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The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians (PC) review

 
Fall of the Dungeon Guardians logo
Fall of the Dungeon Guardians logo
Fall of the Dungeon Guardians logo

 
At a Glance...
 

Formats: PC (reviewed), Mac, Linux
 
Genre: ,
 
Year:
 
Publisher:
 
Developer:
 
Final Score
8.0
8/ 10


User Rating
2 total ratings

 

We liked?


  • Evokes the feel of classic dungeon crawls by encouraging actual exploration; the approach taken to the automap deserves much credit here
  • Combat requires some forethought, and takes a different approach to most single player RPGs
  • Clearing the dungeon even once will provide hours of content

Not so much?


  • Character creation is flexible, but feels secondary when the default party seems best to play
  • Combat does not follow the traditional party-based RPG approach - traditionalists may not be happy
  • Dropped items feel clumsy to collect; and essential items like keys can be missed on the floor in poor light


Final Fiendish Findings?

As a grid-based dungeon crawl, Fall of the Dungeon Guardians takes inspiration from genre classics of the late-80s, but adds some more modern touches in surprising ways.

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Posted November 7, 2015 by

 
Full Fiendish Findings...
 
 

There can be a fine line between being secure and being trapped. As a guard in a deep, monster laden dungeon you’ll find the line being crossed rather abruptly when several dangerous prisoners escape, leaving you to venture into the dangeous tunnels hoping to recapture them – and survive to see the outside again yourself. This is likely to be a long shift – welcome to the Fall of the Dungeon Guardians.

The dungeon you’re stepping into is a grid-based affair, filled with details to watch out for – pressure pads on floors, fireball-spitting traps, hidden buttons on walls… developer Mana Games describes the Atari ST classic Dungeon Master as one of the inspirations for the game, and it shows in both its look and feel while wandering.

However, you’re not exactly alone – while the story has you initially generate a single character, as soon as the game proper begins you are joined by three extra (and also customisable) allies, filling the traditional party roles of tanks, DPS and healers. There are numerous different roles each party member can fill – a fighter can be a dedicated tank, a melee focused man-at-arms, or even the more magic oriented paladin, for example – but the default party is slightly too good a choice thanks to its balance, all due to the nature of the combat system. However, even just taking the standard team allows for for some customisation, as levelling up is done adding points into skill trees – you could put points into your tank blocking damage or evading it; or remaining a tank but adding points to a different specialisation to increase damaging abilities.
Fall of the Dungeon Guardians screen
Of course you’re not alone in the dungeon – as well as the escapees, you’ll be fighting your way through a steady stream of enemies, from groups that feel like cannon fodder to the more solid threat of elite mini-bosses. There are some quirks to the fighting that quickly come to light – even with the party resembling a classic “wall of steel” front line to protect spell-casters at the rear, when in combat every combatant on both sides is in melee range.

Instead, defences are controlled by threat, with the tank subclass able to draw the attention of monsters away from the more dangerous – but aggression drawing – damage dealers. In many ways, combat actually feels closer to that of an MMO, making sure that skill cooldowns are maintained, healers protect tanks, enemies have their attention held and major attacks are interrupted. The synergy of a well balanced party is one of a team that relies of every member… although this also means in a tougher fight that losing one person is usually the first step in the whole team falling.

The combat itself is a mix of real-time and turn-based; skills can be queued (up to three at a time), each with their own cooldowns, as well as a universal cooldown after attacking, and you’ll often need to be thinking several seconds ahead – how much damage is the team likely to have taken before the healer can use a particular skill? Will those skeletons be attacking your mage before the tank can steal threat again? Will you be able to sidestep that incoming spell at the right moment?

Combat can be paused at any moment for you to issue or adjust orders, and this is regularly essential just to make the most efficient use of all of your cooldowns. That, and to tell your team to carry on fighting – if facing a group of monsters, when defeating one your team will happily stand looking at the remainder while being attacked, until you tell them to start fighting again; after all the hours played I still haven’t found the value in this, or any options to automatically carry on to the next target.
Fall of the Dungeon Guardians screen
Between fights you explore the levels, scavenging equipment and looking for the exits taking you up to the next levels. Yes, up – the traditional dungeon crawling layout is subverted here, with you starting in the depths and working your way upwards. Movement is very fluid – it’s a hard thing to define in a grid-based crawler, but here your team will glide in a way that feels good to roam around. You are very much encouraged to explore though, thanks to the imaginative way the game handles automapping.

You see, the game does have an automap, but it only works once you find a specific item for it on each level. This sounds like a rather broken system when written down, but in fact works magnificently. The old dungeon crawling titles that inspired Fall of the Dungeon Guardians were – largely – automap free; finding your way around was very much about exploring and learning the routes. And this is how you need to play here too, at least for a large part of the levels. When you find the automap item, you’ll often be halfway to the exit, and it’ll help direct you back if you have missed any areas… but it does this having made you rely on yourself before relying on the map.

It’s a simple approach adds weight towards paying attention to your surroundings (finding a second map provides a completed map for the level, if you’re really worried about when you might be missing; and if this approach doesn’t suit you you can simply enable mapping from the options… but it would be a spoiler). You will rarely get lost, but cannot take for granted that there won’t be something waiting around every corner… and having to keep your eyes open does add a greater sense of involvement in the game.

There are some elements that bring the experience back down though. As mentioned, the default party is very well balanced, to the degree that it’s often best to just take them as is. Having the options to personalise the team is great, until you realise there is little point to. And as also mentioned, the team work so much as a unit that losing one party member is often just an early warning that you’re beginning a prolonged loss; not always, but when facing a boss especially you’ll be needing everything the team can bring.
Fall of the Dungeon Guardians screen
Looting is also a rather mixed bag. Enemies regularly drop extra equipment, which when the cursor is hovered over show useful tooltips for how it would benefit each character compared to their current gear. However, you can regularly only pickup these items – and get this tooltip – when you are literally standing on the same grid square and looking at the ground. Somehow, needing to stop and look straight down every time there is something to collect feels clumsy. There is also the problem of dropped keys – in low light, keys can be hard to spot on the floor, and if dropped by enemies can result in backtracking to check the levels when you reach the corresponding keyhole.

The developers estimate that clearing the dungeon can take around 25 hours, and taking longer if you’re scouring for every secret. There are also several difficultly levels which can be adjusted mid-game if needed, although the dungeon layout is fixed; the challenge is for dealing with progressively harder and harder enemies. Replay can also be added if you want to try different party builds – even with my earlier comments about the default party feeling like a no-brainer choice thanks to its balance, the skills trees do still add options to tweak the team in different ways as they progress.

In conclusion

While throwing a lot of love towards classic dungeon crawlers of the 16bit era, the Fall of the Dungeon Guardians does bring a more modern vibe to the table – the threat-based combat may take some getting used to, but it is definitely something different for the genre. The mapping system forcing players to actually explore before letting themselves be guided by blanked out areas is a stroke of genius though – the level design rarely lets you get especially lost, but having to consider where you are, and not feel entirely safe about what may be around each corner adds a great deal to the atmosphere and your involvement with what is happening.

The Fall of the Dungeon Guardians is available via Steam, and directly from developer Mana Games’ own site.

The product under review was provided by the creator, manufacturer, publisher or their PR representative free of charge and without caveat. Please see our site review policy for more information.

Peter

 
Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.