What’s better than free? Well, I have to admit, there are few games that offer better value than the free alpha version of Desktop Dungeons. I probably racked up at least 40 hours on it, divided by zero dollars… That’s tough to beat. But if anyone can do it, it’s the team behind Desktop Dungeons, and attempt it they have with the new paid version of the game that is currently going through beta testing.
The paid version of the game begins in a very familiar way for veterans of the original, but the tutorial has been spiced up with more humor. Even better is the new “Explorers’ Guild” feature that uses pre-determined dungeons to emphasize the puzzle aspect of the game, while at the same time providing an excellent introduction to some advanced strategies. So while the game reminds you over and over that it is tough (with good reason), you never feel like there are secret tricks that nobody ever told you about.
The first thing veterans of the free version will notice when playing is that the graphics have received a significant upgrade. They still resemble our beloved 8-bit graphics of old, but they’re now more detailed and full of character. Not only does this make the game more pleasing to the eye, but it also helps make the “board” easier to read.
It isn’t until you’ve completed a random dungeon or two that you start to realize the main differentiator between the free version and its successor. The alpha version was focused on the dungeon itself. Your only choices before entering a dungeon were the race and class that you would play, and the often difficult challenge dungeons encouraged some people to repeatedly restart a dungeon until they got an especially favorable start. The full version improves on this formula significantly through the addition of preparations.
Preparations allow you much greater customization of your starting position. You can choose to start with some items or spells that coordinate well with your chosen build, give yourself some extra money to purchase items during your adventure, or locate important areas within the dungeon ahead of time. This arsenal of new abilities adds a number of interesting choices to your quick dungeon romp. But more importantly, it allows the game to throw even tough dungeons at you that require careful planning even before you enter them, while also forcing you to work with the dungeon you are given. Using preparations reduces your kingdom’s gold, gold that can only be earned back with successful dungeon runs. So if you outfit your character with a bunch of expensive gear, you better give it your all to come back laden with treasure.
Many other improvements have been made as well. The powers of the various deities have been tweaked to make them more balanced and interesting. Inventory management requires additional tough decisions as you collect powerups. A large number of quests have been added, rewarding you with kingdom gold and new preparations for performing difficult tasks within dungeons or beating them with specific character builds. The types of dungeons have increased dramatically. The original game featured 3 types of standard dungeon, and 5 challenge dungeons that presented a similar situation each play. The full version has already shown me twice that number, with more being added as development continues.
So, can this new version really best the awesomeness of the free one? I think it can. The preview price is set at just $10, and the gameplay will easily provide more hours than many games that cost $50 or more. In fact, while I am normally very stingy when it comes to purchasing games, I felt compelled to “vote with my wallet” and buy the $20 version of the game just to express my appreciation to the developers for the wonderful experience that they have crafted.