Impressions: Delver Alpha

By John Walker on September 10th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

Joining Steam’s Early Access program is Delver, a first-person roguelike that wants you to go deeper. Into its dungeon. But at this point, is that enough? I’ve had a play.

We certainly aren’t short of roguelikes. Or roguelike-likes, to hush the pedantic. And we aren’t short of them in first-person, either, with Receiver, Paranautical Activity, Routine, Eldritch, Tower Of Guns, all either with us or on the way. So what does alpha-released FPS roguelike Delver have to offer us, to make it stand out from the crowd?

Is a question I’m still asking myself. Delver stands, in its current form, as a testament to how the correct structure of this genre can be enough to make you want to keep playing, even when it’s hard to pick out an element that makes it uniquely interesting.

What Delver does have is super-cute crunchy pixels, both for its Minecraft-evoking dungeons, and its very well realised enemies. Then after that it’s pretty much the usual – procedurally generated dungeons, reaching ever deeper into the impossible abyss, with a variety of weapons, potions and armour to gather as you battle ever downward.

The result of this for me becomes a game where I start wishing for what’s missing. And of course since this is an alpha release, much of that could be added over the coming months – but let’s remember that we’re still being asked to pay (£6) for the incomplete game, so we’ve a right to have wants in return for our cash. And what Delver so desperately needs is purpose.

Right now the only driving factor is not being dead. But beyond that, there’s a lack of an incentive to care too much about that. Certainly getting six or seven levels deep reaches a point where it’s going to suck when that rapid uneventful death strikes all your progress. But what you’ve gathered doesn’t feel so special, and isn’t such an aching thing to lose. I may have had some nice golden armour, and maybe a decent magic sword, but none of it expressed itself particularly well through the game, and its absence from my inventory doesn’t leave a rattling, empty sound. Levelling currently only adds extra health to your bar, so even resetting to level 1 doesn’t feel like much of a blow. And a complete lack of collectibles means a new game doesn’t feel that distinguished from the end of the last. And that’s a problem for Delver.

I think shops would make a big difference. Right now replacing a previous sword or pair of metal trousers just means throwing the old one on the ground. It’s just space in your inventory otherwise. Being able to exchange them for gold, with aspirational replacements at yet-to-be-reached prices, would give you a lot more incentive. As it is, everything feels disposable, so no attachment is formed.

Another issue is the game’s potions. You’ll find bottles in red, green, blue, black and yellow, and there’s no knowing what will do what. Drink one and it could heal or harm you, which makes for some of the game’s best moments in mad panics on low health, as you realise you’ve no choice but to gamble and drink something. But unfortunately, there’s no persistence within a game as to what does what. Red could heal you once, then poison you the next time. Were the colours to be randomly assigned effects at each game launch, then the process of learning which was which would offer this jeopardy, but again, there’d be a sense of attachment to your current run, a sense that having to start over is detrimental.

That’s what Delver needs to work on, quickly. It’s got a lovely chunky design, nippy controls, and a bunch of potential. It’s a canvas on which to start painting a much more elaborate, involving game. But since it’s already charging money for itself, that stuff is going to need to appear quickly before it gets lost in a very deep pile in a very busy genre.

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21 Comments »

  1. spectone says:

    I’m glad someone got to the bottom of this game. Now if only they could get back up.

    edit I should mention that I played the Alpha of this game when it was still WIP on tigsource.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    “Delver” sounds like a euphemism.

  3. Torn says:

    This looks like it was built on top of Notch’s Ludum Dare game Prelude Of The Chambered. Looks like they’ve upgraded the lighting and overhauled a bunch of things.

    • spectone says:

      It is not built on the code of Notch’s game but the author of Delver watched the livestream Notch did, to help learn how to do it himself.

      TigSource Forum Post

  4. princec says:

    It’ll be adding Steam cheevos, leaderboards, stats, etc. as well shortly ;)

  5. OrangyTang says:

    “But unfortunately, there’s no persistence within a game as to what does what. Red could heal you once, then poison you the next time.”

    That seems odd, since the standard Roguelike approach *is* to only randomise them at the beginning of a game. Must be a bug, surely?

    • LTK says:

      Yeah, that’s like roguelike design 101, it’s really strange that they would get that wrong. If it was intended to work like this, then all potions might as well have the same colour.

  6. Turkey says:

    Seems way too early to be showing it off. There’s no way of telling if this has potential or not.

    • Leonick says:

      There is the fact that over the last year it has come to be the biggest game over on the tigsource forum, or more specifically the devlog section.

  7. wyrmsine says:

    It looks like a Realm of the Mad God FPS. This is not a complaint.

    • genosse says:

      It’s probably because Delver is using the same sprite set as ROTMG (Lo-Fi by Oryx), and although I really like the sprites and don’t want to judge the game by it, I am kind of tired to see it yet again. Gameplay may be king, but I wonder why the developer didn’t bother to do his own spritework and instead went for a look that has – in my opinion – a “me too” feel to it. That doesn’t help to make the game stand out at all.

      • Jhoosier says:

        I came to make the same comment. I guess if the sprites are licensed or whatever (rather than copied), I shouldn’t complain — but yeah, choosing such a big game to share sprite-work with seems like a not-good idea.

  8. Snids says:

    The android version has been out a while. I’m not sure if it’s further along than this version though. It has a sister game “Boarding Party” which is similar but sci-fi with guns. It reminds me of the Amiga classic “Gloom”. In which everything runs towards you at all times.

  9. Casimir's Blake says:

    IT’s always a pleasure to see a first person free-look dungeon crawler, let alone coverage on RPS. Delver is excellent: essentially a rogue-like Ultima Underworld (if simplified). Sadly, there’s almost NOTHING else out there like Delver currently in development, save for the remarkably similar Dungeon Prospector.

    Why are there so few of these games? :(

    • Stardog says:

      Look for one in a few weeks called One Brutal Dungeon. The first is a soon-to-be released Android only labyrinth game, but OBD2 will have combat/enemies.

      In the next few weeks, check the Oculus Rift forums for a Windows demo of OBD2.

      http://i.imgur.com/oPdOU9C.png

    • Samuel Erikson says:

      Dungeon Prospector looks better than Delver, but it’s hard to tell whether it plays any better. Like so many Unity games, Dungeon Prospector lacks an Invert Mouselook option.

      The lack of an apparent map combined with featureless corridors doesn’t help Prospector either.

  10. Leonick says:

    But unfortunately, there’s no persistence within a game as to what does what. Red could heal you once, then poison you the next time.

    That’s a bug I think… I’m pretty sure it used to be that they were random between for each save but stayed the same in a save as suggested it should in the article.

  11. elderman says:

    And of course there really are lots of good, old-fashioned roguelikes around. Most of them are free and many have been in active, iterative development for years. Beware yon rabbit hole, it’s a deep’un.

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