Have You Played… Caves Of Qud?

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

Look, the way this normally works is that I ask “have you played [name of game]?” and then I sort of assume that you haven’t and tell you why you should. It’s a little different this time though because even though I have played Caves of Qud [official site], I’m hoping you lot can tell me why I should go back and play it again, because I’ve barely managed to scratch the surface.

I think – and I may be wrong – that the main obstacle between me and enjoyment of Qud is the language. Character creation involves deciphering the oddities of the various castes and callings to figure out what kind of person you’re actually going to be, and what skills might be useful to that kind of person, and whether you’re going to die as soon as you encounter a monster. There’s no doubt in my mind that I want to be an Arconaut because it sounds like the kind of thing I’d be good at, Arconautical activity, but what does it actually involve?

Well, it involves talking to a farmer then wandering north and getting killed by the first critters I see.

As does being a Greybeard.

As does being a Marauder.

As does being a Pilgrim.

As does being a Syzygyrior.

In each instance, my equipment is vaguely baffling, my destination is obscure, and my abilities appear to be a combination of occasionally helpful mutations and cack-handed combat skills.

None of this is to say that Caves of Qud is doing anything wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, the point is that I haven’t been able to get past those first minutes with each character. I should read a guide or just put aside half a day to learn the ropes, but until I do, Qud remains a mystery to me, and a somewhat frustrating one. It’s a roguelike as written by Will Self at his most mischievously obscure.

51 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    You know, I look at a screenshot like that, and I want to like it. I know it’s the kind of thing I’d love, but at this point the ASCII thing just makes my 44-year-old eyes glaze.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      ‘s not ASCII.

      Really, it’s not. At all. It uses (actually quite charming and generally pretty visually clear) graphical tiles.

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        Phasma Felis says:

        In defense, using graphical tiles with vertical aspect ratios can’t be anything but an attempt to look as ASCII as possible without actually being ASCII.

        • Woebin says:

          It started out as ASCII, tiles were added later in development. So it’s not exactly surprising that it looks ASCII-like to some :)

    • Shadow says:

      It’s not ASCII but it’s sort of disguised to look like such. The aesthetic is somewhat like a hybrid between ASCII roguelikes and very early graphical RPGs.

    • mpk says:

      I’m with you on that. The trend, over the past few years, for games with a simplified graphical interface, to have an 8- or 16-bit aesthetic in particular, has left me with an overwhelming feeling of meh.

      I grew up playing games that looked like that. I grew out of playing games that looked like that. Where are my pretty polygons?

      Young people today! /shakes fist angrily/

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I bought this for the interesting visuals and the promise of an indepth old style roguelike.

    I bounced right off.

    I haven o idea how the game works or what to do in it.

    Still though, looks sorta neat.

  3. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Pick a Praetorian character to start, put points in Strength and Toughness. You will start with a couple of artifacts, which you can hand to the guy in the building to the left of where you start to skip through the first couple of quests so you start the “find copper wire” quest leveled up a bit.

    Do not awaken the Slumberlings.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      A chimera with multi-arms and decent toughness is also a surprisingly easy start, but yes, this. Good man.

    • JB says:

      Smingleigh has the right of it

    • Vilos Cohaagen says:

      Good advice and great game! I’ve really enjoyed my time with it so far. Weirdly it is scratching an Ultima 5 and Phantasie 3 itch for me.

  4. conronc says:

    I’m gonna take flak from hardcore roguelikers but I just use the ‘wish’ (cheat) function. The first 5-10 character levels of the game are all very samey, and while I enjoy having a story to tell ‘killed for the umpteenth time by a persistent saltchipper’ after spending half an hour grinding kobolds doesn’t hold my interest.

    Just skip to level 5 or 10 and get to the fun parts of the game.

