Time:15 Hours 40 Minutes
While highly influential in general, Dungeon Master marks a shift in the design of first-person non-vehicle action games from maze games to something with actual gameplay. Even a good chunk of RPGs before this were just complex, multi-level mazes. Meanwhile, while the rest of the gaming world is slowly advancing beyond wireframes, here comes Dungeon Master, looking fantastic and playing great, with this fancy mouse thing. Nothing can compare to what this game accomplished.
|These "trolins" are your typical orc-type monsters and usually come in groups like this
|A very bad situation, these wasps poison my characters, so Sonja is just about to die here
|A "giggler" fresh off having stolen a shield, the other having already been stolen
|Another very bad situation
|Sometimes it seems like the dungeon has an actual mind of its own
|Throwing a chest at nothing, practically as effective as regular throwing weapons
|A sentient suit of armor, which doesn't take a lot of damage from physical attacks
|A mysterious field, there are many of these to figure out
Much of the early levels is spent getting used to the mechanics. Befitting its age, the player has to make his own maps, thanks to a lovely mechanic called "spinners", which spin the party around. Its not the first time I've seen it, and it isn't the first time it would be a mechanic in a RPG, but it feels a lot more insidious here. You have to pay extra attention for them, very tricky in a grid-based system where giant rats are barrelling towards you. To survive one needs to be alert and pay attention. That pressure plate in the floor may open a door or it may open an invisible hole in the ground. I'm pretty sure you need to press a few hidden switches and buttons to win, but since you have to be alert its not as big a sin as any FPS guilty of doing it.
|Note the cursor on the door button, one of the few times the mouse is useful in combat
|A sample non-material enemy
The game has the right length, lacking any real fat to it and just about hitting the practical limit of player offensive ability. Any shorter, and one might not be properly prepared for the final bosses. Any longer, and the player will reach enemies with far too much health. Now admittedly, the last real level has a bit too much in the ways of enemies that take too long to kill. This doesn't make that level bad, just very annoying.
There are a few negatives. Like a few instances where continuing isn't ideal and that it should be time to reload. I can resurrect characters after they die but there's no real boon to this. Resurrection chambers are very far apart from each other and going to them isn't ideal. Further, this permanently lowers the HP of that champion. Despite how it might seem at times, I am trying to play these the way they were meant to be played, its just that doesn't always work out. I also don't care for the "gigglers" or thieving gremlins. They steal an item and then run off. There's one big floor with dozens of enemies and pits in the way of dealing with them, and I don't feel bad about reloading should I end up there and lose an item.
|These "wizard eyes" can open the door just as well as you can, which is unfortunate
Dungeon Master is an interesting game, at times it feels like the last and truly wonderful title of the sub-genre and others it feels like the awkward first game. Its an amazing game and technical achievement. I'm not sure how you could improve upon it, but I'm sure we'll see someone try.
I didn't really notice much difference between the swords I started the game with and the swords I ended the game with, outside of magic powers. Offensive spells, on the other hand, tended to force me to use fireball, with poison attacks being too unreliable and lightning too mana-intensive. Ranged weapons never seemed to be too effective and required too much cleanup. 2/10
There's a nice variety of enemies, albeit ones that fall into the usual category of fantasy monsters. Giant insects, orc-types, undead, beholders, demons and dark lords. There are a few against the grain, but nothing too out of the ordinary. It has a nice progression, but things were getting into the damage sponge range by the end of it. I didn't care for some of the respawning enemies, however. 5/10
There weren't any.
There's some interesting highs, the better ones had some very interesting puzzles in-between the fights. Secret searching is pretty good, not only thanks to the methods of finding secrets, but in how they're placed. The lows are mostly just busy-work, having to fight one's way through potentially never-ending meatshields. 7/10
The method of controlling the characters along a grid works pretty well, compared to later attempts. All my issues really boil down to not being able to change items easily in combat. There's no way to heal in battle easily, going to inventory while fighting is going to end very badly. 7/10
There's some interesting stuff going on that I haven't seen before. Take secret walls. In a normal FPS, you'd press use against a wall, or maybe shoot it. Here, you can't do the former, and the later does nothing much. Instead you press it, with the mouse. You can also run into walls, which damages you. The game offers a similar amount of cleverness in other aspects. One memorable puzzle involves putting down items to activate pressure plates so you don't get roasted by fireballs. 5/10
Despite lacking music or any kind of ambient sound, Dungeon Master did a good job of making the player feel like he's deep in a dungeon. Too many games gloss over the whole eating and drinking aspect of dungeon crawling. 4/10
High-quality for the era, but now just competent. The game mostly suffers in that what its depicting most of the time isn't going to look great no matter how you render it. 4/10
Not something that really matters for the most part. It is cool that one should figure out that Lord Order isn't a friend, but otherwise it doesn't exactly have much of a presence. 1/10
There's no music in the version I played, but there were action sound effects. Simple but effective. 3/10
That's 38. I'm giving it 2 more since its such a vital, if understated game. For a final of 40. That's the lowest of my recommended category, as the 30s usually fall under recommended if you like that sort of thing. I don't really need to go into the reviews, since its more or less a beloved classic. Its not really a FPS, but its DNA would contribute quite heavily to the genre.
FTL Games will return with the expansion Chaos Strikes Back at some point in the future. The next real RPGs I'll touch upon are the Ultima Underworld games.
I'm trying to shift the upcoming games between genres and nationalities. Expect a Japanese FPS, a racing game, an American FPS, and then an Intellivision game. It turns out I was unable to play The Wreck.