Is This The DROD You’re Looking For?

This is my first encounter with the longish-running DROD series of puzzle-dungeon crawlers, and a quick check of our much-abused tag system suggests that same is true of the other nodes of the RPS Hivemind too. Thus, for a few precious moments, I can enjoy the lofty status of Hivemind Prime, until the Independent Action Guards activate and laser away the deadly fungal strands of personality that have infected my corner of the monstrous Brain Jar.

So it’s with the new, free demo of fifth DROD game Gunthro and the Epic Blunder that I join the party, and am immediately mildly confused because it’s a prequel to the events of the first four games. This didn’t prove too serious an impediment to a rank newcomer, fortunately, as DROD seems to have a fairly Princess Bride take on fantasy kingdom rather than a depresssing downpour of Important Lore.

Basically, there’s this guy with a big sword, right, and the kingdom’s in danger, right, and his adventures are being narrated years later by a descendant to his own child, right, but you’re in control, right, and you have to walk into monsters with your big sword to kill them, right, and there are loads of navigational puzzles such as hitting buttons to unlock doors in a maze, right, and it’s all very jolly and has likeably hand-drawn graphics, right.

The voice-acting’s on the school panto end of the spectrum, but surprisingly charismatic with it. This is a good-natured game, no grimdark here.

The puzzles are perhaps a little too dependent on hitting the right coloured blocks, but the directional combat system requires strategy and forethought rather than action, faintly along the lines of Desktop Dungeons. Have a go at the 44MB demo (for PC, snooty PC and hippy PC), or you can buy the whole game for $20. If you fall really hard for DROD, there are four other games and a slew of mods to indulge yourself with too.


  1. Petethegoat says:

    Oh my god I forgot DROD even existed. I love DROD. DROD is the best.

  2. Box says:

    DROD is a fantastic puzzle game. If this kind of thing catches your fancy, I would actually suggest starting with Journey to Rooted Hold — in terms of puzzley goodness, it is an absolute masterpiece. The later games are still good, but have a bit more in terms of exposition and general down time, and also start introducing mechanics that are a little esoteric and generally not as solid.

    • Tim James says:

      I bought JtRH in the indie game dark ages from shitty little distributors like ArcadeTown and BMT Micro. That means my unlocked version is long gone in a previous installation of Windows. I tried emailing the developers to see if they could help me, but I never received a reply. Normally I yell at the Steam-or-bust folks, but it’s something to keep in mind here.

      [EDIT] I just remembered I think they have their own internal tracking system now. If you buy it direct from them, you’re protected as long as the company still exists. Not that this helps if you’re dedicated to Steam.

      • Box says:

        That actually surprises me quite a bit; the devs have always been very responsive in the past. If you’re still interested I would give it another email, and maybe the forums too if you don’t hear back quickly.

        • Tim James says:

          Now I hope it wasn’t lost in a spam filter. It’s okay though. I’m not sure I’d ever play it.

    • mckertis says:

      “DROD is a fantastic puzzle game.”

      That may be, but five virtually identical games are four too many, i’d wager.

      • Caiman says:

        Call of Duty has been getting away with this for years.

      • malkav11 says:

        And they’re not actually virtually identical. Each new game adds new mechanics with which to construct their puzzles, resulting in an ever-expanding explosion of possibilities. The basics remain the same, certainly, but that’s fundamental to the design. (Plus one of those five games is DROD RPG, which shares the setting and visual style, but has a completely different ruleset, adapted from mechanics introduced by the freeware Tower of the Sorcerer.)

  3. Scrofa says:

    I’m a long-time fan, these are brilliant series.

  4. Muffalopadus says:

    I had to re-read the title after I finished the article. I actually thought the title said DROID. Confusion ensued.

  5. Soon says:

    Ahhh, I love DROD. Wasn’t even aware they were making a fifth, though.

    One thing not really elaborated on is how sublime and devious the puzzle design is in the DROD games. New elements are continuously added throughout, then combined together to force you to think of different ways to approach them (it’s nice to discover these on your own, so I won’t give examples). It’s all turn-based to give you as much time as you need to consider your next move. They’re also bastard hard.