    • Internet_Friend says:

      I’m actually going to sort of agree and point out you can disable permadeath in the Debug menu. Playing the first part of the game with the ability to reload your save will probably help new players figure out what is even happening in the game and how not to get instagibbed by salthoppers five minutes into the game.

      • Woebin says:

        Playing without permadeath is risky in its own way, though, because a sub-par character being able to reload and defeat obstacles that’d otherwise end them will eventually result in being so far behind on the power curve that it just takes the fun out of the game.

  5. Harlaw says:

    I’ve been eyeing it for a long while but haven’t actually leapt into the breach yet. I don’t generally get along with roguelikes but the science fantasy setting, pretty visuals, and supposedly larger-than-usual emphasis on plot (for roguelikes) have made me interested.

    Can anyone comment? Is the worldbuilding/story worth the apparently impenetrable gameplay?

  6. JonasKyratzes says:

    This has a lot more in common with something like ADOM than with what’s usually called a roguelike these days. It’s more accessible, but it still takes a certain amount of effort to get into, and it can definitely be frustrating. It’s not *that* impenetrable, though. Look around for some guides to creating good builds for beginners and you’ll find your way into it. Having a character who doesn’t get instamurdered by some horrible alien creature will help you to get a grasp of the mechanics.

    Personally, I think Caves of Qud has some of the best, most enjoyable game writing I’ve ever seen. Just examining objects fills me with delight. It also does some interesting stuff with how it approaches procedural generation (which again reminds me of ADOM).

  7. Alesch says:

    So, you want to be an Arconaut? Well, let me tell you pal, being an Arconaut isn’t just swaggering back to Joppa with an armful of shiny artifacts, trading them for enough water to drown a Slumberling, and regaling the local vinefarmers with your tales of daring-do! Being an Arconaut is about descending into the rusted metal husks of ruined cities and dead arcologies with nothing but your wits, a short blade, and a better-than-average knowledge of what the artifacts you find actually do. It’s about tangling with the things that live down in the rust wells, and there’s worse than snapjaws down there.

    If you’ve got the right stuff though, then you just might make it as an Arconaut. You’ve just got to remember to take it slow. Even a Marauder–at least a Marauder who lives long enough to collect any scars–knows better than to charge from fight to fight without pausing for breath in between! Don’t try to carry every scrap of junk that you come across either, no one’s going to give you a dram for snapjaw brute’s loincloth. Focus on gathering the good stuff, a good Arconaut brings up working artifacts, not scraps of wire. Most importantly, remember that it’s better to use the artifacts that you find and survive than it is to leave a treasure trove on your corpse. Don’t forget to throw those grenades!

    • Catterbatter says:

      Bravo!

    • Chairman_Meow says:

      That’s the good stuff, right there. Well done, sir/madam/arconaut!

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Well put, but because I can’t help myself, it’s “derring-do”, although trawling about a bit looking at the etymology seems to indicate it might well have begun as ‘daring to do’, then been misinterpreted to mean something like ‘manly chivalry’.

  8. muki0 says:

    I tried to, but was repelled by the fact that today in 2017, roguelike DF-alikes still insist on making the user interface as ambiguous as possible. They seem to be allergic to buttons, computer mice, drop-down menus and complete words.

    It’s not a bash. I love the idea of these games, the deep lore, the difficulty, the roll of the dice, I watch lets plays of these because they’re fascinating to watch. I would so enjoy playing one, but I want the game itself to be a challenge, rather than the controls, commands and the readability of relevant information.

    • Internet_Friend says:

      Qud has a mouse and touch driven UI in beta. You have to go into Options -> Overlay UI and Enable Overlay UI to turn it on, then tweak which controls you want on screen. The plan is for the game to be available on phones eventually.

  9. geldonyetich says:

    The game is damn hard, no doubt about it. But it succeeds marvelously as a roguelike, where both creativity of content and difficulty are highly prized.

