OPINION | GAME ON: To play ‘Dungeon Beneath,’ pick heroes, go below, defeat a god, repeat

"The Dungeon Beneath" is a dungeon crawler game developed by Puzzle Box Games of Montreal, Canada, and released in October 2020. (Puzzle Box Games)
"The Dungeon Beneath" is a dungeon crawler game developed by Puzzle Box Games of Montreal, Canada, and released in October 2020. (Puzzle Box Games)

"The Dungeon Beneath" is a perma-death dungeon-crawling role-playing game in which a hero, accompanied by a party of warriors, delves deep to confront an evil god.

The game is classified as an "autobattler" because combat resolves automatically, but you won't get very far without a lot of tactical thinking.

The hero is the main character, and if he or she dies, the run ends and you go back to the main screen to try again.

The goal is to face down Abaddon, a god who for some reason you need to defeat. Why? I'm not really sure, there's not much of a story presented here — the focus is more on tickling that puzzle-solving instinct, and the procedurally generated dungeons and randomized hero selection mean every run is unique.

At the start of the game, the first choice is to pick one of about half a dozen heroes, each of whom has a special ability. Heroes also start with a randomly selected artifact to take on the journey, and a few followers. Along the way, new companions can be found or hired to join the party, although that number is capped at four (or at five, for the prince hero).

Every battle sees your hero and party facing off against an enemy's hero and minions. Before the battle, you can arrange your units tactically in columns and rows. The hero always goes in the back row, the ranged units in the middle, and then front-line units in the first column. There are basically only six squares for your four allies to occupy. Each unit has stats, such as health, attack power and speed, the latter of which determines the order in which units activate during combat.

Once battle starts, the fastest units act first, each operating according to defined rules. For example, a unit will generally first attempt to attack an enemy unit in the same row. If that row is empty, then it will attack the enemy hero directly.

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Each unit also has a special ability, which can be used in synergy with other units, heroes, equipment and artifacts. A tanky Armored Knight unit has high health, but low speed (meaning he will act later each round) and starts with no attack power at all. However, his special ability is that his attack equals his armor value. Combine the Armored Knight with another unit (such as a Blacksmith or Metal Slime) or an artifact that gives armor to him, and now you've got a powerful synergy, with a unit that can defend itself from damage and dish it out.

To go deep on a dungeon run, putting together a party with synergy is essential, such as making a team formed entirely of Lizardfolk, which can gain special abilities when paired with their kin.

After the battle, a reward of gold, items or experience is picked up, and then it's off to the next room. Not all rooms are fights — throughout the run, you'll return to a campfire to rest, which is where new units can be bought. Other options are rooms such as potion shops and weapons merchants, which can equip units with items granting health, attack or other special abilities.

The game is only over when the hero dies — if a unit falls in battle, it will be restored when it's over, ready for the next fight. As your party goes deeper, it gets stronger, but so do the enemies. Every 13th floor is a challenging boss battle, and after the third boss, the party faces off against the final boss.

And while winning is fantastic, that's not the end. Victory unlocks New Game+, allowing a harder mode to be attempted. Win that, and now New Game++ can be attempted, and so on, to ensure a constant challenge.

Trips through the dungeon, successful or not, also unlock new artifacts, boons, units and so on, for an added sense of progression and an increase in tactical options.

This appears to be a freshman effort by Canada-based Puzzle Box Games, and it's competently done, even if some of the assets used (such as heroes and monsters) are stock and not custom-created. It's OK, though. These are small, indie studios and can't have top-tier designers as AAA game developers do. The music is also quite nice.

Overall, "The Dungeon Beneath" is a simple yet compelling game. Each run might take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. There is also a daily challenge to attempt that can make a significant change to the game, such as your hero unit being a slime, or all your fighter units having less health, and so on.

If this genre of game interests you, consider picking it up.

"The Dungeon Beneath"

Platform: Steam (Microsoft Windows, macOS)

Cost: $14.99

Rating: 10+ for cartoon violence

Score: 7 out of 10

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