    I think SpaceChem was the only thing to challenge DROD as my most beloved puzzley game. I think there’s a free version of the first one, if they’re still doing that.

    I’d enjoy a WIT on at least one of them (except the RPG, perhaps).

  6. nobody says:

    I’ve only played through the beginning of this one, so can’t quite vouch for it yet, but the previous entries are all terrific and I’d be surprised if this one is any exception.

    This is a truly brilliant series of puzzle games masquerading as turn-based action games (even the fighting is really a puzzle), and the only reason I can think that it hasn’t gotten the level of attention it deserves is that it’s not very slick looking on the screenshot-front.

    I think all the main releases are geared to be a fine starting-point for a newcomer to the series, but if you start with this one, I’d recommend doing the tutorial first — not because you’ll need to in order to figure out how things work, but because it’ll give an early glimpse of the purity of the fighting-mechanic before seeing it in the story-context the later games have all introduced.

    • nobody says:

      I doubt anyone will stumble upon this, but after playing for a week or so, I have to say that earlier entries in the series definitely make for better jumping off points because they are better-organized games.. Additionally, all DROD games but the most recent are on sale for 75% off for the next week (~$5USD for the major releases), a rare and possibly unprecedented occurrence at Caravel Games’ little storefront.

  7. mckertis says:

    “the directional combat system requires strategy”

    Tactics. It requires tactics.

  8. Voidy says:

    Please do a WIT or at least Hands On this. Caravel Games have been crafting quietly brilliant puzzle games for quite some time but their tendency to ignore fancy modern gimmicks like social networks, digital distribution services, and ad campaigns keeps them well under radar. You probably couldn’t be more indie or more underdog than CG, and that’s precisely why they deserve a little RPS love.

    Soon has already posted a link to the free Architect’s Edition above, but both Journey to The Rooted Hold and
    The City Beneath are much more polished and enjoyable. They have demos, too.

  9. BobTheJanitor says:

    These really are excellent games, and I wish they would put in the effort to get on some major digital distribution channels. I go back and browse their forums every few months in the hopes that they’ll announce something, but it never happens. I can’t tell if the developers just hate money or what. I’d love to see these get more widely recognized as the brilliant puzzle games that they are, which isn’t ever going to happens as long as they only distribute it through their own barely known site.

    Plus, I selfishly want to be able to purchase all these games, but 20 bucks is a lot of gaming money these days. That’s usually the break point before I’ll purchase a AAA title when it goes on Steam-sale. I just can’t justify that for indie puzzlers, no matter how great they are. They’re still stuck in the old mentality of selling niche games for higher prices to a smaller crowd. Put DROD on a Steam sale for 75% off and they’d probably be showered with operating capital for the next few years. Sigh.

    • malkav11 says:

      So, while I disagree that $20 is actually much money to ask for these games or a particularly glaring example of high prices charged to a niche community (Shrapnel’s still asking $55+ for a lot of the games they publish, and that never goes down much, and Spiderweb was asking $35 for years), I will nonetheless note that a) all of the games have meaty demos, and b) both main series DROD and the DROD RPG spinoff have level editors. Furthermore, the engine itself in both cases is open source and in fact the demos will run all fan created levels (of which there are enormous numbers). It’s just the developer-created levels and most of the tilesets/music that require you to pay for the full game. (Fan levels might look a little funny if they were designed for a different tileset than what you have, but it’s usually cosmetic.)

      I highly encourage taking a look. I think you’ll find the experience worthwhile.

      Edit: On reread, it sounds like you personally have played them, in which case I’ll just say that the recommendation stands for other readers who have not. :)

      • BobTheJanitor says:

        I’m ambivalent about their pricing. On the one hand, I think their games are fully worth 20 bucks. They provide tons of content, an amusing story, and access to a bazillion hours of fan-made holds with any of the games. On the other hand, that price just doesn’t fit the modern pricing model. 20 dollars is a AAA game on sale. 20 dollars is what I might pay for a brand new game from a slightly smaller studio that I really want to support. But 20 dollars is just not what I can justifiably pay for an indie game that is years old. I mean King Dugan’s Dungeon is still 20 dollars. That’s a 10 year old remake of a 15 year old game. It may be time to start bargain pricing, eh?

