Michael here. It’s been a while (okay, a long while) since my last post/review. A shame, yet life happens. But I’m finally back with another review and some additional news:
I’ve got my own blog featuring my previously published d20/OGL fantasy material (chiefly from my work with Ronin Arts) as well as new stuff. I’m updating it almost daily so if 3.0/3.5 and Pathfinder are your thing, check GMWorkbook out.
Alright, let’s get to the review…
Look, sometimes you just want to grab your gear, head into the dungeon, and slay some monsters. And if you do, you could do worse than to make Monsters’ Den Chronicles your destination as MDC is exactly what you’re looking for.
Let’s start at the beginning. You select your company of four adventurers from the ten given – two of each cleric, fighter, wizard, rogue, and ranger – and plunge right in! Well, you could do that, or you could take advantage of a surprisingly detailed Character Customization feature (look for the dual gears under the character portrait) that even lets you change each adventurer’s appearance based on age and how hard of a life they’ve had so far. So you could actually age your heroes between adventures, or create that hard-drinking, bitter female cleric haunted by the demons of missions past.
In fact, now that I think about it, you could use this feature to create small character/NPC portraits for your fantasy tabletop games through screen captures. And if that’s not enough you can even import custom sprites from other URLs. In any case, once you’re happy with your company it’s time to plunge into adventure.
MDC features a total of six campaigns. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are three actual story-based campaigns, two endless-wave scenarios, and one story-less dungeon that mixes and matches foes from the three first campaigns. Frankly, I consider the game to have three campaigns and the others as bonuses.
The default difficulty level is Easy and the penalty for defeat (meaning all company members die in battle) is the loss of some experience points. You can change both of these by clicking on the bottom of the screen. I would recommend that unless you are an absolute neophyte to dungeon crawls like this escalating the difficulty to Standard represents the right amount of challenge/reward trade-off. As for the penalties, Experience loss is more palatable than Items losses as the item loss is from the characters themselves rather than the accumulated gear and, well, it sucks to lose that sweet magic sword. In fact, in that sense Hardcore (where the quest ends with party death) is actually softer than Items loss as you retain all of your characters’ gear. Note that the higher the difficulty, the better the items you earn, but also the more difficult it is to earn them in the first place.
Alright, having decided the difficulty level and penalty for your campaign you finally, after some rather good expository text, plunge on into the dungeon. The Dungeon Map Screen should be familiar. The actual dungeon is randomly generated and reveals itself as you move along corridors and open doors. It’s standard fare, though you do have the option of bypassing an individual room through the use of a Scroll of Deception seen in the upper right-hand corner. It is also in the dungeon screen that you can access the various menus including your Inventory and the Emporium, the place to buy and sell your items. Frankly, I’ve never been impressed with the Emporium as the initial items available are rather weak and you have to spend money to unlock better ones. Much more valuable are the Options as they contain the How To Play section. You really should take the time to read both the Beginner and Advanced sections. You don’t have to – the game does provide hints as you go along and much of it is standard stuff – but it’s not much of a tutorial and it’ll take you a while to figure out the nuances on your own.
Beginning an encounter simply requires the company to enter a room with an enemy, at which point you are taken to the Battle Screen. Before you do this, however, you might want to examine each character’s Fighting Style on the Character Info page. Each character has three styles and they grant various bonuses and penalties. You can change these any time during battle on the character’s subsequent turns, but as a battle can sometimes be won or lost in the first round (even if it doesn’t at first appear so), making sure you’ve got the proper default heading into battle is a good thing, especially at higher levels of difficulty.
Before the actual battle begins you’ll pick a formation. This is important for a number of reasons including the reach of melee weapons (they can usually only reach the closest enemy rank) as well as for protection. Once your formation is set it is effectively permanent unless a special ability grants the opportunity for changing. I’m not going to get into the specifics of combat beyond repeating that it is turn-based (so take as much or little time as you need) and to look out for terrain effects. I’ll instead sum combat up with the following: the harder the level of difficulty, the more you’ll have to manage the various aspects of combat. On Easy you can keep the same formation for almost every combat and pound away without much concern, but take it to Veteran or Extreme and you’d better know exactly what you’re doing. Assuming the company is victorious, upon the conclusion of combat you receive the usual XP and loot adjusted for how well you performed. Once a character has enough XP to level up you receive one point to increase an Attribute with and you get to select from one of three skills.
And that’s really about it as far as the basics go.
What Makes The Game Worth/Not Worth Playing
MDC is a terrific old-school turn-based dungeon crawl that can be as involved as you wish. Keep it on Easy and the tactical and strategic decisions are minimal and you can breeze through things in a few hours. Play it on Veteran or Extreme and your margin for error is reduced to the point where you really have to plan things out and be on top of your preparations and in-combat adjustments, something that will take many hours (days?) to master. In fact, the only reason I don’t give MDC the full five stars is due to the weak Emporium creating the need for a bit of a loot grind on all but the easiest setting and the fact that, despite it all, , certain aspects of opponent scaling (essentially turning certain monsters into massive hit point sinks) aren’t so appealing.
So grab your armor and your sword, gather your company, and head into the darkness and to glory!