Developer: Terry Cavanagh
Publisher: Terry Cavanagh
Review Context: I’ve played Terry Cavanagh’s previous games, Super Hexagon and VVVVVV. I really enjoy playing rogue-like games and games that roll the dice with unique concepts within the genre.
Date(s) of Playthrough: August 10-12
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU 540 @ 3.07GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: GeForce GTX 950 2GB GDDR5 ACX 2.0 SC+
Resolution: 1280×720 (Windowed)
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy.
Dicey Dungeons, developed by Terry Cavanagh, is the next game in his respected indie game library. After indie game hits like Super Hexagon and VVVVVV many years ago, Terry has followed those games up with a game in Dicey Dungeons that is completely different than his previous titles, and a good showcase of his range as an indie game developer. Dicey Dungeons is a rogue-like, turn-based, RPG with plenty of depth and gameplay nuance that surprised me.
The story premise of the game is that you are a dice on a TV show hosted by Lady Luck and you have to get through her deadly labyrinth of endless terror in different series of episodes. Featuring six character classes, the game starts you off as the Warrior and you have to unlock the Thief, Robot, Inventor, Witch, and Jester. These characters aren’t just presented as different characters, but a range of difficulty levels for each class playstyle (order of difficulty written above). Each character has their own set of six episodes with different parameters for each episode that change the way the game is played. For the purpose of this review, I focused most of my attention on completing the warrior first full complete episodic completion, but the game does introduce you to most of the character classes first to get your feet wet before you can proceed through the rest of the episodes.
Upon starting a class episode playthrough, you are dropped on the first floor of six floors in a procedurally generated map where you can choose where to walk and the order you want to fight the enemies, and in some floors skip enemies down to the next floor. The combat of Dicey Dungeons in turn-based, but the gameplay doesn’t involve a lot of wasting of time “shaking dice” and dropping like you might think in your head for a dice rolling game. Although character classes differ in mechanics of how the dice (six-sided only) are obtained and started with, Upon starting a battle the dice are already rolled and presented to you like a poker hand. This where the fun starts, as you have skills that are triggered by either a range of numbers, even/odd, countdown timers, or no restrictions at all. Everyone’s playthrough can start out differently with the skills and equipment you can find and sometimes it can be rough. The warrior is the most straightforward class of them all as you can use swords and axes that can be triggered with various numbers rolled, while other classes like the thief can start with a skill that splits a die into two.
As you move through the floors in the episodes you will encounter different enemies with different skills and presentation. The artwork by Marlowe Dobbe really shines through the most with the wacky enemies. For example, there is one weird enemy of a lady playing a piano that somehow I distinctly remember the most, but there are other interesting ones. As you defeat enemies, you gain experience, gold to spend in shops, and level-up your character level. Some of the levels you get to choose a new piece of equipment, but most of the time it’s just restoring your health to full, increasing your health, getting more dice to start, while other classes have different other types of increases. Once you’ve played the game a little you will start to develop strategies of what to fight, what you might be able to skip, and managing your health with the level-up refills. Like many RPGs, you will also have to manage an inventory, as there are chests on the map with many new skills, and some characters classes can even acquire new skills or equipment regularly if they so choose. Some classes have a backpack and equipment where you can swap skills in and out, while others have completely different skill management mechanics, like a spellbook (Witch) or deck building (Jester). The game uses size of skills and equipment in a grid as the managing factor, with some skill upgrades at the smith actually compressing the size of a skill, meaning you can add another skill to your equipment. The user interface within battle stays mostly the same across classes, although maybe it could have been compressed better in size to prevent accidentally dropping dice in the wrong skill due to dragging dice across the screen.
Given that Dicey Dungeons is a procedurally generated rogue-like game and essentially a game of digital dice rolling, RNG is going to be a significant factor in your experience no doubt. From the 20 hours I’ve invested in the game already, there is a possibility of frustration in your experience with bad equipment, bad rolls, but the status effects that you encounter from enemies in battle throughout the game are probably the most annoying and the result of most of my deaths via RNG. Whether it’s being cursed, poisoned, locked (dice that can’t be used), burned, or frozen, these are all playthrough enders if you have a string of bad luck. Being cursed is probably the worst one because it gives the possibility of both wasting a die and a random skill in a turn. There was one warrior episode that took me ten tries to beat, compared to the one to three tries for the rest of them. Some of those losses were a result of my mistakes, but others strictly RNG losses where a skill was constantly whiffing killing the boss because I was cursed. Just picture doing six floors, getting to the boss, all is going well, followed by three whiffs with a skill needed to kill the boss and I have to start all over again. Ironically, RNG is what got me past this episode because I got a different boss that was much easier for the warrior to handle. After playing episodes of every character class, I encountered the same bosses across classes, something that I think is a design mistake in the game. For better game balance the bosses should be fixed per episode to minimize the RNG frustration. I say this because it’s clear to me that some of the bosses are just too rough for some of the classes.
Dicey Dungeons is hard to explain in pure text because the different character classes make the game feel totally different with each one of them. For example, the Robot generates dice in a ‘blackjack’ type of skill and completely changes the way you play the game and order in which you make decisions. Although the gameplay of the warrior is satisfactory, I feel the rest of the classes really showcase Terry Cavanagh’s ability in game development the most, because every class extends the life of the game by creating a totally different complex experience that you have to learn. I do recommend completely playing through the warrior first (you have a choice), because you will encounter most of the same enemies and most of the same enemy skills to give you a better understanding moving forward, although the class abilities you have access to can vary per episode. The episode format in Dicey Dungeons is more like scenarios with stipulations to alter your experience in an interesting way, with the bonus episode for each class offering endless playthroughs in a ‘remix’ style mode where stipulations are randomly added after every floor. It also brings a hard mode and ability to choose starting equipment.
It wouldn’t be a Terry Cavanagh game without a good soundtrack, and Chipzel has returned (Super Hexagon) to add flavor to Dicey Dungeons. Although good, the soundtrack is not the biggest standout for me in Dicey Dungeons, as the gameplay and artwork will leave the bigger and more positive impressions. I have logged plenty of hours in this fun dice RPG and I can’t wait to complete every character class and overcome the RNG gods. Few games motivate me to do a 100% complete playthrough, but the Dicey Dungeons gameplay setup in conjunction with the challenges are motivating factors. The game also has a solid foundation where additional content could potentially be added in the future, but the current content is enough already to sink plenty of hours in. Dicey Dungeons is a job well done by Terry Cavanagh, clearly his best game yet, and one of my favorite games of 2019. I definitely recommend you take the chance of rolling the dice against Lady Luck.
Similar Games Liked:
Slay the Spire (PC)