Din's Curse is the latest dungeon crawler RPG from Soldak Entertainment, the developers of Depths of Peril and Kivi's Underworld. Chances are you've never heard of any of these games before, as Soldak fly somewhat under the radar. Available only from their website, Soldak's indie RPGs have something of a cult following in certain corners of the internet. Obviously low budget and crafted by a small team, a little perseverance to overcome your initial impressions can pay dividends - as we found out here.
Normally something to talk about later in a review, the particular qualities of the graphical presentation behoove an earlier mention. It is, you see, one of the most god-awful-looking games ever seen, particularly in the interface department. Clearly generated by an enthusiastic amateur, that they are (incredibly) amateur is never in any doubt. The game graphics themselves look like something the DS would have no trouble generating, with an awkward mish-mash of architecture and scale keeping things looking weird throughout. Fortunately graphical prowess isn't a requirement of a good game, but that it contributes to the overall impression crafted by the package as a whole is something that cannot be denied.
Din's Curse is, at its heart, a Dungeon Crawler. That is, an Action Role Playing Game (ARPG) where the action is based in a town built on top of a dungeon. You are tasked with taking on all manner of nasties that infest the town's dungeon and get stronger as you go lower down. Killing monsters generates cash and items which you must use as you level up to improve your ability and enable you to take on an ever increasingly difficult enemies.
Levelling (and, in fact, general gameplay) is very similar to Blizzard's iconic Diablo series, with some of the upgrades from World of Warcraft chucked in to the mix. Even the itemization is similar to Diablo, with the same sorts of stats and bonuses (replete with a bevy of additional combinations), item rarity and even sets of items. When you level you can put skill points into a tree of your choice (of three, unless you elect to create your own hybrid class, which will limit you to just two skill trees). There are spell trees too, with an action bar that allows you to have up to ten skills (a great upgrade from Diablo II's two!) within easy reach.
Reading the above, you might be thinking "why bother". There are, after all, hundreds of similar games available, many of which (including the original Diablo games) can be had for less than the $25 USD (approximately $37 in our superior currency) asking price. So what's the point? Well, it turns out that to Din's Curse, like a Transformer, there's more than meets the eye...
So, how's it all work then. This is where, should you be able to handle the graphics long enough to get here, Din's Curse starts to weave its magic. It has a unique hook - dynamism. Many games claim, particularly in the RPG genre, to allow your actions to have a lasting effect on the game world. Sure, you can set off that nuke in Fallout or you can choose allegiances in Dragon's Age but in those games things still happen within a fairly narrow path. Not so here.
In Din's Curse, the town will be attacked by summoned enemies. If you don't intercede, NPCs will be killed. If you let people die, the town will be ransacked and you will fail your quest. Quests are dynamic and if you don't rout that low level boss he'll raise an army and boost his level, becoming much harder to deal with. NPCs come and go and enemies fight each other, not just you. It feels like a genuine world, with factions fighting amongst themselves as much as they are united in their loathing of you and your kind. Being stuck into the middle of a big fight in some lower level dungeon and hearing that the town is under attack is, well, something that has to be experienced to be fully understood. Put simply, it rocks - this is a wonderful extension of the clicky RPG hack'n'slash genre and it really spices things up.
Din's Curse is also unlimited in length, with no end to the randomly created towns and dungeons full of dynamic events that can exist. This does mean that quests and progress lack much real story progress (other than the "escape from Din's curse" overarching theme) so if you play ARPGs for story, this one may not appeal. Of course, if you play ARPGs for story, you're a bit weird (it's all about the loot, man).
There's multiplayer, too (in theory), with loads of options including local and internet-based play. At no point did we ever see anyone playing online, however, so how it performs or what tweaks to the formula it brings cannot be ascertained directly.
If you've still got a 14" monitor or are looking for something to play on your GeForce 2 equipped monster of a PC (this would probably work well on a netbook), Din's Curse is a pretty addictive way to flit away the winter hours. If you're easily offended by ugly graphics, however, you're probably best to steer clear - even with a strongly worded warning, the depths plumbed by the ugly on offer here will still shock you. There is a demo and their (ugly - there's a theme here...) website is packed full of information so if you're still interested, check it out. Chances are if you can deal with the graphics you'll get hooked on the gameplay.