Desktop Dungeons has sucked Brenna in, chewed her up and refused to spit her out. We’re not sure we’ll ever see her again.
An indie rogue-like with randomly generated dungeons, a persistent overworld, multiple puzzles and challenge modes, and a plethora of content.
Or: you can try the alpha version for free.
You ever start playing a game just to see what it is like, and a couple of weeks later you look around at the devastation it has wrought in your life and wonder how things got out of hand? That was me and Desktop Dungeons, back when it was in alpha.
Desktop Dungeons is a rogue-like with a really cool differentiator: it’s designed to be played in about ten minutes. This deliberate coffee break approach has a couple of knock-on effects. The first is that you lose all the frustration that accompanies more heavyweight rogue-likes, where perma-death can ruin a run you’ve been nursing for days. The second is that it allows you to rapidly experiment with different strategies, highlighting the beauty of rogue-like design much more rapidly than is usual.
Desktop Dungeons starts you off with one race and a small collection of classes, and slowly introduces new options, new enemies and new equipment. Whenever you master one tactic, at least one, if not more, paths will open. You take your new knowledge forward, to have it utterly smashed by whatever obstacles have arisen to confound you until you learn a new skill.
It’s not often that marketing materials give a genuinely accurate account of a game, given the tendency to throw around words like “visceral” and “innovative” where they are less than welcome, but this description from the game’s Steam page is spot on:
“It straddles the casual and hardcore boundary in that, while you might die frequently because the game is tricky and unforgiving, it’s so approachable and quick to get into that you keep wanting just one more round.”
When I first downloaded Desktop Dungeons sometime in 2011, it was a very stripped-back affair indeed, with a tiny client and few bells and whistles. Nevertheless, it ate my life for months on end, and ate the lives of people I showed it to. In the intervening years, developer QCF Design has been working the prototype up into a full-fledged game, and having bought into the beta I greatly fear a repeat of these circumstances.
See, QCF isn’t just polishing up the graphics and adding even more content – oh, no. It’s only gone and added an over world kind of thing, with missions and goals to strive for, achievements to unlock, a little town to build and a puzzle mode to teach you extra skills.
QCF boasts, facetiously, that Desktop Dungeons provides “more like six billion” hours of gameplay. It’s fun to speculate just how many hours players have racked up in total. According to the Dungeons section of the Stats page, at least 400,000 games have been played so far – and given some of the numbers elsewhere, especially the “god worshipped” part, I imagine this number’s actually quite a lot higher. (The death count is what gets me; I’m pretty sure my own efforts have contributed to that in a not insignificant fashion.)
In any case, that’s not bad for a relatively unknown indie game, and Desktop Dungeons certainly offers value for money -heck, I’d even have been willing to pay for the alpha, and the developer just gave that away for free. The team’s commitment to building a better product without charging a great deal is laudable, and just one of many charming sides to QCF Design. (For another, check out this blog on the game’s female characters, in which the developers acknowledge their own inherent privilege and work very, very hard to move past it.)
Normally when I write one of these pieces I do it because I feel I have something original to say, or I’m highlighting a game few major sites have covered. This is not the case today. Loads of outlets have talked about how great Desktop Dungeons is, and how much they like it. And that’s all I have to add to the conversation. Desktop Dungeons is great, and I like it a lot. The end.