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Epic Dungeon (Xbox 360) artwork

Epic Dungeon (Xbox 360) review


"Epic Dungeon does itself credit by showcasing the best elements from years of Rogue-liking, but then manages to stand out of the crowd by daring to be different. Successful runs can last a matter of hours, premature ones a matter of seconds, but there’s always reason to come back and try again."



When it comes to rogue-likes, I’ve got the market covered. I’ve spent hours being amazed by what those crazy community programmers continue to do with NetHack, have championed adorable homebrew versions like Recettear and could rattle off a further dozen that wouldn’t be hyperlinked in to existing reviews that I’ve slogged through. Hell, I even played Rogue back on a Spectrum ZX +2 with its adorable built-in cassette player and keyboard not made out of rubber. They don’t get more Rogue-like than Rogue.

Now to patronise you: Rogue-likes are oft-simplistic games built around the exploration of randomly generated dungeons and, traditionally, are total bastards to complete. Some have no goal other than to delve forward until you die a horrible death and some are wrapped up in plots or characters or stocking up a shop. Epic Dungeon is none of the above. There’s a clear goal (survive to Level 50) and a clear way of doing this (kill a lot).

After picking one of four character classes, you’re dropped at the top floor of a fifty level randomly generating dungeon and told your only goal it to make it out alive. You’re then absolutely flooded with an army of blood-thirsty rodents. Because [Rats] x 50 = Epic Dungeon.

Most of the Rogue-ish conventions apply; the game centres around exploring and staying alive long enough to pick through the darkened dungeons, gaining experience points through mindless slaughter, and discovering shiny new equipments through looting, rummaging or purchasing through goblin-owned kiosks. Somewhere out there, through the army of man-eating rodents, are shops that you can sell off unwanted junk and invest in health potions, lamp oil and new ways to maim and destroy. The one fundamental rule still applies: death is permanent. Should you succumb to the inhabitants of any of the monster-packed floors, then game over. No continues, no second chances, you’re dead. Start a second play through, and you may even come across the gravestone of your previous champion’s rotting corpse. Maybe it’ll sober you, or maybe you’ll just ransack it for one of the more powerful items you’d previously hoarded.

While Epic Dungeon does stick to the basics, it’s still not afraid to strike out and forge its own identity. Foe floods are fresh enough; most similar titles aren’t shy about battles, but, here, screens are filled with anything from small rodents to vampires or dragons very keen on killing you dead. Wander down a level, and small armies will converge on you, giving you little time to explore or even get your back to the wall. Special skills you can power up through levels will help; you can have a robotic ally with a mechanical orb that zaps orcs and huge giants alike with forks of electricity, or slow them down with a spell that freezes them in huge slabs of ice. There’s little time to plan your assault; in another step away from the expectations of the genre, the game plays out in real time, meaning that should you pause to plot, the world doesn’t stop with you.

As such, things are played out to a much more frantic pace than expected. Events can turn from satisfactory to sour in the blink of an eye. One second you might be merrily slaughtering the undead, 8-bit giblets and ribcages flying from pummelled foes while bloody puddles form underfoot, when the numbers might suddenly double. Monsters spawn into existence on the spot, popping onto the map randomly and making a beeline straight for you. Perhaps some of these will be highlighted in a yellow ring of light signifying themselves as a beefed up versions of their weaker brethren. Offensive spells and healing potions can only save you for so long, and the promise of permanent death means that late levels are played out on a knife-edge, creeping forward and discovering more of the map before darting back to a safe heaven to heal up and replenish goods.

If you’re careful and you’re clever… you still might die at any moment. Flashing yellow question marks represent humorous instances that might reward or doom you. Offering a poorly supplied witch with ingredients for her hex might gain you a magical item or a little bit of extra spending money, but flicking through the dreaded book of the dead might lead to a paper-cut and enough reanimated corpses to drown in. Through its riot-inspired battle themes and unforgiving views on mortality, Epic Dungeon still manages to retain a sense of humour.

There’s a huge element of risk to these instances, as there is with every step you take onto a new floor. Some have traps that thrust spike pits up from the floor or walls that try to stab you with spearheads. Others have geysers that spit out molten lava or poisonous fumes. Most just have wall-to-wall hostility. That’s threat enough when your fragility is exaggerated by your inability to shrug off death as a nuisance rather than a game ender. Secret rooms could uncover a huge treasure trove -- or perhaps a legion of monsters ready to overwhelm you. That last unexplored room might contain an enchanted scroll capable of buffing your equipment permanently. Or it could contain certain death. Situations you might willingly rush into on the first handful of floors suddenly hold so much more gravity when you know you’re only ten levels away from endgame and one bad call might end it all.

Epic Dungeon does itself credit by showcasing the best elements from years of Rogue-liking, but then manages to stand out of the crowd by daring to be different. Successful runs can last a matter of hours, premature ones a matter of seconds, but there’s always reason to come back and try again.

Rating: 8/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 31, 2011)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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wolfqueen001 posted April 01, 2011:

Nice review. This game seemed interesting from your various posts about it, so it's nice to see just how different it is. Just out of curiosity, what was the furthest you managed to make it in?
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Masters posted April 04, 2011:

Where is this fool? Ha, Gar, I think you missed this topic!
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EmP posted April 05, 2011:

I miss nothing.

Aside, it seems, for typos.
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Masters posted April 05, 2011:

Ha, the old typo issue, eh Gary? Well good review--the quality of your writing got me through a review for a game belonging to a niche genre I couldn't care less about. Kudos.
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WrenchHurts posted April 05, 2011:

No one will play this game, review relevant games like Dead Space 2 or WoW:Cataclysm.
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wolfqueen001 posted April 05, 2011:

Oh, stop bitching and proofread better then.
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EmP posted April 05, 2011:

I like sulking.

Thanks, anyway. It's a cool under-represented game that I've run through a few times now.
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overdrive posted April 05, 2011:

No one will play this game, review relevant games like Dead Space 2 or WoW:Cataclysm.

I am playing this game. Therefore the premise of your argument is incorrect.
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WrenchHurts posted April 05, 2011:

That makes exactly 2.Congrats. Pathetic.
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wolfqueen001 posted April 05, 2011:

OD:

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