EIEIO 08: Dungeon Hero inverts the dungeon genre


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As Firefly Studios explained it, most dungeon games put the player in the role of a psychopath who enters a dungeon to slaughter thousands of subterranean creatures and steal their gold. Dungeon Hero is totally different. In Dungeon Hero, your character is -- well, okay, a psychopath who enters a dungeon to slaughter thousands of subterranean creatures and steal their gold. But those subterranean creatures have their own stuff going on, and that jerk hero is neither the shining exemplar of humanity nor some brooding antihero. He's mostly just a big dumb guy who fights a lot. And as such, he is manipulated into becoming the hero of some of the dungeon's inhabitants.
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The story has one faction of goblins tricking the hero into working for them against another faction who happens to have awakened Death. This means killing some goblins, and chilling with others. Amusingly, according to the developers, the hero is seen as sort of a necessary evil by the "good" Gold Star goblins, who lure him specifically because he's so violent and murderous. They regard him as a bad influence in general.

In the demo, we wandered through a goblin settlement, with one goblin mellowly noodling away at a guitar, and others much less mellowly performing emergency surgery (there being a war on and all). Firefly promises a living goblin city, full of characters who go about their business like any other townspeople would, having conversations, working, and enjoying time off -- and not just being braindead NPCs.

But this is an action game after all, and you are an "emotionally retarded" dungeon hero, and that's got to involve beating up monsters, right? The combat in this game is designed with crowds in mind. That means that the hero's moves are built not to generate huge combos, but to push goblins away. In combat mode, moves mapped to each of the Xbox 360 pad's face buttons will attack in that direction -- so A attacks downward and Y upward. RPG elements come in the form of a dauntingly enormous skill tree with hundreds of nodes, broken up into ten or so branches.

Dungeon Hero looks like an interesting mix of action and semi-satirical RPG gameplay. It manages to embrace most dungeon RPG tropes while self-consciously calling attention to them. In addition, occasional cutscenes are illustrated in very nice-looking comics, which remind us of 300 (possibly due to the constant swording). It's currently scheduled for a March 2009 release on Xbox 360 and PC.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.