    If you’re looking for an easier time, certain mutations such as temperal fuge, laser eyes, and flame hands can help. But they’re easier in the same way going troll monk in Crawl is easier: you can steamroll early content only to get sloppy and smack into a figurative brick wall down the line.

    Keep an eye out for cheesy tactics that trivialize fights. Roguelikes tend to inevitably develop them and then get balanced around their existence.

  10. Napalm Sushi says:

    I bought this last week and I love it. I love the exotic planetary romance setting, I love the consciously florid writing, I love the atmospheric soundtrack and I love the whole attitude and philosophy of its design. I hope you can find your feet with it.

  11. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    It’s a pretty fun little gem, stick with it and avoid that first quest until later. It’s got an unusual and well constructed world. The dev updates it every single week, so I dip into it every while, play around a bit, die and repeat. And turn on mouse support definitely.

    Some perks are much better than others, it takes awhile to find the ones that work (e.g. teleport for those sticky combat situations, or force wall).

  12. BigBluFrog says:

    I have played well over 200 hours since I purchased this game a couple months back[Come to think about it, I sent an email to the Crate & Crowbar Crew last week about it. hm]. It has quickly become one of my favourite games. The procedural histories, social structures, battle and tinkering mechanics, scanline art and music are each and all enthralling. I highly recommend everyone who thinks they might be interested give it a shot.

  13. Yglorba says:

    Some people will recommend True Kin. I don’t think that’s a good idea – True Kin are ‘simpler’ in that they lack mutations, and they start with good equipment and more skills, but the more powerful mutations can help you survive better even in the early game.

    In general, you want to choose between a physical mutant or a mental mutant. Mental mutants should have high Willpower and Ego. (Willpower affects mental mutation cooldowns; Ego affects their level and therefore their power.) Non-mental ones can ignore them.

    A physical mutant really just needs high toughness and Freezing Hands, which is really good. Bind it to a key from the abilities menu (it has a mere 10-turn cooldown and hits everything in a line up to the target point, damaging and freezing them) and use it for everything. Extra legs is a good mutation to combine with it so you can easily kite enemies, but it’s up to you, really. Just make sure you focus on killing enemy ranged attackers quickly using your freezing hands attack, and upgrade it using your mutation points as you gain levels so it does more serious damage. Take 24 toughness and spend your other points however you want (agility and strength are good.)

    On the other hand, a good mental mutant build for new players is Esper + Light Manipulation + Force Wall + Clairvoyance + Ego Projection. Start with 18 agility, 18 toughness, 18 willpower, and 24 ego. (As you get more experienced, taking 18 intelligence instead of 18 agility might make sense.) You could alternatively dump Force Wall and Ego Projection and take Teleportation instead, making it easier to retreat.

    Choose Apostle for your background. Use the Proselytize ability this grants to recruit a watervine farmer as an ally as soon as the game begins; if they die, recruit something else (you can recruit enemies, and should be fairly reliable at it.)

    Use the ‘lase’ ability granted by light manipulation as your main combat ability (you can bind to a key it in the abilities menu.)

    Whenever you get in trouble, drop a force wall and run away, or use Intimidate to make the enemy flee if they’re right next to you. If your HP suddenly drops dangerously low, use Ego Projection on toughness first so you don’t die while retreating (then run away before it wears off.)

    If you start getting shot at by something you can’t see, use Clairvoyance to identify out the danger so you can shoot back or avoid it as necessary. (If some unseen thing managed to shoot your HP into the red, drop a force wall between you and it first, throw up Ego Projection to boost your HP, and retreat.)

    As you level up, raise your Ego and invest your Mutation points in new mutations. Try to learn teleportation if possible; otherwise, learn new offensive abilities or Temporal Fugue.

    Regardless of your build:

    1. Buy or acquire a gun as soon as you can so you have a backup option.

    2. Unless you’re a melee-focused character, try to stay far away from enemies, and don’t be afraid to use your various defensive options to retreat if things look tough.

