Review: The Deep Paths: Labyrinth of Andokost22 Mar 2017 1
Review: The Deep Paths: Labyrinth of Andokost
Released 15 Feb 2017
First person perspective dungeon crawlers are enjoying a bit of a renaissance of late with the likes of Legend of Grimrock and The Quest HD receiving universal praise. Next to venture into the darkness is Deep Paths: Labyrinth of Andokost, a dungeon exploration game that pays homage to the likes of the genre defining Dungeon Master.
Any doubts that Deep Paths is going to be anything but old school are cleaved asunder as early as the first screen. It is here that you have to create your party of four adventurers by randomly rolling and re-rolling for their statistics. Ok, you aren’t strictly rolling because this is a digital game and you don’t have to go squabbling under the table for errant dice shouting “take it” – but you know what I mean.
There are only three character classes to choose from, namely, fighter, rouge and mage. Conspicuous by their absence is the cleric who was probably left behind for being a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. Without a first aider in tow your party has to rely on collecting various reeds and blending them together to make potions. In keeping with this streamline approach your characters only have four statistics, being strength, dexterity, intellect and vitality, there are no fancy skill trees or career progressions.
It turns out that a devastating earthquake has levelled the market district of the city of Theraborn, uncovering an underground labyrinth built many years ago by Archmage Andokost. Your party of well-travelled adventurers has been chosen by the city council to investigate and identify any potential threat. For a bunch of supposedly seasoned adventurers our heroes turn up for dungeon delving surprising ill-prepared. Much like a remiss husband who has forgotten his wife's birthday and makes a quick trip to the local service station in the search for something vaguely resembling a pressie, our heroes spend the first part of the game rummaging around a warehouse in a last-minute hunt for supplies. At least this gives players a chance to learn how the game plays as otherwise you are thrust into the thick of the action without a word of explanation let alone a tutorial.
Start playing and you will soon realise that the dungeons of Deep Paths are hard and unforgiving. In most games the obligatory giant rat means easy experience points. Here however, in the twitch of a whisker, a single rodent can tear you a new one, sending you slinking back to your last saved game point. Even lurking in the back row only offers scant protection from attack. However, this toughness never feels unfair and every encounter feels like a genuine challenge and not just a way of grinding up levels. This leads to a real sense of tension as you stalk the dimly lit corridors trying to locate the source of that ominous shuffling sound. Characters will take a few seconds to recover after attacking, during which time the whole party cannot move. These mobility restrictions mean that picking off a target from a distance or trying to outflank them becomes a frustrating exercise - serves me right for being cowardly, I guess. After combat, your characters gradually recover, which means that sometimes the sensible if dull thing to do is to kill time rather than monsters.
No dungeon crawler would be complete without a range of devious puzzles and here again Deep Paths leaves a positive impression. The game doesn’t stray too far away from the usual formula of hitting switches, activating pressure pads and running like the clappers to get through doors before they come crashing down. Yet, the puzzles escalate in difficulty at just the right pace, illustrating the designer’s skill in producing a challenging but fair game.
One design decision that I am not so keen on concerns the way that Deep Paths handles navigation around the dungeons. The game does not have an auto-mapping function. There is a map to discover on each level but even when you find it, which isn’t always easy, navigating is still awkward as the map disconcertingly rotates to match your party’s facing direction. Worse still, there is no way of knowing at a glance which areas you have explored or any way of adding notes to the map for your own reference. Interior design obviously wasn’t Andokost’s strong point as everything looks very similar, which makes finding your way around even more difficult. Thirty years ago when I first played Dungeon Master, I didn’t mind mapping out dungeons with a pencil and a pad of graph paper. However, things have moved on, nowadays is it too unreasonable to expect the game to do the hard work, mapping out the level as you explore?
Another worry is the awkwardness and inconsistencies of the user interface. For instance, some items you can just tap to add to your inventory whilst others need to be dragged. To open a locked chest you have to first open the inventory screen, then double click on your lock picks then close your inventory and finally click on the chest. Why not just click the chest and automatically use you lock picks? The movement buttons can be a little unresponsive at times too, which certainly doesn’t help matters when you are trying to solve one of the many time sensitive puzzles. There is nothing game breaking, just a number of little niggles that chaff away at your patience.
Deep Paths does away with many of the harsher features of those early dungeon delvers - there is no need to worry about starvation, or losing health by walking into walls. Nor is there a need to trouble yourself managing your supply of torches to avoid being plunged into darkness, as the lantern in Dark Paths seems to have an unlimited supply of fuel. Yet in other ways it is stubbornly old school, which may be a little too much for more mainstream gamers to enjoy. The good news is that the designer is obviously open to improving the game, he has already released an update with an option to make the monsters easier to defeat. A bit of time polishing the interface and introducing an auto-mapping function would really help Deep Paths appeal to a wider audience.