Tom Hooper aka Atomp, (04-12-13)
I got in on Delver fairly early and at that point it was an interesting concept with a great deal of promise. The skeptic in me expected it to continue much as is, but I was wrong. I came back to Delver a short while ago, but only really got back into it for this review and boy was I pleasantly surprised.
Delver is a rogue-like, however it is more rogue-like than the vast majority of modern ‘rogue-likes.’ The game is essentially a first person action perspective of the classic rogue-like game, such as Nethack and the like. This is a great combination, taking established dungeoneering, leveling, fighting and loot mechanics and giving them an action orientated twist. This is a dungeon-crawler without the crawling.
The gameplay is from a first person perspective, taking an action feel not dissimilar to the likes of Skryim and other first person fantasy games. The magic is done through the use of expendable wands, archery is much like Minecraft archery and blade combat is a click-to-swing affair. The combat is fast paced and hectic, switching weapons and doing so quickly is going to be pretty key in surviving. The game design is based around this with the player making tough choices as to what to keep in that hotbar on the top, because fumbling in the inventory screen is going to get you killed. The inventory itself is a very limited affair in how much you can carry, forcing some tough choices on the player. What you carry, what you equip and what you keep for later are all going to be essential decisions, often made quickly. The levels themselves are a reasonable size, but not excessive. Navigating is made possible through the use of both a map and a mini-map; both are really nice to see and well implemented. There is variety in the levels, with typically no more than 2 or 3 levels retaining the same theme. In fact, there is a good amount of variety in most elements of the game. The weapon variety is very good, with multiple types of swords, daggers, wands and bows in various states of repair. Armour is much the same, with the condition system mixing up what might otherwise have been a fairly linear progression. Enemy variety is also present, with some enemies recurring at higher levels and many appearing uniquely at certain levels or in certain dungeon themes.
Leveling up will provide a skill point that can be placed into one of six categories, allowing the player to essentially construct the build that they prefer. There’s no respeccing, so your decision will be pretty much final for that particular character. The variety in skills really allows the player to make whatever build they want. I personally had a lot of fun with an almost pure speed and agility leveled character. There’s a certain elegance to the simplicity of the skill system, with no complicated and convoluted skill trees and the like. Instead it’s boiled down to the essentials, which is perfectly suited to the game. It is, of course, a rogue-like so your character is expected to die. However, there is a degree of continuity after death, as gold earned by your previous character carries over to your next, allowing you to buy some essentials from the trader or mage at the starting camp before you enter the dungeon. This is a really nice game mechanic and aids the player in having some form of progression in what would otherwise be a straight reset on character death.
Aesthetically, Delver has changed significantly since I played the early version. The PC version has been updated graphically and it looks fantastic, just the right side of retro but not excessively pixelated as it used to be. The early version that I initially played, similar to what the Android version is now, was perhaps a little bit too pixelated and the experience felt too claustrophobic and ill defined visually. With the latest texture update, that has changed and the sense of claustrophobia is just right. If you want something a little more high definition, there is a texture pack available from PureDBCraft which gives Delver a high quality comic-style appearance very reminiscent of PureDBCraft’s Sphax Minecraft texture pack. This texture pack will put you back a couple of quid (a few dollars), but it’s well worth it in giving the game yet another visual overhaul, especially tempting if you’re a fan of the Sphax Minecraft pack. The sound design has also come leaps and bounds since my initial experience, with the combat and action sounds complementing an amazingly atmospheric soundtrack. On the subject of sound, I would absolutely like to point out a little touch that is the icing on the cake: In the camp, around the campfire next to the merchants, is a bard playing the guitar in a style very reminiscent of Stalker. This is a little thing but it’s so brilliant a touch in building atmosphere in the camp and bringing forward memories of time spent huddled around campfires for Stalker veterans.
Beyond all the technical elements that make Delver great, I really want to emphasize exactly how it *feels* to play: It feels great. The entire experience now is of a game that is coming into its own, where the gameplay is fast, yet balanced, and the overall emmersive effect of all of the changes is reaching real polish. Dungeon crawling has a long history in various forms and rarely has it felt this emmersive, atmospheric and fun.
Delver is available on Steam but, as always, I would recommend picking it up from the website through the Humble Store widget. This will provide DRM free copies on PC, Mac, Linux and Android and also includes a Steam activation. There is a distinct advantage for Android users in this approach, as it allows them to have the Android version bundled where they would otherwise have to use the Play store in addition to Steam. It is worth noting that the Android version seems to be behind on updates, so if you’re looking for a pure Android experience it may be a short while before the latest updates hit that platform. Currently, through the Humble Store widget on the game page, the price is $7.99 (approx £4.88) which is a good price considering you’ll get all four platforms for this and DRM free. On Steam the game will cost you $9.80 (approx £5.99) and on the Google Play store the Android version costs $2.11 (approx £1.29). The Play version is the cheapest of the lot, but also the last to get updates, so again I would recommend the Humble Store widget. System requirements are minimal and the game will run on most machines just fine.