The Living Dungeon is the debut title from indie developer Radiation Burn. This adventure strategy game offers unique and challenging problem solving but it also has some frustrating quirks. It is currently available on Steam and has already received some useful updates since it’s launch in early November.
Billing itself as an action-strategy tabletop RPG simulator with fast decision making, lots of ways to die and a fun multiplayer experience The Living Dungeon delivers on about half of those claims. Instead the game offers a unique puzzle game that was inspired by tabletop RPGs. The Living Dungeon is certainly a good first effort from developer Radiation Burn but it lacks a bit of polish.
Feeling more like a board game than a session of D&D, The Living Dungeon has a lot of moving parts that will take a little time to get the hang of. In each level, players will have to achieve certain objectives in a dungeon full of foes. Not only will they have to survive said foes, but also contend with the dungeon’s many tricks and traps, as a Dungeon Master manipulates the very environment you are in.
The DM can be controlled by an AI or another player depending on the mode. The dungeon itself is a clockwork labyrinth made up of room tiles placed along a grid like a complex board game. Friends and foes alike manipulate the dungeon in a variety of ways from completely changing the room tiles to shuffling players around the board like pawns. Combat is also an element of the game but movement and dungeon manipulation is sometimes a more versatile and powerful option for players. Enemies can be avoided by out-maneuvering them just as easily as they can be killed in combat, which offers different styles of gameplay.
Players are given five dice to roll along with a selection of cards to use and gems to spend on re-rolls and special actions each turn. Dice come in different varieties which are color-coded for functions such as combat and movement actions. The selection of dice available depends on the skill set of each character. Players have the possibility of at least five actions to take each turn and an adequate two minute timer to take them in.
Music in The Living Dungeon only includes a few tracks but it’s well crafted and fits the mood of the game. The art direction is a vaguely unique mix of fantasy and steampunk worlds but isn’t the most impressive or polished. Characters in the game have fun concepts that don’t seem fully realized and thus aren’t particularly endearing.
The single player story mode offers hours and hours of story-driven scenarios for players to experience. The Living Dungeon’s story get’s a bit lost in the gameplay though as it’s told between the perspectives of a large cast of characters in short cutscenes and dialogue in-between levels. The objectives of each level are only barely tied to what’s going on in the story.
The story itself isn’t particularly engrossing. For various reasons the cast of characters find themselves in the deadly, ever-changing dungeon and must do their best to survive. Each level has a story objective, like killing a foe or keeping an ally alive, as well as a bonus objective that will make the gameplay more challenging and give players that feeling of full completion.
Because The Living Dungeon is full of so many possibilities, there is a lot for players to wrap their heads around in terms of strategy and gameplay. This means that there is a long tutorial period, and the first few turns of many levels are used as such to teach players new mechanics and concepts. Those first tutorial turns have fixed dice rolls and AI actions instead of the usual randomness. This, along with a collection of unskippable cutscenes, can make levels tedious and annoying. Especially given that it’s a challenging puzzle game and players will need to retry tough levels over and over again at times.
The multiplayer modes have a lot of replay value if you can find friends to play with locally, or if you enjoy playing against yourself or AI. There’s a fair amount of customization to be made and players can choose to team up or fight each other. Whether trying to assassinate one another or just escape the challenging dungeon, the game provides an interesting approach to problem solving as players must help keep their friends alive while simultaneously venturing through a dangerous maze and outmaneuvering an enemy team.
Within the multiplayer mode, one of your friends can also take over the role of DM, which adds a whole different level of strategy and difficulty. Capable of handling up to nine players, The Living Dungeon can get a bit tedious in multiplayer mode. Players pass a controller around between turns, but with nine players taking up to two minutes a turn plus the DM, things can feel a bit drawn out. Also, when playing with this many players, the board can change completely between turns. This can make it frustratingly hard to plan ahead but also exciting and challenging to think and act quickly.
Any of the four multiplayer modes can be fun, but all participating players need to be familiar with the mechanics and controls of the game for it to work. This means that they probably need to have played through a significant portion of the story mode. There is a quick tutorial that can be played and the basics are explained at the beginning of a multiplayer match but those introductions make the game seem deceptively simple and aren’t enough to get a new player familiar with the controls and mechanics.
Aside from having different objectives and more player characters, multiplayer plays a bit differently than The Living Dungeon’s story mode. Starting out in a multiplayer game, players can select three out of the five dice types they’ll have for the game and can choose a spawn point on the board, which gives players a bit more customization and choice. If a player character dies before the objective has been reached then they can re-roll and re-enter the game, unless the game has reached sudden death. This takes the sting out of the numerous ways there are to die during the game.
The AI can be a bit unintelligent making it difficult to anticipate their actions because enemy foes may be just as likely to walk off a ledge and kill themselves as they are to flip the room tile you’re standing on and putting you in peril. There is a lot of randomness in The Living Dungeon. All the random elements would seemingly work against making a puzzle game fun, yet here it works.
In The Living Dungeon you have to be prepared to fail. Adapting to random changes and pulling a friend’s boots out of the fire is just as rewarding as dying to a random change on the board can be frustrating. The concept of the ever-changing dungeon is well executed, and the changing environment is a unique element for the puzzle genre.
While The Living Dungeon can be a great puzzle solving experience for those willing to invest the time to master the game’s mechanics, it falls short in its role playing and multiplayer aspects. With little glitches here and there, so-so voice acting, unintuitive controls and a camera that fights the player to see the deadly obstacles they’re up against the game just doesn’t seem completely finished overall. The developers have been responding to feedback and updating the game, and it could be a real gem with more time and fine-tuning of the game’s intriguing core concept.
Those that enjoy unique and challenging puzzle games should give The Living Dungeon a try. It will appeal to those that enjoy genre defying indie games that offer experiences not quite like anything else. If you like games that try their hardest to kill you and succeed many a time than The Living Dungeon might be for you as well. The Living Dungeon is a great freshman effort for Radiation Burn, and it’s available via Steam for $19.99.
This game was obtained by the developer and reviewed on PC.
While The Living Dungeon can be a great puzzle solving experience for those willing to invest the time to master the game’s mechanics it falls short in it’s story telling and multiplayer aspects. With little glitches here and there, so-so voice acting, unintuitive controls and a camera that fights the player to see the deadly obstacles they're up against the game just doesn’t seem completely finished overall.