Impressions – Dungelot: Shattered Lands

It is most misleading that the bumph for Dungelot: Shattered Lands [official site] claims it’s a combination of Minesweeper and a roguelite dungeon game. And a shame, too, as the idea of taking the puzzling element of one of the most flawed and awful puzzle games ever to have inflicted the Windows PC and using it properly, while at the same time having you battle monsters, use potions, improve weapons, and so-forth, sounds like a rather intriguing game someone should make. Red Winter Software have instead made a far more familiar, decent-enough grid-based dungeon that really rather could have done with such a twist.

It’s presented in quite a muddle from the start. A very simple concept is explained dreadfully, both suggesting something far more involved, and making me ponder how they could turn “Click on the tiles, kill the monsters, find the level key” into quite such a difficult thing to say. That’s the gist of it – each level is a 5×5 grid of tiles, with an exit door that needs to be opened by a hidden key. You click on tiles adjacent to the door you’re trying to open (yeah, they didn’t quite think it through), and reveal what’s there. It’ll either be nothing, but making more adjacent tiles available, a goodie such as potion, bomb, throwing knife, coin, etc, or a monster. The game’s best feature is that you don’t need to fight the monsters to clear a floor, and choosing whether you will can often be the difference between survival and being sent back to one of the game’s few hubs. However, monsters will block access to surrounding tiles, so there are times when you’ve no choice if you’ve yet to find the key.

Fights are based on the monsters’ attack and defence ratings versus your own, alongside any bonus items you might be using. Clicking on them initiates a ’round’ of combat, where they usually go first, and you take a chunk out of each other. Once they’re dead, more tiles are available, and you could well get a drop. Or you can negotiate the grid around them, until you’re either stuck without fighting, or get the necessary key, a few extra coins, and decide to scarper to the next floor without taking any more risks.

The next floor could be more of the same, it might be a little mini-game where more bonuses can be gained or lost, or it could be a shop level, where you can buy and sell items, and exchange food for HP by resting. Food’s the other element it adds in, where each floor of the dungeon consumes one item of food, and starvation will take you down if you run out. Food is usually gathered by tile clicking, and of course adds a further necessity to take risks on any floor to scavenge and hope to not run into something too scary.

Death comes frequently, but not too frequently. As you complete dungeons (by reaching their final floor, and taking out a final boss), more become accessible, and the hub starts to offer more functions. There’s an armoury where you can improve weapons and armour (or indeed massively unimprove them, as I discovered to my chagrin when I wasted 500 precious gold on a crossbow that made me impossibly weak), older dungeons to re-run to improve scores, gather more gold, etc, and gods to worship (bonuses in exchange for coins). The further in you get, the more there is to do, and ideally the more proficient you become for the next run.

Except, it’s my experience that I’ve hit a very crumbly, low wall that while I don’t doubt I could eventually clamber over, requires me to keep running the same dungeons again and again in the hope of nudging slightly farther and unlocking what comes next. And since all three unfinished runs available are essentially identical to play, the lack of variation is leaving me a little despondent to push on. There’s no question that it has a good run of adding in new elements, like very simple crafting, or strange mini-games you’ve not seen before, but this eventually runs dry.

There’s also no reason I can see why the four item slots you have available need to be hidden behind an extra click of a chest. Having the four just on-screen to be selected would smooth out the game quite considerably – two clicks instead of four. The single-item crafting is also a ridiculous five clicks plus a needless five second wait. Such a lack of streamlining is very weird in a game that otherwise plays so quickly.

There’s obviously a lot more game in here, but the repetition, and levels that just seem set up to see you fail, make it hard to want to keep re-running through the same sequences enough times to reach them. Others for whom this repetition clicks will have a very different experience, I think, and get a lot further into the game before thinking of other roguelites they’d much prefer to return to. At £7, it’s not a huge risk if you like the look/sound of it, and there’s certainly plenty going on here. If I’m quite honest, I think I’d have an awful lot more patience for it on my phone on a train than I do at my PC on a desk. And, well, you’ll find it over there, along with Dungelot 2.

Dungelot: Shattered Lands is out now for Windows via Steam.

10 Comments

  1. The_Player says:

    If you enjoyed Dugneonlot be sure to check Runestone Keeper. They look similar from the first glance, but the pacing and overall difficulty is very different.

  2. Baines says:

    How different is this new paid version from the old free version?

    • Kitsunin says:

      The pacing feels a ton better without the stuff egging you to pay. But it takes some steps back and ultimately doesn’t feel much better on the whole in my opinion. It’d be fun on Android, but if you ask me is kind of crap as a PC game.

  3. jgf1123 says:

    Sounds a lot like Desktop Dungeons, except Desktop Dungeons has gone through more iterations of refinement so the puzzle is tighter, the levels and enemies are more varied, and RPG leveling up is more developed.

  4. Babymech says:

    what the hell is a bumph?

    i hate it :(

  5. dbsmith says:

    I’m pretty disappointed in this. As a fan of the first game, I feel they have completely thrown away all interesting strategy from the first game and made it quite luck dependent.

    The monsters hit first, so you almost always lose health when attacking. There’s very little strategy in choosing which monster to attack first – you’ll pretty much end up loosing a large chunk of your health whichever order – a huge part of desktop dungeons.

    Like John says, it just becomes a “repeat until lucky enough to win” game. Boo.

  6. ErsatzDragon says:

    Actually, someone did mash these up rather well quite some time ago, and it’d be a shame not to point it out: .

    (Also, first time posting, so apologies if any of this formatting goes wonky.)

  7. Stompywitch says:

    “And, well, you’ll find it over there, along with Dungelot 2.”

    Shattered Lands is actually the third game in the series. 2 launched as a quite disappointing free-to-play affair, before getting improved and relaunched.

    I liked the first one a lot, and no doubt I’d like SL, but it would be on ipad instead of PC.

  8. Kasper Hviid says:

    “Minesweeper (…) one of the most flawed and awful puzzle games”

    Excuse me? Minesweeper is rock solid.

    Like the game PORTAL, this game is based on a really basic concept which opens up for more depth: When you click on a tile with no bomb in it, it will be cleared, and a number will show the number of bombs in the adjacent 8 tiles. You quickly learn the logic, but you also quickly learn that you will make false logical claims if you don’t stay focused, which is hard on Expert. And while the early game is relative easy, the end game will typically force you to dig into some harder logic, where the number of remaining bombs are suddenly relevant. And you will feel tempted to just try clicking on random tiles. Also, do you start out in those pesty corners, in the sides, or in the center? The game also has the an element of chance and discovery. Suddenly clearing a larger area feels plenty nice. But the players skill is still in focus.

    Also, the game only takes up 117 KB. Including high-scores, optional sound and two color modes. That’s pretty solid coding.

    This is one of the more solid and pure entries in the casual genre. Candy Crush and similar just can’t compete. (I’m not dismissing all modern casuals …HOG’s are great!)