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GD Star RatingDream Quest,
We’ll admit – we passed on Dream Quest initially due to it’s oh-so-not-ready-for-primetime artwork. But after it was recognized for excellence from BoardGameGeek, we decided it merited another look. Full disclosure: this app’s visuals and interface are not in any way polished, but the gameplay is unique and deep enough to merit at least a glance, which begs the question – should you judge an app by it’s cover?
DQ falls into the uber-nerdy subgenre of roguelike – a term used to describe a class of computer games that would go on to inspire the “dungeon crawl” genre. As is typical for roguelikes, the game is an inherently single player mission to plumb the depths of a procedurally generated dungeon, killing monsters and looting corpses as you go. Except DQ mixes it up by driving the action with a deck building mechanic.
Atypically for the genre, the action of DQ takes place inside the dream of the main character – a loose justification for some unusual monsters, and for allowing you to do things like wield fiery weapons (or, you know, breathe) underwater. The ultimate goal is to reach and defeat the Lord of the Dream.
You begin the game by selecting a class. The standard four fantasy RPG archetypes (rogue, wizard, warrior, and priest) are available at the start, with another 9 classes unlockable through various gameplay achievements. Each class has a unique ability that can be triggered after a certain number of foes are defeated in combat, and each class utilizes a unique starting deck.
After an introductory screen, you are free to wander around the world, initially dark with the fog of war. Each level of the dungeon is an 8×8 grid, with several spaces blocked off with dungeon walls that change thematically with the environment of each level. Navigation is accomplished simply by tapping on the destination square; you will follow the fastest safe route to the target. Each level will also feature consumable health packs, stores, altars to various gods, oases of healing, and other similar landmarks.
The landscape will also be dotted with monsters, who must be defeated with card play. Your deck begins with a few basic attacks, a few basic mana resource cards, and one or two special moves unique to each class – priests, for instance, gain strength from their time-delayed Prayer cards, while rogues tend to favor large amounts of equipment. Each turn you will draw cards to your hand limit (a value that can change throughout the game) and then play them in attempt to destroy your foe, each of which uses a unique deck of their own. You may play as many attack and mana cards as you manage to draw, while other types of cards (spells, actions, equipment, etc) are limited by your stores of their corresponding resources.
Each monster you defeat will earn you the internationally accepted currencies of all RPGs since the dawn of time: gold pieces and experience points. Experience points will earn you levels, which will increase your basic stats, earn you passive abilities, and grant additional cards or allow you to trim out some of the weaker, less useful ones that are cluttering up your hand.
Gold pieces, meanwhile, are used for any number of different purposes throughout the world. The most common is in shops, each of which will offer 3 specific cards for sale. Gold can also be used in “berry shops” to upgrade your base stats; at blacksmiths’ to upgrade certain cards in your deck; at monasteries to “forget” cards and remove them from your deck permanently; the list goes on. There are also occasionally treasure chests scattered about that can contain cards for your deck or other goodies. At any time, you can tap the book icon beneath your character portrait to get a complete listing of your deck.
As is essentially inevitable in roguelikes, you will eventually go the way of all things, defeated by some denizen of the dream dungeon. Defeat is not always terrible, however, as you will frequently earn achievements for various in-game feats. Achievements, in turn, will unlock additional cards, give you access to additional talents, or improve the starting condition of your character, slowly improving the odds that you’ll eventually fight your way to the Lord of the Dream.
Let’s be clear – this game suffers from a lot of the issues that cost other games points in these reviews. DQ is an impressively deep game brimming with content that offers a unique look at both the roguelike and deckbuilding genres, but it isn’t without its issues – and that’s even without mentioning the stick-figure, MS Paint aesthetic that runs throughout the proceedings.
First: there is no manual. The only instruction the game offers is a couple of anemic text boxes the first time you engage in card battle with a foe. Everything else is learned essentially through discovery. This is somewhat forgivable as it is the nature of the roguelike genre, and is mollified by the fact that rules text is set off in textboxes in different colors – tapping the colored text calls up a quick description of its in-game effects. To the extent that documentation exists, it is to be found in what has become almost the default medium of the genre: a wiki.
The card battle interface also lacks some refinement. Monsters can have any number of status conditions that allow them to reduce damage, interfere with your card play, and so on. The only indication you have of these are tiny icons beneath the monster portrait, and it took a few battles for us to realize that you could tap on them for explanation. Similarly, there’s no labeling on your health, mana, or action totals. Any active Equipment cards you have (as well as Prayer cards for the priest) simply go into a single stack, with no visual indication that anything lies beneath the top card.
The monster’s cards are played in quick succession. Especially in the later levels they have specific effects on your hand or other stats, but they zip by too quickly to really observe. The only way to figure out what just happened is to call up the discard pile and comb through the recent cards. The good news is that the monsters, at least initially, don’t appear to have a huge pool of cards to draw from, so once you’ve learned the basic cards you’re pretty well set. Higher level monsters, however, will possess more unique cards. The best approach to this game is simply to be prepared for a certain level of incomprehension, and to just go with it.
No multiplayer of any kind is to be found here, which given the genre isn’t surprising. We were hoping, however, to see some sort of leaderboard rankings given the astonishing number of achievements; no such luck. The game utilizes iCloud saving, but doesn’t let your unlocks carry over from device to device.
There’s no getting around the rough edges on display in DQ. It feels very much like a first-time indie project. With that said, as a roguleike there’s no specific physical counterpart against which to compare – instead you have to look at how well it does what it sets out to do. While there’s plenty of room for spit and polish, the intuitive controls and unique take on both mashed up genres are worthy of notice. The game is full of quirks, but it’s also full of an extraordinary amount of depth – a lot of thought clearly went into card interactions, and the blending of the deckbuilding mechanic into the roguelike genre is handled so seamlessly that it feels perfectly natural. It’s far from perfect, but there’s quite a diamond underneath those rough edges. Fans of the roguelike genre, or anyone looking for a fresh take on deckbuilders, should give this one a look.