The world of Dungeon Rushers is a throwback to the handmade pixel art era of RPGs, thankfully with crisper edges and higher resolutions. Both the characters and environments are beautifully detailed and colorful. Battle animations are understated but well-crafted and unique for each character's skills, an extra touch that's rare for turn-based RPGs.
World travel takes place across a broad, painterly map leading from one node to the next, each node containing a dungeon that advances the story. Dungeons are grid-based, characters a mere portrait moving from one block to the next. Each block begins veiled in shadow, hiding unknown dangers running the gamut from traps that weaken your entire team, altars that can both bless and curse you, and enemies blocking the path towards treasure and success.
The grid-like nature of dungeons simplifies travel and exploration, focusing gameplay on quick but intense romps through small clusters of very dangerous zones. Spread your forces too thin attempting to reveal the whole dungeon, and you may find yourself too low on the stamina necessary to disarm traps and dispel enemies. While not enough on their own to destroy your group, the threat grows quickly and can leave your forces far too weak to clear each dungeon's finale.
As a turn-based RPG, combat is a fairly standard affair, with turn order that is determined by unit speed and ample time between moves to plan. However, the strategic use and necessity of character-specific abilities carry on even outside of battle, adding a twist to the standard RPG formula. The Bard, for instance, can cast a sleep spell on upcoming enemies, reducing the threat of immediate spike damage from more nimble enemy archers and rogues. The Vampiress, on the other hand, can 'hunt' for enemies on the board, increasing the party's damage toward the revealed group of foes.
There are a variety of skills across all characters, used both in and out of battle. The starting Thief character's ability to remove non-magical traps will be especially handy for keeping your team healthy and alive while the Dwarven Warrior's ability to sniff out treasure can help you plan your route more safely. In combat, each character comes with three abilities that, as of a recent update, evolve along a player-chosen skill path. Proper synergy between these skills will determine your line-up as your group eventually grows far beyond the mere five that can accompany you in battle.
New characters are earned as players advance through the story, fleshing out the cast through tidbits of humorous dialog. While the writing sets an enjoyable light-hearted tone, the dialog and story are overall fairly weak. The banter between allies often feels forced and campy, a bane for characters whose personalities are otherwise limited to talking portraits and repetitive animations. Battle clangs and ambient music are the only sounds in the game, neither memorable enough to avoid ringing hollow in a somewhat shallow world.
While fun, the dungeon romps and turn-based battles aren't especially innovative on their own. Fortunately, players eventually earn the ability to create their own dungeons, setting the stage for passive PvP. Dungeons can be built to house enemies, traps, and challenges that grow deadlier as the owner rises in PvP ranks. Each clear of another player's stage earns currency that can be used to upgrade the number of rooms in a dungeon, the kinds of traps that can be placed, and the enemies that dungeon masters will have access to. Dungeons can also be built in a less limited capacity for those uninterested in rising in PvP ranks, though these are limited to sharing through Steam Workshop.
Overall, Dungeon Rushers is one of the better Early Access roguelikes available. Its mechanics feel polished and refined, and its player-made dungeons keep battles fresh. With such a diverse roster of characters, however, it's easy to lament the missed opportunities to make them memorable. What they offer in nostalgic art and unique tactical abilities, they lack equally in voice and personality. Hopefully, Early Access gives them time to mature into fully-realized actors. Worst case scenario, they still serve their purpose as allies in an otherwise fun and suitably punishing dungeon crawl.
Dungeon Rushers was previewed on PC via Steam Early Access with a code provided by the developer.