    3. Raise your AV as soon as you can. Every two points of AV lowers the multiplier on damage you take by one. It’s good to shoot for six or seven AV early on, and ~15 in the long term, although that’s not always viable.

    4. You can rob some of the chests in the starting town for equipment (and stuff you can sell for equipment.) Just make sure you close the doors so nobody sees you doing it. Don’t try and rob from the elder’s chest, he’ll see you and kill you.

    • JimDiGritz says:

      Great mini guide!

      My tips are:

      1. Keep an eye out for a Knollwom Skull, usually I can find one on the first few caves. It increases Ego by +1 which is awesome for mental mutant builds

      2. The best defect imho is Analgesia, it gives you 2 more character points to spend and the only downside is you have to judge your hitpoints by the colour of the text.. just run when it goes yellow/red!

      3. Be very careful with grenades – they can easily damage you and also other dangerous neutrals who will then attack you!

      4. I tend to trade in all the injectors I find except the Salve Injectors which can save your life!

      5. Painted and Engraved, and Jewelled items are valuable, keep them unless they are very heavy items.

      6. Be careful with Beguiling creatures that use ranged weapons – they can often hit you in the crossfire. I once beguiled a Snapjaw who promptly threw a grenade at monster next to me and killed me.

      7. If you do beguile an ‘intelligent’ monster (eg a Snapjaw, not a Knollworm) if you get lost just talk to them and they will tell you where you are!!!

      Have fun!

  14. ogopogo says:

    This is the reigning champ of proper roguelikes, no doubt. Very few others even come close. It out-ADOMs ADOM for me.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to learn this game by trial-and-error. It’s complicated enough that you really got to read the manual, which basically means “postings and guides” — this is true of many moderately deep strategy and simulation games, so it’s hardly a surprise that the evolutionary successor to Nethack requires 20-30 minutes of forum skimming to get that first character rolling.

    Qud really needs a well written *official* user manual, maybe something full of flavor so as it’s fun to read on your phone.
    I’d happily send ’em another $5-10 for a printed manual like the old ones from ULTIMA, this game is such a blast. I always wanted a Gamma World CRPG, but got something even better.

  15. April March says:

    In each instance, my equipment is vaguely baffling, my destination is obscure, and my abilities appear to be a combination of occasionally helpful mutations and cack-handed combat skills.

    AND IN THE GAAAAAAAAAAAAAME

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    Phasma Felis says:

    Haven’t played it, but I recall reading that the starting questgiver is a noob trap: proceeding north as he tells you takes you directly into a zone you’re not prepared to deal with at level 1. Because fuck you, I guess. There’s another way through, though.

    • Yglorba says:

      Oh right, there’s several other options for what to do early on.

      1. If you search the source of the river in the northwest part of town, you’ll find an entrance leading downwards. You can go down through there, then follow the river underground to reach the source of the problem via a different direction.

      2. Alternatively, you can talk to the scientist in the hut in the southwest corner of the starting town and do his quest instead. This requires traveling to the Rust Wells and collecting copper wire, though. (This is actually the main questline – the watervine quest is an optional sidequest.)

      3. Another option if you’re not feeling ready is to explore the swamps around Joppa (just walk out of town and wander around, especially to the south, since the swamps extend that way.) There’s a few interesting things you can discover in the swamps, and they’re generally pretty safe aside from the occasional unique or alligator.

  17. vahnn says:

    I haven’t played it for a very long time, a couple years, maybe.

    If I recall correctly, I tended to favor playing a physical mutant with extra arms, horns, freezing hands, carapace, and night vision. Or some combination of those. Make sure you have lots of toughness. Just walk around freezing and smashing stuff.

    One of the major tricks to not dying early is using the Look function (L key) to check out enemy strength and defense before it gets to a point where you can’t escape.

    Definitely a fantastic game, and I actually just reinstalled it a week or so ago, but haven’t got around to playing it yet, what with PUBG, Endless Space 2, and now Dirt 4. But I’ll spend a whole day with it here soon.

