The Guild of Dungeoneering is, if you couldn’t guess, a dungeon crawler. Making your way through 2D dungeons, designed as if from scribbles on graph paper, the twist is that you don’t control the little heroes as they make their way through the level, at least not directly. Instead, you’re tasked with building up the dungeon from a selection of pieces each turn, dropping monsters and loot into the hero’s path to entice them along.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Guild of Dungeoneering starts off with you founding the titular group, establishing a base that you’ll expand over time. At first you’ll only have the basic “Chump” class available to take out on quests, but as you go on you’ll unlock a host of classes, from a Cat Burglar to a Wizard and Grail Knights.
And you’ll need their skills to progress in the game. Exploring a dungeon typically involves linking up a series of pre-set segments containing monsters or treasures that make up your objective. Each turn, you get to place three cards from a random selection of five monsters, dungeon bits, or treasure, before your dungeoneer moves through.
Put like that it seems incredibly basic, but GoD has some clever strategy to take into account. You start each dungeon with no items and at level one, so you must use the time before you reach the boss to gain XP and items from lower level baddies. It means you really have to think about how you build your dungeon, particularly as you have no real control over your dungeoneer. The tension ramps up even further in later dungeons, with bosses becoming even more powerful after a certain amount of turns, or chasing you around the dungeon. The added pressure is a nice incentive to focus on your dungeon building, but there’s still a danger of overconfidence – more than once I’ve placed a higher level enemy thinking I’d earn some extra gold before tackling the boss, only to die because they were too powerful.
The only direct control of your dungeoneer comes during the card-based combat. You have a certain amount of hearts, as does your opponent, and you must play cards that deal either magic or physical damage, or block the same. Special cards spice things up, allowing you to deal an unblockable attack or heal yourself, with your deck determined by your class and the items you’ve picked up on your quest. It works really well, again requiring a surprising amount of strategy, with class abilities that allow extra attacks, or make all your attacks strike first – normally they’re simultaneous – allowing you to deal the knockout blow even when an opponent’s attack would leave you dead. Naturally, enemies have a variety of powers too, some boosted by the presence of allies, for example.
When you do die – and you will, frequently – a tombstone appears in the Guild’s graveyard, where you can see the quests they went on, gold they collected and amount of monsters they killed. It’s a nice touch, consistent with the character of the game, and a death is never felt too strongly as dungeoneers are immediately replaced with a new member of the lost class, with levels and loot reset after each dungeon anyway.
Beyond the scribbled style of the visuals, the audio design is lovely, topped by a ballad sung each time you return to the Guild. Often this is sarcastic, mocking your most recent failure, of negatively framing the accomplishments you do make. It also accompanies the few story moments – the broad stroke is that you’ve set up a rival guild to make riches and get back at another guild that spurned you.
As amusing as the story is, it doesn’t really provide much incentive to keep playing, and after a few hours The Guild of Dungeoneering desperately needs a compelling reason to go back. It all just becomes very one note after a while: go to dungeon, work your way through while dropping similar enemies in your path, grab all the loot you can, go back to the guild, rinse, repeat. Without carrying XP and loot between dungeons there just isn’t a sense of progression to the characters, and the permadeath loses its sting after the first couple of times, especially as all characters have the same traits within a class.
Still, The Guild of Dungeoneering is hours of fun, and a genuinely fresh take on a genre that developers love to experiment with, and for that alone it’s worth a look. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t give you more incentive to keep playing.
Great art style.
Lots of personality.
Samey after a while.
Not much sense of progression.
Story doesn’t really carry you along.