can download for free (at this point in time) on Steam. Like its prequel, DD: R is a rouge-like tactical dungeon crawler (boy that’s a mouthful). Trust me, when you play the game for a bit, that description makes a lot of sense. Having never played the original, I went into this one blind with zero knowledge of what improvements and/or changes were altered between titles, so without further ado, let’s get to it.
At its very basic level, DD: R will send you on various dungeon crawl missions to kill the big bad boss at the end of the level. You’ll know which one they are because they have a big number ten above their heads. The levels can also have specific mission requirements which, if met, will reward you with more gold if you’re successful in your endeavour. You’ll be guiding your character on tiles and gradually reveal the dungeon as you move around. Enemies are highlighted by a number that reveals their level, the higher the level, the more strength that enemy has. Combat is a quick turn-based affair, and various items, spells and buffs will aid you in your battles.
Conceptually, this sounds like a very simple premise. In reality, it is actually quite strategic and challenging. Even though you can see how much damage an enemy will inflict on you after an engagement, you’ll need to weigh up the benefits of taking an enemy out, whether or not to use your spells, or simply leave them for later when you’re a level or two higher. Additionally, different enemies will have special abilities like mana-burn, retaliation, first strike, and ailments like poison. Knowing which to attack first and which to leave for later is paramount in succeeding in your dungeon run.
This right here is where this title is brutally unforgiving! Even with the ability to rewind your run upon death, which you can do once per run, there will be many times you’ll be well into a session, only to realise that you won’t be able to take out the final boss and thus, end your run prematurely. In one particular run, one accidental miss-click simply ended my run then and there. Too bad, so sad. This became readily apparent when doing the challenge quests that are separate from your usual crawling. These are specifically designed in order to help you understand just how strategic and forward planning you need to be, where every move needs to be calculated and thoughtful. Thankfully, the main game isn’t as rigid as these are, as DD: R is a randomly generated map, there is some flexibility in how you tackle a level and (unlike the challenges) not being locked into only one way of successfully completing it.
Sadly, here is where we run into one of the major problems with this game. Not so much that it’s quite difficult, that’s something many gamers can get behind, it’s that it does an extremely poor job of explaining how its systems work. Even in the tutorial challenges, there are signs that should really be going into basic detail on how to successfully beat the level, but instead, often revert to vague descriptions that don’t really correlate to the game itself. It’s the not knowing part that makes DD: R more difficult than it actually is. Once I figured out what was actually going on with the dynamic stats and systems, I was finding a lot more success in my runs, whilst still offering a challenge. All of this could have been avoided with a straightforward explanation of what this game was actually doing.
On top of this, there were quite a few annoying bugs that were found. Pop-up screens that wouldn’t disappear, sounds caught in a continuous loop and clicks that never registered. There were times of frustration when I thought I was selecting a spell to use then clicking on the enemy only to find out the initial select didn’t work and I end up dead as a result. Moving around the map can also be a tad annoying at times as the camera doesn’t keep centred on your player and you end up with this nagging feeling that you want to manually move the camera around to have a better POV. Thankfully though, I found a lot fewer of these bugs after its official release, which would (at the very least) indicate that the developers were acknowledging these issues and patching them up.
Now, where do we stand with this? On one hand, the game initially felt quite clunky, like a bad port and on top of doing its best to not teach me how to play the game, was brutally unforgiving. However, on the other, the challenges really highlighted just how strategic and deep this game can get and how it rewards the player for being calculated and methodical in their thinking. A concept I can really get behind. The vibe that seemed to resonate with me as I played it more though was that it had a lot more potential than what it was actually showing me, which marred the fun that I felt I could have been experiencing instead. Thankfully, as I mentioned before, the first game is free on Steam and is very similar in concept to this sequel, so at the very least you can see if this style of gaming is your jam or not before purchasing this one.
Desktop Dungeons Rewind was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.