    • vahnn says:

      And looking at the changelog, they seem to have been updating the game nearly every single week the whole time I’ve been away. Encouraging to see.

  18. thelxr says:

    One thing that made the game unbearably funnier for me, is that “joppa” means “butt” in Russian. Most texts become too silly in this context.

  19. JimDiGritz says:

    I’ve got 287 hours in CoQ, still haven’t got passed Golgotha.

    Despite considering myself an awfully clever and sophisticated 40 something I do tend bounce off of games with complex GUIs and hard to remember interfaces – but something about Qud just works for me. The semi procedural environments and real rogue like feeling are great and I love the faux ASCII, which is super easy to understand once you’ve played a few hours.

    I can’t recommend this game highly enough, and the updates have been WEEKLY since it was launched in 2015!!!!!!

  20. lesslucid says:

    Don’t go North. Go East. The difficulty curve of heading toward the rust wells is much gentler than of going straight for Red Rock or whatever it’s called.

  21. Captain Yesterday says:

    So I checked out the Steam page and looked at the screen shots.

    Is being “tumescent, bloated” a good thing or bad? It’s in green text so I assume it’s a good thing. I had to look up what “tumescent” meant, and if anything it just raised more questions.

    • Woebin says:

      Yeah, it means your needs regarding both food and drink are fully satisfied.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      Not normally, no. It sounds to me like they’re gleefully quoting what was intended to be a negative review to appeal to their niche audience, the same way e.g. walking simulators and really fucking hard games sometimes do.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        While that’s a cute idea, no, they’re not doing that. The quote in question is on a screenshot of the ingame interface and, as the poster above me points out, informs the player that their character is good on food and water.

        • Premium User Badge

          Phasma Felis says:

          Ah, okay. I can’t find specifics, but apparently the game also has “quenched” and “sated” statuses–I would guess that “bloated” and “tumescent” mean that you’ve overindulged and are taking some sort of penalty because of it, a fairly common mechanic in old-school roguelikes.

  22. Woebin says:

    I’m gonna quote Angry Diplomat from the Something Awful forums telling you things that can be done in CoQ. It’s a fantastic game and it keeps getting better with the regular patches, definitely worth putting in the time to gain more understanding of it (read a dang guide or something if you need to).

    “Get killed by ANGRY MUTANT PLANTS. Get killed by ANGRY MUTANT ANIMALS. Get killed by ANGRY MUTANT BUGS. Kill a bear and EAT IT, just EAT AN ENTIRE BEAR. KILL EVERYTHING. Descend into the DEPTHS OF THE WORLD and retrieve ANCIENT TECHNOLOGICAL ARTIFACTS. KNIFE-FIGHT a GIANT DRILL ROBOT and WIN. Be a COOL WASTELAND KNIGHT. Be a TWO-FISTED COWBOY. Be a HOMICIDAL NINJA TURTLE with an AXE and a SHOTGUN. SPONTANEOUSLY BURST INTO FLAMES. Get into a GUNFIGHT with a HYENA-MONSTER and accidentally anger a HERD OF MAJESTIC HULKING DEMON HORSES with your crossfire. Fly into the air like a BEAUTIFUL EAGLE and then SWORD-FIGHT a GIANT DRAGONFLY. MIND CONTROL a TWO-HEADED BOAR and MAKE IT WEAR CHAIN MAIL and KILL YOUR ENEMIES. Encounter a LEGENDARY PLANT with an INTIMIDATING SKULL MASK and the ability to THROW FIERY DEATH FROM ITS HANDS. CONTRACT HORRIFYING DISEASES. Go to THE DEATHLANDS and discover that THE DEATHLANDS are called THE DEATHLANDS because they will KILL YOU DEAD. HACK OFF A ROBOT’S HEAD AND EAT IT. Get into a SLEDGEHAMMER DUEL with a ‘ROIDED-OUT SUPERCANNIBAL. Be SO TECHNOLOGICALLY ILLITERATE that you BREAK A BOX OF CRAYONS attempting to figure out what it is. Be SO TECHNOLOGICALLY GIFTED that you can make an ACID GRENADE out of a PLASTIC TREE and a FOLDING CHAIR. Build your own FLAMETHROWER. Build your own LASER GUN. Build your own HANDHELD NUCLEAR BOMB and BLOW YOURSELF UP WITH IT. Collect MAGMA in a CANTEEN. Pour MAGMA into a pool of ACID to see what happens. DRINK MAGMA. TELEPATHICALLY LOCATE an enemy and HATE IT TO DEATH with your TERRIFYING BRAIN SORCERY. Have your LEGS CUT OFF and then REGROW YOUR LEGS and pick up your previous legs and EAT YOUR OWN LEGS. Encounter your EVIL TWIN and then summon six of your own GOOD TWINS to fight your evil twin’s SIX EVIL TWIN TWINS in a FOURTEEN-WAY PSYCHIC LASER DEATH RAVE and then BURN TO DEATH when all of the combined PYROKINETIC MIND FIRE from all of the TIME CLONES causes the ENTIRE MAP TO COMBUST AND MELT.”

