Indie games have been fixated on resurrecting retro-styled platformers for a good few years now, perhaps to excess, but of late there are heartening signs they're hoping to bring another genre back from the brink of extinction.
Dungeons of Dredmor, a stupidly cheap PC roleplaying game, is one of several indie titles attempting to introduce roguelikes to a more modern audience. These are the more sadistic, measured cousins of dungeon-crawling click-frenzies like Diablo. Turn-based, tactical and often bearing the threat of permanent death.
Dredmor's no exception on that score. One wrong move and your large-eyebrowed hero can meet his doom; no comebacks, no reloads, no option other than to start all over again, leaving whatever wondrous loot you've managed to scavenge behind.
It might sound frighteningly hardcore, but it adds a thrill and a tension that its real-time cousins lack. It's not mindless, but rather a paranoid crawl across a monster-littered dungeon, forever trying to balance the desire for experience points and loot with staying alive.
There's much more to it than that, however. Despite a cartoon appearance and satirical tone, filled with monsters muttering Blackadderian insults and beneficent fish gods granting boons, Dredmor's quietly fat with distractions and complexities. From item crafting to opaque side quests to what's quite possibly gaming's widest variety of mystic mushrooms, it's perfectly easy to distract yourself from the vital business of killing things in dungeons.
Exactly how you distract yourself depends somewhat on which of a vast choice of skills you pick. Do you want to summon moustachioed golems, turn invisible, brew potions, heal via vampirism, practice an arcane form of maths-based magic or simply hit stuff with two swords at once? It's important to not be distracted by all this choice and experiment wildly, Dredmor's cheerfully unforgiving. Find a character build that works (as well as please), keep consistent and try to specialise. You won't so much as see the dark lord Dredmor himself otherwise.
The huge variety of abilities, items and incidental features, not to mention regularity of death, does mean however that this bears far more replay value than you'd ever expect of a £3 game
That bargain pricing also means it feels simply petty to criticise Dredmor, but at the same time its fiddly interface leaves plenty to be desired. A patch to correct some issues, such as the toolbars being microscopic at high resolutions, is incoming, so it's hardly a deal breaker. Especially given roguelikes are famously unintuitive in their controls, but Dredmor leaves unguessable key combinations behind in favour of altogether more modern controls.
With crushing inevitability, such common man-enticing changes to the rogue like formula have left the genre's most devout veterans sniffing dismissively at Dredmor. For sure, there are far more taxing (and punishing) examples out there, but Dredmor does an impressive job of bridging accessibility and sadistically unforgiving dungeon survival. Monstrously compulsive and slyly smart, plus there's just no arguing with that price.
Sure, it could do with a bit of spit and polish on the interface side of things and it won't keep the hardcore happy for long, but Dungeons of Dredmor is a characterful, clever and subtly complex dose of alternative roleplaying.