Fans of the classic Gauntlet will want to pay attention to Upfall Studios’ newest turn-based RPG Quest of Dungeons, especially those in to the roguelike genre. With a handful of playable classes, tons of spells and abilities to learn, a plethora of randomized loot to discover, and danger around every turn, this is one retro dungeon crawler that definitely deserves a place on your hard drive.
After its initial launch on PC and mobile devices, Quest of Dungeons is now available for you to rabidly obsess over on your Xbox One for $8.99. It may feel like a pretty basic introductory experience for roguelike veterans, but it has enough heart, humor, and loot to make it recommendable to any fan of dungeon crawlers. As the story goes, an evil force has stolen the world’s light and placed it inside of a lantern. The RPG takes a comedic turn when the four chosen heroes decide to send only one of their party members in to the mansion, fully expecting you to never return again. After choosing one of four playable classes (five, once you’ve beaten the game), you’ll battle your way through 7 procedurally generated floors with increasingly difficult monsters and bosses in order to obtain said mystical lantern. There’s also loot. Lots and lots of loot.
“It’s not often I feel that accomplished over beating a video game anymore, but my heart was pounding like I had just finished Dark Souls.”
Each of the playable classes have their own spells and abilities, including the unlockable Cadence from Crypt of the NecroDancer (who has her signature “hop” instead of walking normally!). The Assassin decimates foes from a distance with bows and a combination of slightly overpowered abilities, while the Warrior piles on armor and swings melee weapons at skeletons and werewolves until only one of them is left standing. There’s also your typical spell-flinging Wizard if you’re in to bathing an entire room in flames (until you run out of mana), and if you’re a bit indecisive, the Shaman mixes melee and spellcasting with fairly decent results.
I spent most of my time with the Assassin, and as of this review it’s the only class I’ve managed to complete the game with. I often find myself playing ranged damage dealers in RPGs, but I just never had much luck with the Warrior or Shaman. The entire layout is randomized, along with loot drops, so if luck wasn’t on my side I quickly found myself overwhelmed on the melee-focused Warrior. The Assassin, however, was my Duke of New York. My sweet spot. The valedictorian of Monster Slaying University who majored in Archery and minored in World Domination. It’s also, as I said above, slightly overpowered.
The game itself is played on a grid. Every action taken by the player, be it a basic attack, a special ability, or drinking a potion, allows all enemies in sight to take an action as well. For example, you move forward one tile in order to attack a wizard. The wizard then uses its own turn to cast a spell that takes you down to 10% HP. You could spend the next turn sipping on a tasty healing potion, but you know that crafty wizard has another spell up his sleeve. And if the last turn taught you anything, it’s that wizard spells really, really hurt. Do you risk attacking the wizard in hopes of vanquishing it in one swing of your mighty blade, or take the potion in hopes of surviving to fight another turn? I really enjoyed the turn-based nature of the combat system, even though I have more than 50 deaths under my belt due to making the wrong decision. I definitely should have taken that health potion.
I can’t deny the game’s basic foundation, but knowing one wrong choice could end a great run added a much needed layer of excitement and stress every time I picked up the controller. I’ve had runs that lasted a mere 20 seconds after being greeted by a boss behind the very first door, and I’ve also had perfect runs end in a most hilarious fashion. Upon reaching a 6th floor boss, I managed to take it down to a sliver of health with the Assassin’s Bullseye ability. The boss then proceeded to yell “YOLO!” (seriously, it yelled “YOLO!”), dodged every single one of my arrows until it got within arms length, and then proceeded to kill me in one hit. A 44 minute epic run turned to pickled dog shit in a matter of seconds. Talk about bittersweet endings. When I finally managed to complete the game, I felt a huge wave of accomplishment crash over me. I had gotten so close on numerous occasions and blew it by being cocky or just plain stupid. Sometimes it was the unpredictable RNG (short for Random Number Generator), a roguelike being a roguelike, but more often than not I was my own worst enemy. It’s not often I feel that accomplished over beating a video game anymore, but my heart was pounding like I had just finished Dark Souls. And I haven’t even touched Hell Mode yet. Yeesh.
“A friend of mine called it a “generic Crypt of the NecroDancer without the awesome music gimmick“, but I’m honestly surprised I stopped playing long enough to write this review.”
For being a fairly generic roguelike, Quest of Dungeons has a few tricks up its sleeve to keep the momentum going. The game offers 2 mansions to delve in to, and even opens up a custom dungeon mode if you manage to complete them. There’s even quests thrown about the map that offer XP for finding a special item or tackling a difficult monster. Each floor has its own vendor that quotes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s Master Librarian (among other classics), and I definitely enjoyed its comedic approach to storytelling that reminded me of all the awesome Orange Pixel games on PC. Another feature I greatly appreciate is the ability to save my game in the middle of a run so I can pick it back up at a later time. Basically, if I have 10 free minutes I’m going to play Quest of Dungeons. Plus using Cadence is probably the closest we’ll get to playing Crypt of the NecroDancer on Xbox One, so there’s that.
Quest of Dungeons may not be the prettiest girl at the dance, but it’s far from off putting. If you’re sick of seeing yet another pixely indie game though, the 8- and 16-bit graphics found in Upfall Studios’ roguelike aren’t going to change your mind. Sure there’s a decent variety of monsters to slay, they’re just typical fantasy creatures like vampires, thieves, or skeletons that we’ve all seen a hundred times before. I’m also pretty bummed that new gear doesn’t actually show up on my character, and hopefully this is something the developers consider adding in a future update. This is a retro dungeon crawler though, and I based my expectations accordingly. I’m not exactly disappointed by the small amount of character animations or lack of new and inspired monster designs, but if that sort of thing matters to you then hey, so be it. What you see is what you get.
Despite its lack of flash, I still find myself coming back to the game every single day. A friend of mine called it a “generic Crypt of the NecroDancer without the awesome music gimmick“, but I’m honestly surprised I stopped playing long enough to write this review. I can’t deny its stranglehold on my free time, and my addiction to leaderboards borderlines on the obsessive (just ask the folks at From the Hip Men Gaming). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go use some harpies for target practice.
Recommended for fans of: Crypt of the NecroDancer, Azure Dreams, Space Grunts, and (from what I’ve gathered, although I’ve never played them myself) Sproggiwood or Tales of Maj’Eyal.
*This review is based entirely on the Xbox One version of Quest of Dungeons, which is also available on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android devices.