Epic Dungeon is an epic win

Review of Epic Dungeon on XBLIG: Buy
This retro action RPG stays true to the genre, but throws in a few twists to keep things interesting.

You whippersnappers may not remember it, but there was once a game called Castle of the Winds for Windows 3.1.  It featured randomly-generated dungeons, swarms of enemies that dropped enchanted or cursed (and often unidentified) loot, and a variety of potions, scrolls, and spells as buffs.  I spent a large portion of my youth playing that game, so I’m not surprised that my first session of Epic Dungeon kept me up until 5 in the morning.  Then I played it several hours the next day, trying desperately to reach level 50, but never getting past 45 or so.

Epic Dungeon uses the same formula as Castle of the Winds (and, to be fair, many other classic RPGs—CotW just happens to be my reference point), but with a slightly more arcade feel.  The randomly generated levels, monsters, and loot are all there and done well.  Management of stats, skills, and inventory are full-featured and easy to use.

I loved the retro graphics style.  The blocky look is reminiscent of 8-bit games (if not an even older generation), yet still uses plenty of animations and a wide range of colors to capture visual interest.  Levels switch between five different tilesets, adding some variety.  Cave tilesets feature a choose-your-own-adventure-style encounter and more organic layouts, while dungeon tilesets have doors, square rooms, and a shop.  The difference in levels forced me to consider my use of scrolls and potions carefully, as the open nature of caves are often more difficult than dungeons.

Epic Dungeon makes its biggest departure from the standard formula in the class and skill systems.  Each class has a own key ability—the Berserker can perform a 360 degree Frenzy attack, the Tinkerer can launch orbs to attack enemies, the Gambler can poison enemies around him, and the Shaman can send out a freezing burst.  These abilities aren’t spells in the traditional sense with diminishing Magic or Skill points, nor are they class-specific.  They have short cooldowns timers and chain together, so they’re meant to be used as often as possible, rather than hoarded as a last resort.  In addition, any skill is available to any class; classes just level up twice as fast in their associated skill.  Since they’re all on different cooldown timers and perform different functions in combat, I found it was a good idea to put at least one point in each skill.

One other major departure from the formula cinched the “just one more game” factor for me: permadeath.  When a character dies in the dungeon, there’s no reloading an old save—he’s gone for good.  Combined with the random elements of the game, I found this addictive.  There was no way to go back and rethink that stupid move that got me killed, but there was always a chance that I would be smarter next game—or at least the loot gods would smile upon me.  It also made it easy for me to let go of that dead character and try a different mix of stats and skills on my next build.

With all of that said, it should go without saying that Epic Dungeon gets a Buy from me.  This is a top-notch action RPG for only 80 points.  As the first game from the Indie Games Winter Uprising I’ve reviewed, it makes me very interested to see what’s in store as the other titles are released.

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