I’m going to see if I can make it through this dungeon crawler article without mentioning Diablo even once. Oops…
What is it that we love about dungeon crawlers? Last week on The Dungeon Crawler Podcast, Dave, Joe, and Steve discussed what classified a game as a “dungeon crawler”, and in short, LOTS of games are dungeon crawlers! So whether you prefer the isometric view, over-the-shoulder, first-person, or anything else, there are plenty of ways to get your dungeon crawler fix. But what makes these games so addictive?
I remember the first time I started playing these kinds of games. It was a fairly new experience for me, though it felt comfortable. As a fan of the original Fallout (which I know, it’s more RPG than dungeon crawler), I was used to the isometric, from up above view, and I liked it. I was also used to clicking on where I wanted to go and picking items up from the ground. This experience really drew me in because I felt like I could see more of the world and my surroundings than I was able to in other games I’d been playing (first-person shooters). It didn’t take long before I knew that I loved this style and wanted to play these kinds of games even more.
As I discovered how much fun it was to run around killing monsters, collecting loot, selling it, upgrading some of my own gear, adding skill points, gaining levels, finding epic gear, unlocking secret levels, and doing it all over again, there’s no other way to say it: I got hooked. There’s just something very satisfying about clicking in a box that upgrades some of your skills or perks. Or hearing the thunk or clang as you add new weapons or armor to your character. Or barely surviving a fight against a game’s toughest boss. These experiences are very hard to match in other games, even other games that I love.
Part of what makes these games so addictive is their pacing. They often move at lightning speed and give you the feeling that at any moment you could be surrounded by enemies that completely overpower you. When you’re on a roll you can clear an entire area in a matter of minutes, but feel completely satisfied because you managed to take down hundreds of monsters in that time and picked up some great magic items in the process. If you happen to run into an area boss, sometimes they can be taken down very quickly as well, but most of the time this is when skill comes in to play. By successfully dodging attacks or countering them, you can put together a flurry of moves that not only look amazing on the screen, but do some serious damage and help you feel like the hero your character is becoming.
But maybe the best part about a dungeon crawler is the character development. Whether it’s finding epic sets of armor or weapons that glow and do massive damage, or even working your way up a skill tree until you’re the ultimate damage dealing crusader, dungeon crawlers provide one of the best senses of progression there is in gaming. In most games there are several different ways you can take your character, and once you choose, your decisions are locked for the life of that character. You need to plan your character’s development ahead of time if you want to make sure you progress into the kind of hero you want. While this restriction can sometimes be a burden if you make a poor choice along the way, it provides a real sense of accomplishment when you reach max level and feel like the ultimate fighting machine.
So I only mentioned Diablo once in this article (oh, dangit!), but that’s because dungeon crawlers don’t have to look like that game. The Borderlands games are an exceptional example of how a first-person shooter can also be an RPG/dungeon crawler. If you haven’t taken the plunge into the world of dungeon crawlers yet, that might be a good place to start. It gives you the first person, run ‘n gun, sniping action that you’d expect in any first person shooter, but also has character development, looting, item upgrading, elite weapons and armor, and replay-ability. But it doesn’t really matter where you start with these games, because they all offer many things in common. They keep you coming back for more, trying to get just one more epic loot drop, and keep you addicted for a long time.
I love first person shooters, RPGs, racing games, sports games, strategy games, and reindeer games, but when it comes down to wanting to get in a game, kick some major butt and feel like a hero, dungeon crawlers are where it’s at for me.