When you browse the Steam catalogue, especially the “indie section”, you’ll get quickly overwhelmed by the number of roguelikes available. As another game in that genre, is Dungeon Souls from the Philippines really worth your time?
Let’s look at the basic facts before we’ll get to the game itself: Released in July 2015, in its early access state and developed by Mike Studios in cooperation with Lamina Studios, this game was promoted as
“an action-adventure roguelike dungeon crawler which draws heavy inspiration from Nuclear Throne, Risk of Rain, and Overture.”Steam page
As usual for that genre, permadeath is included and keeps you playing again and again. Further, you can craft found recipes in the main menu after you entered the “Arcane Forge” section. Having all those typical genre features in mind, your main quest is to enter and survive plenty of dungeons with one of ten heroes. In the beginning, you can choose between three of them – a barbarian, an archer, and a thief. The others can be played after you’ve found special items to unlock them, for example Merlin’s Hat for the wizard. Right after reviving a character, the game starts in the first dungeon – the Dark Dungeons – and the deep dive begins… As a disclaimer at the beginning: I know none of the inspirational fathers and mothers of the game. Instead, I can compare it with actual representatives of that genre like Enter the Gungeon or Dead Cells. Both titles are huge in scale, rich in simultaneous on-screen effects and use permadeath. Dead Cells also has a similar crafting mechanism. So, there are enough similarities between Dungeon Souls these actually popular titles.
Obviously, Dungeon Souls has been inspired by other games than the ones mentioned above. At least the title delivers the impression that Dark Souls left its mark on the developers. Like in The Binding of Isaac, Dungeon Souls is played from a top-down perspective on the procedurally generated dungeon. You move through the dungeon and activate a certain number of marks on the ground by touching them. In that moment, several enemies appear around you and you must choose: Fight or run. After activating all marks, the gate to the next level will open and you have to leave in a hurry. Otherwise, the Redeemer – a boss-like and invincible guardian – will come and strike you down in seconds. This scheme goes on for two levels, then the third level presents the boss fight of the dungeon. After defeating the Skull King or one of the later bosses, you can make it to the sewers, frost caverns or the cathedral. In short: Dungeon, boss, repeat. This sounds repetitive at first but is common to most roguelikes. The endless repetition of generated dungeons was made by choice and is something wanted by fans of the genre. With its generally fast gameplay and short levels, Dungeon Souls is a nice title to play as a filler or if you like grindy games.
All roguelikes have in common that they should be free of bugs and too long downtimes. For Dungeon Souls, this isn’t always the case.
Even if there is the chance to quickly restart a dungeon run after death, it is most fun if there is enough speed in the movement and gameplay progress afterwards. For example, I had the best times when I played the fast-moving thief in easy mode, because it allowed me to see the most and quickly explore the dungeons. In contrary, I hated to move and fight with the brawler – a huge knight with a spiked mace, which both move at slow pace. Such a slow character does not support the aspects of a short downtime between runs and the feeling of progress. In addition, the game’s crafting system – the Arcane Forge – appeared to be pretty useless after 10 hours of playing the game: I had found only two recipes so far and didn’t have enough crafting material to build even one single new weapon for my beloved Thief. Also, it didn’t seem necessary to do any that, because you’ll find enough upgrades in the game itself and will level up crawling the dungeon anyway. A new weapon will help you, but the effect can be diminished by power-ups in minutes.
Finally, it should be noted that the game is out of the Early Access phase and should be quite polished since its release 4 years ago. As you might guess from my early words: it isn’t. Having a look at the negative reviews on Steam reveals that a lot of players seem to encounter problems with random crashes during the game. I haven’t had these problems, but I ran into other flaws. When I wanted to play the tutorial as a – guess what – thief, I had to equip my second ability and chose “Dagger Flurry” – this was a huge mistake! To get to the next step of the tutorial, I needed to activate the ability, which was impossible without an enemy. So, I got stuck in the tutorial and had to restart the whole game. Further, I’ve experienced many misplacements of the shop in the dungeons. The shop’s location is randomly generated in the dungeon, so sometimes, it is also placed on nail traps or in hordes of enemies. That way, you need to step on the nails or kill the hordes before being able to reach the item you want. The latter case leads to an confusing game experience, especially when the information of the shop items overlaps your fighting – which is in short, frustrating.
In summary, Dungeon Souls has pretty much the same number of pros and cons. The game could be a hit or miss, depending on your expectations and your love for the genre, permadeath, and the need of a background story, which is totally missing. If you’re into roguelikes or want to have a nice filler game and want it for small money, you should give it a try. If not and there is only a glance of interest, have a look for the more popular, juicy and casual representatives like Dead Cells. Dungeon Souls will be too frustrating and overwhelming with effects for you, which makes the game hardly enjoyable for beginners.