Confession time: I never really got into tabletop RPG. I’m not saying it’s bad or something. I’m simply stating that I’ve never had the patience for it. However, I do love RPG videogames, whether they’re western computer-style or eastern console style. And my introduction to computer RPGs was also my introduction to dungeon crawlers and to the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. I’m talking about Dungeon Hack.
Dungeon Hack was developed by DreamForge Intertainment and published by Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI). It was originally released in 1993 for DOS and re-released in 1995 for the PC-98.
Dungeon Hack is a Roguelike dungeon crawler made using the Eye of the Beholder 3 game engine, based on the Forgotten Realms campaign.
But let’s look at the cover:
This cover was made in the style of a D&D gamebook cover, with gorgeous artwork. It depicts a large beast in front of a typical fantasy adventurer. It looks like something made by the likes of Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo or Boris Vallejo.
But let’s take a look at the intro, shall we?
As you can see, you play as an anonymous adventurer hired by a mysterious sorceress to find an orb located inside a dangerous dungeon. The intro is small and simple but it serves its purpose as a backstory.
Then you go to the menu screen, where you can choose between several pre-made characters or create your own. But before you do so, I recommend reading the manual first because the character creation uses the Advanced D&D 2nd Edition rules and you need to understand all the races, classes and spells available to create a character and play the game.
After you choose your race, class (or classes, if you’re multiclassing), gender, alignment and properly reroll your stats; you can choose your character’s portrait from several options. Although the game doesn’t have a lot of character portraits (more male than female ones), it still has a good range of portraits for simple characters.
And then you go to the dungeon customisation screen and this is where the game really shines! The game creates randomly generated levels with each playthrough with the option of a “real death” (in which if your character dies, all save files are automatically erased). But you can also customise your dungeon by choosing between several variables and options, like monsters’ difficulty level, how big you want the dungeon to be, magic traps, etc. The number of possible combinations is very large and quite impressive.
All levels have some basic layout (apart from some exceptions): usually with two different monster types with a third type acting as an end-level boss (which can be a normal monster type in the next level). And the deeper you are, the harder the monsters will become. The monsters are all varied and based on the Forgotten Realms campaign. There’s even a bestiary in the manual, however, it’s incomplete… Luckily, you can rest (when not surrounded by monsters) and recover your health. But it does however reduce your food bar.
During the gameplay, you have access to an auto-map, which is probably the most useful tool in your possession. It not only marks your already explored path but it’s also useful for backtracking and locating monsters out of sight.
You also have limited inventory space, so you need to manage it carefully during later levels. You also need to eat during your adventure and collect better weapons, armour, spells, potions and scrolls. Careful though! You can end up with cursed items (although there’s a way for lifting said curses or to identify unknown items).
Although apart from the title theme, there’s no other music in the game and there’s a wide array of ambient sound effects ranging from the monsters’ noises to every time you open a door. It creates a proper atmosphere when you hear monsters all around you, but you can’t detect or see any at first glance.
The graphics are all quite good for the time but the view screen is somewhat small. The designers could perfectly rearrange the size of the other screens (character items, movement arrows, portrait, etc) to make the view screen bigger.
Depending on your choices, the smallest dungeon is still 10 levels deep, which can create properly long adventures. And the wide array of variables during dungeon customisation gives Dungeon Hack great replay value.
So, not only do I recommend this game as an introduction to dungeon crawlers in general or to the D&D franchise, but I also recommend it as a test drive of sorts for possible characters you can imagine.
And you can buy it here at GOG.com bundled together with another D&D RPG, Menzoberranzan.
So, what do you think of Dungeon Hack? Like this review and leave your comments below. Next time, let’s look at the world’s most popular sport. Till then, keep on hacking away and playing.