If you’ve seen someone spend hours grinding stats and exploring dark and dank tunnels, then you have found someone who is in love with dungeon crawlers. The dungeon was the original arena/map/world to be explored in a video game. This is why gamers have such a soft spot for this type of style and why dungeons are basically included in every type of game.
To be as direct and clear as possible, a dungeon crawler is a type of video game that simulates the dark fantasy scenario in which heroes must navigate dungeons, battling various enemies and finding new equipment, in order to defeat the ultimate force of evil. In essence, that definition covers the three main qualities of a dungeon crawler that will be covered below: loot, map layout, and enemy mobs. These are the heart and soul of dungeon crawlers and go hand-in-hand with why this type of game sets the stage for RPGs when they were first being made.
Picking up treasure and items from the fallen corpses of enemies or from treasure chests hidden throughout the map is always exciting. When you find a particularly sweet item, you can’t help, but shout in joy. However, the equipment you pick up also serves a secondary purpose. It lets you gauge whether or not you’re play style is up to snuff or if you have simply ventured into an area beyond your capability. Your items are the main way to take down the enemy and so if you are struggling greatly you might need to explore some older areas.
- Platforms: PC
- Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
- Developer: Blizzard North
- Release Date: Jun. 29, 2000
Diablo II is one of the most beloved dungeon crawlers of all time. Even its vintage graphics (brought to us in the year of 2000) cannot stem the glory and praise it receives in 2017. It is considered the epitome of what a dungeon crawler should be as gamers are forced into a decaying world, where they must fight to restore humanity and banish the lord of terror, Diablo, once again, as well as the Prime Evils that he has on his side. The mixture of gameplay and deep lore and create an extremely high level of enjoyment, which is why many people decide the worth of other dungeon crawlers by comparing them to Diablo II.
All of that aside, one of the most glorious aspects of Diablo II (any Diablo game or dungeon crawler for that matter) is the loot that you can gather. What’s special about dungeon crawlers is how the loot you gather generally grows alongside your character. That is to say as you get further into the game, which usually entails your character leveling up, then the bigger and better weapons and pieces of armor you will get. It is honestly one of the most gratifying experiences to watch your character transform from a half-naked person to a warrior with spiked steel plates towering about you, as if you were some type of tank. Piecing together a set of armor is also a very rewarding achievement. To have obtained a full set of armor, from the helm to the boots, not only guarantees style but a certain sense of lore.
The simple number of items, in terms of weapons and armors, is exceptionally large and creates a mini-game in and of itself in Diablo II. Organizing your inventory to effectively carry everything that you want, let alone need, can be quite difficult. This feature ties intrinsically into being able to properly handle the other two aspects (massive labyrinths and lots of enemies) that set the foundation for dungeon crawlers as well as provides a sense of strategy.
Diablo II trailer from Youtube
2. Hordes of Enemies
An important and a really fun aspect of dungeon crawlers is that you will find yourself amidst countless enemies at one time. It is quite easy in a dungeon crawler like the Binding of Isaac or Diablo to find yourself amidst a sea of enemies. Often you will your character consumed under the massive onslaught of enemies. Sometimes you will find your character just ahead of the pack of monstrous ghouls, fleeing for your life, praying for them to make it to the exit. During the best of times, you will wade your character into the throng of creatures and swat them aside like some demi god, or perhaps pick them off carefully with a little strategy.
The Binding of Isaac
- Platforms: PC, Mac
- Publisher: Edmund McMillen
- Developer: Edmund McMillen
- Release Date: Sep. 28, 2011
The Binding of Isaac places the gamer in the shoes of Isaac, and no one would ever want to be in Isaac’s shoes. We take part in Isaac’s life when he is being chased through haunted rooms and corridors by his own mother. Why is he being chased by his mother? Well, she is hearing voices that have convinced her that she must kill her son. Once again, you do not want to be in Isaac’s shoes.
The Binding of Isaac captures one of the top reasons why dungeon crawlers are so exciting. Dungeon crawlers pit you against a ton of monsters that you must wade through with whatever items you can scrape off from the battlefield. In most cases, a new dungeon, or new level, will introduce a new variety of enemy. This enemy is not only going to be stronger, but will likely require a slightly different battle approach.
In The Binding of Isaac you will come upon more than 50 different types of enemies, which will require you to use an assortment of tactics. When face-to-face with a Gusher, who walks about aimlessly and only attacks occasionally, you will find yourself using an entirely different strategy compared to when you are facing off with a Gaper who targets you and deals damage on contact. This is part of the reason why growth, in terms of equipment and abilities, is essential for dungeon crawlers. You must be able to grow in order to fight the new enemies.
The Binding of Isaac Trailer from Youtube
3. Maze-like dungeons/labyrinths
One of the trickier aspects of dungeon crawlers is the map layout. Dungeon crawlers are notorious for setting up maze-like maps/labyrinths that can leave you exploring for hours. A lot of the time the maps are randomly generated so you won’t be able to plan a walkthrough before you actually enter the maze. You must wade through the enemies and explore and memorize the darkest corners of the map for yourself.
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
- Platform: DS, 3DS
- Publisher: Atlus
- Developer: Atlus
- Release Date: Jun 13, 2008
Terror has fallen upon the Grand Duch of High Lagaard. In this time of crisis it has been stated that the first to obtain the Grail of Kings from the mythical palace above the land will be given wealth and fame beyond his/her wildest dreams. That is how and where this dungeon crawler begins.
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard’s maps are particularly exceptional for a dungeon crawler. In this game, maps were not only full of unique monsters to slay, but also held intricate puzzles to solve. Oh, and each new dungeon had new traps as well. This allowed the game to really thrive and prevent the levels from becoming too repetitive. It also made the game exceedingly difficult and you would actually want to have graph paper on hand in order to properly map out the routes you took.
This is especially true if you want to find the best items. Anyone who plays this game knows that it is practically essential to explore every inch of every level in order to obtain the best loot that area has to offer. It’s always in the one percent that you decide not to explore that the best rewards are.
Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard trailer from Youtube
There you have it. The defining qualities that make a dungeon crawler. Now you might be wondering, isn’t every game essentially a dungeon crawler? Don’t most games include some sort of item drop mechanic and don’t most games involve taking on tougher enemies as the game progresses, if not simply more enemies? Doesn’t every game have a world to explore?
You are correct that most games contain a particular dungeon crawling aspect, but for a game to be a pure dungeon crawler, you really can’t focus on anything else. 90% of the gameplay will be taking place in labyrinths that increase with difficulty as you move forward. 95% of the stuff you use will not be bought, but rather picked up from the field of war or in rare treasures. A dungeon crawler doesn’t try to be anything fancy. It’s simple and it’s sweet and it’s a little bit of a rogue for going in without any bells.
Nonetheless, if you are looking for a game that is only part dungeon crawler, then I suggest looking towards Persona 4 or 5. The Persona series has you explore some really handcrafted and interesting dungeons. However, that is only one aspect of the game. In fact, you can essentially ignore the dungeons thanks to the amount of other things you can do. Your chances of surviving are pretty slim, but hey, you do you.