In Dungeon Souls, a roguelite action game from Lamina Studios, you’re tasked with fighting your way through procedurally-generated dungeons, each kill bringing you one step closer to reaching the final showdown with the Dungeon Master. Along the way, you’ll battle hordes of monsters, gather powerful items, and unlock permanent character upgrades.
We’re going to start with a question, and it’s an important one. It will both define and give meaning to your time with Dungeon Souls…
Who Will You Die As?
You’re going to die a lot in this game. Like, a lot, so the first thing you need to do is choose a class that makes the experience gratifying. Luckily, this is something that Dungeon Souls does particularly well. While you start with only three basic classes – the Barbarian, Archer, and Thief – you will quickly unlock additional classes with more depth and varied playstyles. It should go without saying that this does wonders for the replayability of the game.
Tough melee classes like the Barbarian and Warrior have high hit points and defense, while run and gun ranged classes rely on fast movement and high damage. As you level up during play, you receive stat points to spend on your favorite attributes, allowing for experimentation from run to run. In terms of skills, each class features three of them, and you’re able to level them up as you go, too. I wasn’t a fan of the high cooldowns attached to two of the three skills – often 10 seconds or more – but considering that they almost single-handedly clear entire rooms, I can at least understand the decision. On a more positive note, the skills are fun to use, and made me feel like an all-powerful master of the dungeon.
I was also pleased to find that each class really did feel different. With the Necromancer, I mainly relied on my skeletal minions to clear the way while I fired bolts of destruction from behind the lines. I didn’t have this luxury as the Brawler; I was forced to embrace my inner berserker, dashing and slashing my foes into oblivion. I do feel that the melee classes are somewhat underpowered, however. I’m sure this is partially due to a lack of invincibility frames, like Enter The Gungeon’s lovely dodge roll. It’s tough to find even a moment’s safety from incoming damage in this game, and that’s especially punishing on the close-range classes.
Without a way to escape damage, I have to admit that I did feel salty after some of my deaths. I felt like they simply couldn’t be avoided, like my skill really didn’t matter. Sometimes I let myself get backed into a corner or I was too slow to pop a potion, but more often than not my massive-damage skills were on a ridiculously long cooldown and I just couldn’t deal enough wreckage without them. On the plus side, there is an easy difficulty option for those who find themselves frustrated with the default difficulty.
Colorfully Vibrant, Yet Dark And Gritty
Dungeon Souls combines two seemingly opposite attributes into an eye-pleasing oxymoron. Each level exudes a dark and gritty vibe that’s painted with a vast array of colors. Get ready for greens, blues, purples, and everything in between. It’s blindingly bright at times, but I’ll gladly take that over dull and soulless grays, browns, and blacks. As for the music, it’s surprisingly relaxing, given the nature of your situation – always at death’s door. At times, it feels a little too disarming. I’m not sure it’s the most appropriate choice for a game like this, but man, I dig it.
The level and enemy generation both have enough variance to remain interesting, but not so much that you should expect an entirely unique experience every time. On each level, your job is to activate a number of “marks” that spawn a horde of enemies. Expect to encounter a typical gathering of monsters that includes skeleton warriors, fat green slimes, and tricksy apparitions. The levels themselves are also enemies worthy of your attention. Traps litter each dungeon, providing a frustratingly fun layer of entertainment. On the flip side, you can use the traps to your advantage, too. Line your enemies up, pop the trap, and watch the rolling boulder turn them into mush.
Every few levels, you’ll also get the opportunity to try your hand at a boss fight. The bosses I’ve encountered so far have featured limited mechanics, but they still provide a nice change of pace and lots of loot. There’s also a boss-like creature that spawns if you take too long to end the level after activating the last mark. It’s called the Redeemer, and it’ll end your run way ahead of schedule if you stick around to see it in the flesh.
Items, Potions, and permanence
Items are a significant aspect of Dungeon Souls. You’ll loot them from the dead, snag them from treasure chests, and purchase them from the dumbest merchant on the planet (seriously, what kind of crazy soul sets up shop in a dungeon?). Typically, items provide bonuses to core stats, like movement speed and damage. You’ll also find rare treasure with more unique perks like the Shoes of Haste, pictured below.
Similar to many action RPGs, you’re likely to find yourself relying on health potions. While some damage comes way too fast to handle, a well-timed potion can and will save your run. I’d rather see a heavier reliance on player skill, especially considering the high drop rate of potions, but the inclusion is understandable given the lack of invincibility abilities.
In addition to gathering items during runs, you also have access to an area called the Arcane Forge via the main menu. You’re able to use collected scrap materials to fashion powerful – and persistent – pieces of equipment. However, these items are locked behind recipes that must first be found. The mechanic for actually finding them is largely enjoyable and worth figuring out for yourself, so I won’t spoil it here.
Speaking of persistence, you also have the option of purchasing passives and ranking up your favorite classes. Passives provide permanent stacking bonuses (think Rogue Legacy) like boosts to health regeneration, critical hit chance, and magic resistance. They’re pricey, but well worth the investment. Ranks, on the other hand, accumulate at the cost of time. The more you play each class, and the better you do, the more powerful that class becomes. It’s a nice touch that rewards long-term play with one or two characters.
A Note On Controls
I spent most of my time playing Dungeon Souls – roughly five hours total – with a PS4 controller. The controller support is adequate, but just barely. Navigating the menus proved clunky and mildly irritating, and if that were the only problem, I probably wouldn’t even mention it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I found aiming with ranged classes like the Archer and Necromancer to be particularly difficult with the controller. So much so that I disconnected it after two pathetic attempts with the Archer. I then switched over to mouse and keyboard controls – again with the Archer – and had my best run yet. If you’re planning to play solely with a controller, you might want to hold off until the developer implements full controller support.
Shaping Up Nicely, indeed
With colorful levels, unique classes, and a sizable helping of difficulty, Dungeon Souls is shaping up to become an enjoyable roguelite title. Not that it’s not enjoyable now, of course, but it’s still rough around the edges with underwhelming melee classes and poor controller support.
If that doesn’t bother you, you can take Dungeon Souls for a spin via Steam Early Access.