PAX East – Dome Keeper

I was going to title this post the “Good Stuff” post. It was going to be a nice big list of everything from the show that I liked, but hadn’t listed out yet.

Then I ran into a slight problem. See, that list was a grand total of one item long. I already covered most of the games from the show that I liked in the “Games From PAX With Demos you can play at home” post.

So instead, you get a super short post about Dome Keeper, the single remaining entry on that list. So I say to Dome Keeper: congrats! And please don’t disappoint me when you actually release.

Published by Raw Fury! Who also published Atomicrops, which I loved.

So what is Dome Keeper? Well, two things, sorta. It plays like a combo of Motherload, and Space Invaders. You are a small space person, living in your tiny little dome. You can leave the dome to dig down, and gather various minerals and ores, which you then drag back to your base and deposit. Different ores are used for different types of upgrades, which range from increasing the speed at which you move, your carrying capacity, and how quickly you dig. They can also be used to upgrade your dome. And you’re going to want to do that, because there’s a timer, and when it ticks down, your dome gets a attacked by a wave of monsters.

Of course, even if you clear that wave, the next wave will be stronger. So back into the mines you go to search for more minerals. Rinse, repeat.

The demo itself was a ton of fun, and the game is supposed to release later this year. The Steam page has it listed as a roguelike, so I’m curious to see how that gets implemented, and what other features the game has.

But like I said, the demo was fun. And really, that’s the most important thing. So cross your fingers with me, and let’s hope it’s good.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue

Dungeon Defenders going rogue is undercooked and unfinished, don’t buy it.

Let me save you some time and money. Don’t buy Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. If you want to close this article now, or perhaps just read about a better Roguelike, or a better Tower Defense game, that’s fine.

I’m writing the rest of this article because posting a writeup that’s just one paragraph long is rude. Also, spite, because I spent $15 on this junk.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue wants to be a combo tower defense game and roguelike. It’s also technically an entry in the Dungeon Defenders series. (More on the franchise’s weird history later.) If you’ve never played a Dungeon Defenders game, they were 3D tower defense games with action combat, and fairly heavy leveling/progression systems.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, is not quite that. Here’s how the traditional loop of a Dungeon Defenders game worked: you’d pick a map to run, and a difficulty for that map. A map consists of a series of waves of enemies to fight, and potentially some form of boss at the end. Killing enemies drops mana, and you use mana to build and upgrade towers. Enemies can also drop loot, items you can equip, and whatnot. If you get to the end of the map, you unlock more maps and challenges, and if you fail, you keep the loot you had so far, but you have to start over.

All this is combined with having a permanent character, from one of the game’s classes, who you level up and such, also with mana.

Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue tries to take that formula, and turn it into a roguelike, but it just doesn’t do that very well.

Let’s quickly get mechanics out of the way. Like standard Dungeon Defenders, you have a hero, and you have the same sort of abilities. These abilities vary from class to class, but generally have a pattern. Each class has a basic attack, a secondary attack, a nuke, an activatable overcharge, and two tower slots. Unlike towers in normal Dungeon Defenders, these towers have time to live, and die once the the timer empties. But the cooldown to place a tower is far higher than the time a tower actually stays alive, so in practice, you can only ever have two towers up for a short amount of time. In an ostensible tower defense game, this is a bit strange.

The biggest issue I have with Going Rogue is that as a roguelike, it’s incredibly boring. A good roguelike offers a high skill ceiling for mechanical mastery (Dead Cells, Enter the Gungeon, Nuclear Throne), informational mastery (Slay the Spire, Inscryption), or preferably a combination of both (Binding of Issac, Spelunky). If your game is going to be based around playing effectively the same thing over and over, playing needs to feel rewarding, and runs need to feel different. A weaker player should have good runs where they can feel like they’re succeeding even if they don’t know everything, and a strong player should be able to salvage even bad runs.

But even if you disagree with my definition of what makes a roguelike good, I think you’ll agree that being boring is exceptionally bad in a roguelike. Every run cannot just feel the same. And that’s the issue with Going Rogue.

The way the game handles abilities and power growth is underwhelming. After you clear a level, you open a treasure chest, and the chest has a few random items in it. One of these are the game’s runes, which seem to be intended to function as value pickups. Ultimately, I find them mostly worthless, because there’s virtually never a reason to not pick them up, and they give uninteresting stat buffs, such as 5% health, or 10% movement speed. They’re numerically boring stat sticks. And most of the time you don’t even get to choose which ones you’re getting.

At end of 3 waves, when you clear a map, you get a slightly bigger chest with a special rune drop that lets you choose between 3 different runes. The problem is that the very generic runes mentioned before are still in the pool, and it’s entirely possible to roll the same one twice as one of your choices.

The weapons, trinkets, and towers suffer from a similar but slightly different issue. As a run progresses, better towers/weapons/trinkets drop from the end of level chest. And because they’re almost always net better, there’s virtually never a situation where you’d choose to keep your current item, even if it has interesting stats, over an item with more damage. Get a cool tower early on? Too bad, by the time you’re in the 3rd zone, it’ll have 1/5th of the DPS of any random trash that pops out from your end of level chest.

The end result is a system where you can’t construct a build. You can only pick up bigger numbers, and hope they’re big enough.

Perhaps this could all be ignored if combat felt good, but it doesn’t. It’s a weightless affair, where you swipe at enemies until their health bar empties, and they fall over and die. Particle effects and animations are unimpressive, and feel like greybox assets. There’s not an ounce of mechanical mastery required, and the fact that abilities have virtually no synergy does the game no favors either.

But that’s all subjective. Maybe I have bad taste. But regardless of my taste, the game is buggy. In five hours of playing, here are a few highlights of what I encountered:

Random disconnection from multiplayer for no reason, killing the run.

Items dropping with a description of “ITEM TEXT GOES HERE”, no stats, and a sell value of 9999.

Items all dropping with the exact same stats, instead of having random rolls.

So that’s Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue. A unpolished, unfinished mess. A brawler with poor combat, a tower defense game with no towers, and a roguelike with no power progression. If you took your money, and set it on fire, you’d get more value. This is because while the money would be gone, at least you wouldn’t have wasted any time playing the game.

Ed Note. So, Dungeon Defenders as a series has a bit of weird history. There was Dungeon Defenders, then a shit ton of DLC, then Dungeon Defenders 2, and presumably even more DLC. At some point, the company making it sorta shut down, then someone else bought the rights/reformed the company? I’m not 100% clear. In any case, the folks who bought the rights again wanted to make a new Dungeon Defenders game. They didn’t have any money though, so they made Dungeon Defenders Awakened. It was mediocre. Then they made Dungeon Defenders Eternity which… no longer exists. And now they’ve made Dungeon Defenders: Going Rogue, which isn’t worth playing.

Ed Note 2: If for some reason you want to see actual gameplay, why not watch me play it with a friend here?