When it comes to dungeons, videogames like to play fast and loose. The term doesn’t just apply to the dank, underground pits where prisoners are thrown to die, but to a wide variety of places where in-game action occurs, from islands to spaceships, giant trees to the bellies of cantankerous whales.
The dungeon has been a staple of gaming since the first MUDs translated tabletop RPG mechanics into digital words, and they’re still going strong today, with games like Heroes Of Ruin setting the standard for co-operative portable dungeon crawling. With that in mind, here are ten of our favourite dungeons, some of which are traditional, some of which aren’t, but all of which are brilliant.
Dungeon Keeper features literal dungeons, and you literally have to keep them. It’s a strategy game about managing the nefarious traps and minions in a fantasy dungeon, making sure you keep those pesky heroes away from all the loot you’ve accrued over your life of being evil. With imps scurrying around doing your bidding, and a floating hand you can use to manipulate objects or slap creatures into action, this is less of a dungeon crawl and more of a dungeon motivation seminar, but it’s funny, and an awful lot of fun too.
The original Diablo is set in a single dungeon below the city of Tristram. You’re leading your hero down into the very depths of hell to try and step one of the three ultimate evils from taking over the world. Cue lots of hacking, slashing, and a monumental amount of loot collection. Playing as either a Warrior, a Rogue or a Wizard, the descent into fiery hell had never felt quite as exciting as this before. While the template set down by Diablo might have been tweaked by Blizzard for its sequels, the original is still a fitting example of the best way to entice players deeper into your dungeons.
Deadmines – World Of Warcraft
The Deadmines are the lowest level instance for Alliance players, a maze of villain filled caves that eventually lead to a reference fuelled battle on a galleon in a giant cavern. While they might not be the most epic of the dungeons available in Blizzard’s trend setting MMO, they act as a brilliant primer for the cooperative styles of play you need to learn to tackle some of the more difficult instances. The Deadmines are a great showcase for the often overlooked wit and design nous that every corner of World Of Warcraft is covered in.
Great Deku Tree – Ocarina Of Time
The Great Deku Tree is everything that’s good about the Ocarina Of Time distilled into an hour or so of expertly designed fun. The way it links together its elements, leading you inexorably to a battle with a giant multi-legged, giant eyed, spider beast thing at the heart of the tree itself, is really a joy to behold. This was Miyamoto at his ingenious best, and the perfect way to introduce the classic series to the third dimension for the very first time.
Infinity Blade is one of few games that actually uses the touchscreen controls of iOS devices to its advantage. A clever, cyclical tale of adventurers, death and rebirth, the game is a dungeon crawl designed for your pocket, with an emphasis on quick battles and sharp-eyed loot gathering. This is a modern, knowing, slightly more vertical take on the dungeon, but it’s perfect for snatching a few minutes of insane violence between meetings. If you have any meetings.
Grimrock – The Legend Of Grimrock
A first person, retro infused RPG that sees you trying to escape from the titular prison. Dallying with fantasy tropes, and with the sort of twisty turny story that befits a crawl through a maze, The Legend Of Grimrock is a clever and knowing game that imbues its setting with the legacy of a thousand other fantasy stories. If you hanker for the days when dungeons were unmapped and danger lurked around every corner, a classic mode will fulfil your masochistic whims.
Yours – Neverwinter Nights
As great as the core quest of Neverwinter Nights was, the real majesty of the game came from the Aurora toolset, which let you create your own D&D adventures and share them with the rest of the world. Reasonably easy to use, the tools let you build dungeons, populate them with characters and monsters, and generally play the role of digital Dungeon Master. It’s telling that, ten years after it was released, there’s still a community creating new content for the game. It’s even used by Bioware as part of their job application process.
Moschet Manor – Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
The original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which saw you connecting your Game Boy Advance to the Gamecube in order to control your adventurers, was a brilliant, addictive co-operative dungeon crawling master stroke. Each of its levels followed the same pattern – you’d make your way through, killing and collecting loot, before facing off against a giant boss. Or, in the case of Moschet Manor, two. The clever way it blends tactical thinking with hack and slash gameplay make it one of the better spin-offs from Square Enix’s hugely successful Final Fantasy series.
One of the first dungeon crawlers to have a graphical interface, albeit one represented in letters rather than pixels, Rogue essentially spawned an entire genre – anyone describing a game as a roguelike is referring back to this classic of the early 80s. You descend into an unmapped dungeon, in search of treasure, violence, and a sacred amulet stored in the lowest level that will let you ascend back to the surface. It might not look like much now, but pretty much every game on this list owes a debt to Rogue’s procedurally generated rooms.
The Catacombs – Dark Souls
Dark Souls is the game that made dungeon crawling terrifying again, replacing hack and slash combat with an intricately balanced system that was only too happy to punish you for every single mistake. The Catacombs are a case in point. Accessible early on in the game, lower level players don’t stand a chance of surviving their skeleton filled gloom, and anyone foolish enough to stumble in without a light source is in for a dark, lonely death. Beautifully difficult, Dark Souls is everything that’s good about modern dungeon crawls – bleak, hopeless, and utterly compelling.
Heroes Of Ruin is out now.
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