Have You Played… Desktop Dungeons?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I’m sure it’s not quite what the devs want to hear, but a big part of me wants to recommend the original freeware version over the prettier and more featureful paid version. The clarity of Desktop Dungeons‘ idea – roguelikelike dungeon as puzzle, to be completed in a particular order – shines through that much more without the broader RPG trappings of the paid version. Both are excellent, though, and you’d be justified in wanting to move on to the fancier version once you’ve played the original to death.

It’s such a simple thing at first glance, but there’s extreme precision underneath the surface. Health and mana are not simply meters to be emptied and filled, but resources from which every expenditure is a very big deal. Levelling up is not just so you can get stronger, but because it also restores your health and that opens the door to fighting something that otherwise would have killed you.

What I admire most about Desktop Dungeons is that no death is ever unexpected. The game will tell you that you are going to die, and you will only choose that death if there are no other options. Sometimes, though, there are ingenious options to escape said death. Boy, does figuring out one of those feel good.

Basically – Desktop Dungeons is very, very clever.

17 Comments

  1. Kefren says:

    I completed the freeware version twice (that last three-level campaign is a killer!). I own the updated paid version but haven’t played it yet – I expect to disappear into it for quite some time when I do. Each level is short but so more-ish. Very hard to stop playing. And a great feeling of achievement when you do complete a difficult level.

  2. agentgray says:

    Wow. I thought I was alone in preferring the freeware version over the retail. I’ve played both, but I enjoy the pixelated “simplicity” (haha!) of the first version more.

    The idea of playing a race or character to unlock a race or character appealed to me.

    Also, this is basically a game about math.

    • JD Ogre says:

      Nope. I, too, find the free Alpha to be superior in just about every way to the beta and release (except for the lack of an OST that includes Danny Baranowsky, of course :P).

      Alpha was fast, challenging, had satisfying progression, and nice retro graphics. Release has none of that (challenge being replaced by throwing a ton of extra crap in and relying on randomness, with the sprite graphics being replaced by well-drawn tiles with a *VERY* ugly aesthetic). :(

      Still, I don’t regret the $10 I paid for the beta – just have to look at it as compensation for the Alpha.

    • slerbal says:

      Nope, you are not alone. I far prefer the original version over the paid version. I am happy with my purchase but only because it is a thank you for the original. I find the final pretty version to be worse on every level. It’s not bad (though the difficulty spike is insane), but it lacks the charm and clarity of the original. Glad I’m not alone on that :)

    • Berzee says:

      “The idea of playing a race or character to unlock a race or character appealed to me.”

      Agreed. Though I enjoyed the retail version’s kingdom-unlocking stuff for what it was, knowing in that alpha that the reason you’re struggling through a particular challenge is because it will give you a new class was great fun. (There are a few later classes and monster races kind of like that in the retail version, and I enjoying working toward those as well).

    • savagegump says:

      Yeah me too! The alpha was brilliant in it’s simplicity, I also really enjoyed the unlocking system, it encouraged you to try every class in every level, even those that posed a real challenge.

      I bought the beta simply because I felt guilty about playing the alpha so much, without paying anything, and I wanted to support the developer. I was pretty underwhelmed with the beta and although they did improve it for the release version it still feels like they have overcomplicated the whole thing and lost some of that compulsive magic.

  3. mllory says:

    While I see where you’re coming from in recommending the free version over the monster that is the full one (and I don’t use this term lightly, as it has swallowed up a chunk of my time on par with games like Street Fighter) I feel like there is a point to be made about getting the paid one instead.

    While sacrificing a bit of the simplicity of design of the first iteration, the second has much more meat for it. I particularly enjoyed the straight-up puzzle challenges, some of which were pretty tricky and took me more than an hour to figure out. There are also the clear interface improvements, the formidable amount of end-game content and the shiy new sprites and style.

  4. GHudston says:

    Why did you have to remind me of this? I can’t risk getting lost in it again…

  5. qrter says:

    I did not like this game much (and I’m speaking about the retail version). I was expecting something more.. relaxing, more enjoyable. This turned out to be one of those games that just stresses the shit out of me. And it is NOT a quick, lunchtime break-length game.

    • OliverM says:

      I cannot like/star/high-five/up-triangle this hard enough (or at all, but that’s on RPS). I own the paid-for version, and I admire it, but it’s too damn demanding for a pastime. I thought I was getting a pleasant lunchtime diversion but instead I got a stressful lunch where my guy died because I didn’t consider every little thing a dozen times in advance (okay, maybe that’s slightly bitter of me).

      No regrets paying for it, but more in the ‘Hooray for indy devs!’ way.

  6. Berzee says:

    I agree with everything in the article. :) One thing I do appreciate about the retail version is that the huge collection of new items and fancy rules gives even more possibility for last-ditch trick plays and wacky combinations in the face of almost certain defeat, which is one of the best parts of DD. This to me is a fairly acceptable tradeoff for the sometimes distracting nature of all the new stuff they poured in. (The RPG stuff might have been more distracting for me if I hadn’t already internalized the underlying systems by playing the alpha every night until I was too tired to click on the correct tile anymore =P).

    Over Thanksgiving break I got sucked back into doing “purist” (i.e. no prepared items) runs with every class on every dungeon (well, I’ve only finished two dungeons so far) which is pretty good fun too (and infuriating for certain class/dungeon combos).

  7. Gasser says:

    I know this is a PC game site but anyone interested in a similar game for iOS should check out Dream Quest. It’s a card-type game but is has very similar exploration/battle gameplay. It also causes a similar stream of obscenities to stream from my mouth due to my all-to-frequent deaths.

  8. epmode says:

    I am *really* bad at this game, RPS. Even the early levels.

  9. Rwlyra says:

    The game is amazing! There wasn’t much for the alpha but I dig the full version ^^
    I hope they manage to put out some DLC after they finish the ports.

  10. raiders5000 says:

    I’ve played the freeware version. No thank you! I like this newer version much better. I enjoy the freedom of making my own moves and paying my own consequences when they don’t work out. But when they do work out…my oh my, what joy! I only play this at work which makes it even better when I cue-it-up. It’s a great game, man.

  11. jrodman says:

    Needs easier mode.