In the annals of computer RPGs, just about everyone who has been gaming since the 1980s will cite the triumvirate of Ultima-Wizardry-Might & Magic as the pioneers of the genre. But as usual as in other fields like movies or books, some underrated, truly innovative games sadly never got the attention they deserve - either because they simply weren't "hyped" enough, or because not many people owned the hardware they were released on. |
Dungeons of Daggorath is the latter.
Released by DynaMicro in 1982 for Tandy's TRS 80 computer, Dungeons of Daggorath is a 3D real-time dungeon crawl that requires both skill and dexterity to succeed. The game is played in glorious black & white wireframe graphics (although some artifacts have other colors), and is about 8,000 bytes in size. Yes, eight thousand bytes. That's about 500 bytes larger than the screenshot you see up there. It's no small feat to write a game to fit in that amount of code, let alone a sprawling RPG that will take you many evenings to complete.
Your goal in Dungeons of Daggorath is straightforward: go as deep as you can into the dungeons to vanquish the evil wizard who lives on the lowest level. The game is played from a first-person perspective. To interact with the game, you type commands like MOVE, EXAMINE, USE, etc. You also have to be reasonably specific: for example, you type ATTACK LEFT to attack a monster with weapon in your left hand, DROP RIGHT to drop the object in your right hand, REVEAL LEFT to try to reveal the nature of the object in your left hand, and so on. There are many objects to find and use, ranging from the mundane such as torches and swords, to magical items such as flasks, scrolls, and rings. As you grow stronger, the force and effect of your blows increase, and you will come across more powerful weapons and magical artifacts.
The game is much deeper than typical RPGs of that period. Stronger creatures are harder to hit, but you will also miss more often as the light from your torch grows dim. Magical doors and creatures can only be seen with light from magical torches, so if you are using only a normal torch, you will sometimes be attacked by invisible monsters, or step through what appears to be walls. Using rings in the game is especially fun. All rings are magical, and you must INCANT the true name of the ring before you can use it. For example, if a ring is REVEALed to be IRON RING, then a possible incantation might be INCANT STEEL. If your incantation is correct, the ring will transform into STEEL RING of great power.
The most novel feature of Dungeons of Daggorath and one that transforms the game from being a merely good RPG to a classic one is the use of heartbeat. As you play, you will see your heart beating at the bottom of the screen, and hear a very authentic thump-thump sound through the speaker. Your heart will beat faster when you move fast, swing a sword, carry a heavy load, being hit by a monster, etc. If your heartbeat is too high, you will faint or even die. Since this is a real-time game, being unconscious makes you prone to attacks by monsters that prowl the level and hunt you down. The faster your heart is beating, the easier a monster’s blow will kill you or cause you to faint. Resting is the only way to bring your heart rate down, so it is best to be well-rested before fighting a powerful monster. The longer you survive in the game, the stronger your heart will grow.
More than two decades after its release, Dungeons of Daggorath stands tall even with its primitive sounds and graphics as one of the best RPGs ever made. It is an extremely challenging game that will take you many hours to complete, and offers an thoroughly immersive experience. I can still fondly recall the thump-thump of that heart as I write this review. Had the game been ported to the PC or other 8-bit systems, it would no doubt have enjoyed much greater success. Thanks to today's emulators, you can now play this classic on your PC. A truly exceptional and innovative RPG that was far ahead of its time.
Note: Good news to fans - in late 2002 Richard Hunerlach started porting the game to Windows PC. Keep track of his progress at his site (also linked below) and keep an eye out for the review here when the final version is ready :)
Reviewed by: Underdogs