Overall Score 85%
DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold
Journey to Rooted Hold is the latest version of DROD (Deadly Rooms Of Death), the brainchild of Caravel Games' Erik Hermansen. It has been preceeded by various incarnations available as freeware, the most notable being the 'Architects Edition', which is still downloadable at Caravels website. The game combines elements from many different genre to develop its own unique feel, but at its heart DROD is a puzzle game, albeit one that is solved by an ugly looking dude armed with a huge sword. Meet our blade wielding hero - Beethro Budkin (pictured left).
Dungeons in DROD are known as 'Holds', hence the slightly unusual title. Holds, in turn, are constructed of levels; which consist of a number of rooms. Each room in each level must be effectively 'cleared' before progress to the next level is granted. The game ships with one hold for Beethro to conquer which consists of 25 levels. With over 350 rooms in the default hold alone, thats a lot of content. But wait, theres more! The included hold editor is a snap to use, with an intuitive mouse driven interface that makes childs play of creating complex multi level holds. There's a sizable and active online community and the program can make use of an available internet connection to download new holds, and upload user created content at the click of a mouse button.
Gameplay revloves around Beethro having to slay critters, navigate mazes and outwit cleverly placed traps in order to clear each room. The action is turn based, Beethro moving first and then monsters reacting to his movement. The turn based gameplay allows the player time to plan strategies ahead of time rather than the action simply being driven by panic.
I have observed that as a result of this, to a player new to DROD it may mistakenly seem that all action on screen takes place simultaneously with Beethros movement since there is no noticable pause between his and the monsters turns. The game may seem slightly awkward at first because of monsters appearing to unfairly anticipate the players moves, but after few minutes of play the mechanics become apparent, and the fun really starts.
There are a wide variety of obstacles which will hamper Beethro in his seemingly never ending downward quest. The most common of these are doors which come in a variety of colour-coded flavours. Some will only open once the player has killed all monsters in a room, some when all trapdoors have been sprung, yet others must be opened as Beethro demonstrates to the left.
There are many varied monster types for the player to contend with. The lowly roach will simply take the easiest route to the player and is often found in swarms. Get into a favourable position and watch them all line up to be slayed with appropriate cartoonish blood splatter and a really satisfying 'plop' sound. Others include goblins, spiders, evil eyes (giant floating eyeballs) and rock golems but to name a few. Each monster has its own unique strengths and weaknesses which must be exploited by the intrepid delver in order to succeed.
My personal favourite monster is the Living Tar and associated Tar Mother (only seen as eerie looking eyes peering from the blueness). The tar will gradually grow and if left to its own devices will take over the whole room. Chopping into the tar also creates challenges for Beethro as smaller chunks of it tear off to create Tar Babies which must be dealt with swiftly. In some levels Beethro is assisted by his nephew Halph. Halph adds another dimension to the game play as he can be used to open doors for which Beethro cannot reach the conrolling orb, for example. He can be commanded to stay put or follow behind the player, and sometimes will be located on the other side of the room when Beethro enters it. With a massive amount of variables available, each room offers fresh and interesting challenges, even though the difficulty level seems to get quite high for the casual gamer fairly quickly. The first rooms to stump me for any amount of time started appearing on level 4, and now as I battle my way through level 7, the progress has slowed considerably.
Graphics are fairly spartan but adequate for a title where the gameplay is king. There is character portrait artwork for numerous NPCs which all have the same unique yet somehow disturbing quality to them. The colour schemes are a little drab for my tastes, but I have the feeling that this was a design feature. It seemed a little weird that the game does not support video modes other than the default 1024x768, so if for some reason your monitor or video card will not run at that resolution (although this would be highly unlikely), you're out of luck. The default hold comes with a story to draw the player in and includes good quality voice acting, even though it does not have any real impact on the gameplay. In fact you could happily play through the levels paying little attention to the story if you so desired. On occasion on a particularly hard level where I was respawning quite a lot, the same voice samples over and over again were a little annoying. The title music and in game tunes are generally better than what I would expect in an indie game, although these too can wear a little thin over time. The options to set sound effects and music volume or disable them completely are easily accessed through the settings screen.
Menu and option screens benefit from a clean and simple mouse driven interface, so loading custom holds, switching between player profiles or getting online help is easy. The manual is comprehensive and a good read to boot.
Puzzle fans whose game collection do not include a version of DROD should go and get one right now. The only question mark that I would have over 'Journey to Rooted Hold' is whether or not it has enough extra content over the freely available DROD versions to warrant the price. At the end of the day $20 is not a lot for a game this good, and one that you could well still be playing in a couple of years from now. 56Kers should be aware that the demo is not upgradable to the full version and a seperate 55Mb download is required for the full game.
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