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Dungeons of Chaos (PC) artwork

Dungeons of Chaos (PC) review

"Young or Old, There Always Might Be Gold."

Dungeons of Chaos (PC) image
Released Sep 15, 2017 on Steam and the Apple App Store. Developed and published by Volker Elzner and PrometheusheirRPGs. Click here for the Steam page (same price as the App Store.)

In my quest to approach the seemingly insurmountable challenge of Ultima IV, my curiosity with the past led me to a modern game that tries its best to recreate that nostalgia for modern audiences. What this game may lack in visual and technical polish, gameplay complexity or the world-building and philosophy inspired by the Ultima series, Dungeons of Chaos (DoC) will try its damnedest to encourage newer audiences to uncover other relics of yore. This game also streamlines enough of the more troublesome aspects of old DOS-based games with the modern accessibility of touch-screen controls (or a “less” bothersome UI on PC).

Dungeons of Chaos (PC) image
If I tilted the screen, you could imagine the phone right here.

Unfortunately, the simplicity that is at the core of this game is what keeps me from diligently finishing the first act out of a three in the near future. (You can get upwards of seventy hours from one run, and I would believe you.) Without anything more than the sincerity of the developer's ambition, the brevity of the game's adventure of an evil threat feels too spread out for its own mechanics. Time and experience have colored my expectations for games like this such as modern CRPGs as well as ‘90s Infinity Engine titles and newer JRPGs that address their old problems. However, none of these personal concerns tarnish what is a heartfelt experience. It was when I played Dungeons of Chaos on mobile for fifteen to twenty minutes each day that I understood what type of person this game was made by and who it is made for.

This game is a slow-burner activity meant to be picked up every now and then when you want to cathartically grind a dungeon late at night. If the success of Dungeons of Chaos can be judged by that perspective, then it achieves its goal to cater to a new market while relatively staying faithful. In short, you’re getting a game--and no, it’s not a rogue-like because you die a lot, millennials--that was made from pure passion with enough kindling to stoke those fires from others of those older days.

”Do You Guys Not Have Patience?”

Dungeons of Chaos (PC) image
I saw what you did there.

All jokes aside, there is a reason to highlight the fact that this game caters to the mobile/tablet market without the cesspool by its association. For starters, the UI and the controls are dead giveaways given their size and their ease of access, although the game can feel too cluttered when reading the statistic screen. You could easily play with a keyboard, touch-screen or a mouse with no issues. In addition, there is also an impressive amount of options (text, “graphics” and gameplay settings) to warrant a PC release, and there are frequent updates like new classes and bug fixes from this one-man project to make Bethesda feel embarrassed.

Dungeons of Chaos (PC) image
A Kleptomaniac's wet dream or nightmare?

Perhaps the most shocking aspect is when you press the Store button it won’t take you to a microtransaction shop as it’s an in-game merchant just like any RPG. These qualities shouldn’t sound like praiseworthy features, yet the sheer prevalence elsewhere makes Dungeons of Chaos commendable. It’s a shame then that the gameplay encourages a more hands-off approach as well as focus on shorter-attention spans from its tedious core design.

Micromanagement is often a negative criticism towards CRPGs, RTSs or other tactics-based games that require players to be nitpicky about their actions, yet I always viewed the word as a potentially positive element. The deciding factor is how much of the core gameplay do I have to manage until it becomes so tiresome that I want to skip it. Personally, having multiple methods to interact with a game, big or small, makes every victory all the more worthy to savor if that is the entertainment. However, when there are too many variables across multiple lengthy encounters, the time-saving auto-resolve options become ever more appealing. This distinction is why I prefer to take a more hands-on approach with RPGs like Pillars of Eternity or squad-based tactics games like XCOM while I will auto-resolve most battles in Total War. Dungeons of Chaos, however, suffers an entirely different issue as the core gameplay, namely combat, encourages passive players to avoid the tedium.

Dungeons of Chaos (PC) image
Get used to this screen; you're going to see it a lot.

Every encounter begins the same with the player moving tile-after-tile towards the enemy or using long-range attacks as the enemy charges towards them. Terrain never influences the gameplay as it’s all cosmetic differences, and the same tactics will be used with only minor alterations based on the threats. This distance is used to encourage more methodical gameplay as your spellcasters can create summons or weaken the enemy before all the sprites chisel their pixels against one another. To offset the pre-emptive sections of the fight, you can toggle each unit to be automated as well as speed up the battles with a semi-pause-and-play system. In most cases, you will want control of spellcasters until the rest of your team closes the distance to use their own abilities manually. Mana-conservation or daily abilities are the only influences you should directly control, and the whole system makes you feel more like you’re watching the fight rather than being a participant.

Outside of combat, resting and exploring the overworld can feel mindless as you are waiting on health and mana meters to recharge for the next random encounter. Once you are inside a location, you can see the enemies before they engage you, so there is a little more thought put into the locales. Given how much of an emphasis there is to fight versus the rewards of exploration and the lack of branching questlines, the amount of padding this “waiting time” adds will quickly add up to break the most patient of players. (There also doesn’t appear to be any multiclass options, so your teammates will stay relatively the same besides whatever stat improvements you give them.) For these reasons, the game itself is best played in small bursts in-between the day as the gameplay loop discourages long sessions in favor of more bite-sized chunks to keep players engaged in the long term.

Dungeons of Chaos (PC) image
"Gee Brian, what are we going to do tonight?" "The same thing we do every night, Minion; we try to take over the world for the player's interest."

What Does the Value of Being Earnest Mean to You?

Again, none of these systems are flawed enough to be considered bad as they are more a matter of preferences towards what types of RPGs that interest me. Harkening back to classics comes with all their warts and all, and with DoC you definitely see more of them for whatever charm they create. However, in Dungeon of Chaos' attempt to streamline the past, the game also removes all the more notable elements that would make the game less repetitive. Things like the terrain influences or quirky gameplay requirements such as in Ultima IV where you type the enemy’s name backwards to cast a spell would have given the gameplay more character. It’s understandable why the gameplay is more streamlined as it wants to appeal to the more casual audiences with short-term tasks that lead towards long-term goals.

Whether or not that is enough to sate your own tastes, Dungeons of Chaos is an earnest game. It understands the old and the new childlike simplicity of adventuring with the scale of the world matching the raw simply-addictive RPG elements that comes from watching your journey grow with enough time.


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (February 25, 2019)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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