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    Waltorious says:

    Adam, once again I am afraid I’m too late to the comment section for you to read it. It’s clear you don’t need to be sold on the idea of the game since you want to like it. So I have just one piece of early survival advice for you.

    The same principles for surviving at the start of Arcanum applies to Caves of Qud: TRAVEL ON THE WORLD MAP. Do NOT just try walking north from town. If you do that, you will run into tough monsters that will kill you. But if you travel on the world map, you will skip them over and get to Red Rock safely (it’s only two or three spaces north on the world map). Once you get to Red Rock, you should be able to handle the creatures outside and within. There’s still a learning curve and you’ll probably die a few times before you manage to complete the quest, but you won’t die INSTANTLY, and you’ll get a chance to figure out some things.

    After Red Rock you will have gained a few levels and you’ll be able to handle the monsters in the wilderness, so then you can travel manually (i.e. without the world map) if you like.

    It’s also worth reading about the way combat works, with penetration and damage. That used to be available from the in-game help screens, although I haven’t played for a while so recent updates may have changed that.

    It took a few tries for Caves of Qud to click for me, but now I absolutely love it. I wrote about some of its much older iterations on my personal blog.

    Original freeware ASCII version: link to waltorious.wordpress.com
    Original tiles Steam release (now OUT OF DATE due to lots of updates): link to waltorious.wordpress.com

  24. loganjamesalex says:

    Any game like this the very first thing you should do is look at the top rated of all time steam guides and read a couple. that’s all I did and I was able to make a character that I enjoyed and had moderate success from the get go. Its “journalists” like you that have lead to the massive increase in handholding in gaming. Every time a game gets an article like this or a review where all they can say is, “the game might be good but I can’t figure it out.” is bad for sales so now games give you tips during the FINAL BOSS FIGHT even the exact same tips from the tutorial. . . It’s the internet if you have a question 99% chance someone else has already asked and gotten it answered. Use your skills of “journalism” and research!

  25. squareking says:

    I don’t make fan art. I made fan art for Caves of Qud. I love it dearly.

    link to i.imgur.com

  26. kalzekdor says:

    I have a lot of fun with my Temporal Tinker build. Precognition is crazy useful for tough fights, Temporal Fugue summons a time-clone army to even the odds, Time Dilation can turn even a Tinker into a deadly swordsman, and Space Time Vortex is there as a “tear the fabric of reality in case of emergency” option. Of course, all that mucking about with causality has to have some consequences, which in this case takes the form of a doppelganger from a parallel universe occasionally trying to murder you thanks to the Evil Twin defect.