        Spiderweb Software is a good example, because Jeff Vogel famously railed against the lower pricing model for a long time, then finally got on Steam for a price closer to the norm and then reduced all his game pricing afterwards. Fair or not, it’s simply smarter to charge a price that fits the standards of the industry and have people impulse buying your product than to try and pretend like it’s still 1995 and people will willingly pay 35 bucks after playing the shareware version of your masterpiece. Sure, your true fans will pay that and they will love you for it. So you can sell it to a few hundred fans for that price, or you can sell it to thousands and thousands of people for a much lower price, but end up sitting on a much taller pile of money at the end of the day.

        Take Dungeons of Dredmor as an example. That game is 5 bucks. I’ve gotten 50 hours of playtime out of it, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. It is a huge, infinitely replayable game, clearly worth more than 5 bucks. But when they released at that price, they sat on the Steam top seller list for weeks. The developers made way more than they ever expected they would. Would it have been wise to sell for a more ‘reasonable’ 15 or 20 dollars? They would have fallen off the new games page and been forgotten after a few days.

        Again, I don’t think this is necessarily fair or right, but it’s the only game in town. DROD on Steam sale prices would probably sell more units in a week than Caravel Games has sold in the last year, and bring in a huge influx of fans that had never heard of the series. Or they can keep doing what they’re doing. They’ve managed to get along all these years, so I suppose they’re not desperate for cash. I just hate to see such a good series remain forever hidden from the larger gaming population.

        • malkav11 says:

          I’m not saying you’re wrong. (Well, I think $20 is fully justifiable for these games, but your larger point is fine.) I think it is, however, probably true that lowering their prices under current circumstances would do little to improve their revenue, and it’s conceivable that they have actually made overtures to distributors like Steam and been rebuffed (after all, Steam is notorious for doing so). Vogel’s rethink on pricing came -after- he made it onto Steam and iTunes, after all.

    • Merus says:

      One of the big problems with Steam is that you have to demonstrate you’re a viable candidate. As others have mentioned, the graphics are really not much to look at, and the appeal is somewhat limited, being a ruthlessly difficult puzzle game. You can get around this if you really, really, really want to be on Steam, but as far as I can tell the developers don’t.

  10. Nickless_One says:

    Within these halls great knowledge grows…

  11. Premium User Badge

    zapatapon says:

    Can only concur with all others that DROD is absolutely fantastic. Their website also contains many particularly insightful game design articles on what makes a good puzzle. “A puzzle is a gift to the player” sums up best their philosophy. It is one of those rare puzzle games where gradually solving a given puzzle room feels in itself like a developing narrative carefully crafted by the author.

  12. Johnny Lizard says:

    More love for DROD from me. A real unsung gaming hero.

  13. Tomidimus says:

    I would love a more detailed feature! DROD certainly deserves one, it has managed to keep me playing for years, and that’s something.

  14. malkav11 says:

    I’ve bought every previous DROD game and all the Smitemaster’s Selections up to a certain point. They’re brilliant, fiendishly well designed and challenging, and quite funny. I can’t get anywhere near completing them and eventually I forgot about them. I’m super happy to see another one at long last -and- be reminded of the series.

  15. increpare says:

    Wow. Actually finished this one. Much shorter than the others, much easier, noticed a lot more contentless puzzles – though maybe they’re for the benefit of people who hadn’t played any of the games before, the story is weak, and resulted in me getting lost looking for what to do next on a number of occasions (I liked what I saw of the story in DROD:TCB a lot). Though apparently it has a lot of more difficult levels/content for people with the energy, outside of the motivation of finishing the game I find it hard to work up enthusiasm for the extra levels.

    It’s definitely a pity that they’re not trying harder to get the game to more people (via steam, most obviously).