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Impressions: Delver Alpha

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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John Walker

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