In the interests of being fair, lets start this review by saying one thing: regardless of my opinion of the actual game, the fact that this game was made by just two people is damn impressive. That’s the great thing about indie games, it gives people a chance to get their ideas out there, and sometimes, just sometimes, you find an absolute pearl.
Sadly, The Living Dungeon isn’t one of those. The game play is very very slow, as you might expect from a dungeon’s and dragons-esque game. But it also feels quite stilted and stale. A big part of the game is based around remembering the effects of the different dice rolls, and knowing exactly how to turn it to your advantage. This is a pretty standard idea, for people used to this sort of game, and, to be fair, there are some pretty interesting moves. Flip is a personal favourite, although the number of times it’s reduced me to screaming in sheer frustration as I yet again cocked up and sent one of my people falling to their deaths is beyond counting.
That’s kind of the basis for this game. No matter how good you might be, it’s very easy to get all the way to the end of the level and then make a tiny mistake, which sends you to your immediate demise and restarts the level.
Having said that, I do quite like the art style. It’s nothing revolutionary, but, when you consider that the game was made by so few people, it shows that they really put their heart and soul into it, and for the art at least, this really paid off, with some really well designed models mixed in among the generic ones. Some of the characters seem to have been heavily influenced by Elder Scrolls and other similar games, which is no bad thing. There are a few nice touches, and the fact that not every character has the same moves available to them is one of them. Again, it’s nothing special, pretty much revolving around the idea that “this guy is a combat specialist. This other guy can jump really good, and this guy can move the tiles around”, but it’s good to see that they really tried to differentiate the characters.
However, the actual moves allowed for each character stay pretty much the same through out. Every character has a melee attack, all of which are basically a carbon copy of each other, irrespective of what weapon they use. Most characters tend to have a ranged attack. The actual differences between the individual characters are made pretty much meaningless because of the fact that, aside from the model, every character plays identically, bar a couple of very lightweight, surface level changes.
Add to that some pretty dull scripting and voice acting, and you’ve got a recipe for a bog standard, middle of the road fantasy adventure, livened up only by nice, if uninspired graphics and the inclusion of a dice roll system.
Having said that, in the case of this game, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re a person who enjoys the D&D style of game, you’ll probably enjoy this. It plays very much like an animated board game, and the story even has a vague echo of Lovecraft themed Arkham board games. And with that being kept in mind, it’s fairly enjoyable, although the shine will probably wear off after a little while.
Having played the multiplayer, I have to admit that despite this not being my cup of tea, this is definitely where the game is at it’s best. It becomes much more fun with a couple of friends playing, and without the voice acting and other campaign specific bug bears, and it seems like a much more polished game. I liked the option to switch the art style between tavern, where it literally is a tabletop board game, and dungeon, which looks and plays like the campaign. This was a nice touch, and does help the game feel more rounded. There are, at the moment, only three different game modes, Assassination, Escape and Headhunter, which are all pretty self explanatory but have just enough variation to keep it fresh.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a game that’s slick, by indie game standards, and has some decent action in it, as well as with a more interesting reason for linking the characters than “I fell down a hole and bumped into this guy”, then this probably isn’t for you.
This game is quite a tough one to decide on. The fantasy lover in me likes the basic concept of an underground city that holds some kind of unknown god or supreme being. It’s a cool idea, although I do feel that the coolness only lasted as long as it took to get through the first couple of cutscene sections. But at the same time, I just didn’t feel that there was enough there to justify being considered anything more than average. And that’s this game at it’s best, it seems. A slightly less than average game, where you can potentially have an average amount of fun, and feel an average amount of anger at the masochism involved in your 6th death on the same level. But without any form of connection to, or caring about, the characters, this game just becomes a “could have been”.
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