Dungeon of the Dragon Knight captures the essence of old school dungeon crawlers but other than updated graphics, it adds little new to the genre.
Dungeons are full of danger, of mystery. There's no map guiding you to their secrets. Puzzles, traps, and monsters lurk behind every right-angled corner. The only way to survive is an expert combination of reflexes, guile, and determination. So while the average video game provides detailed instructions, tutorials, and Clippy-the-Paperclip hints, Dungeon of the Dragon Knight rejects those modern notions. It follows in the footsteps of the dungeon-crawlers of yore: build your team and explore.
HexGameStudio's foray into the depths of old-school gaming is a love letter to Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, and many more iconic RPGs. The simplistic gameplay and low-poly graphics, the role-playing systems, the pages upon pages of lore. Thankfully everything has received a bit of a tune-up. The visuals aren't quite current gen, but there a marketed improvement over the classics; there's dynamic lighting and particle effects. Playing Dungeon of the Dragon Knight is like hopping back in a pair of old, re-cobbled shoes; with all the good and the bad that entails.
The game starts by giving the player complete control over their party customization. Their party comprises of 4 characters and can be randomized for those who want to get straight into battle. But you'll be better served if you spend a dozen or so minutes mulling all of the many options DoDK provides. Their are four races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Dragonborn (no, not THAT Dragonborn). There are also five classes: Ranger, Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, and War Lord. Each race and class provides different innate buffs and abilities that can be upgrades with EXP to create a well-oiled dungeon-ready team. The age of DoDK's inspiration is immediately obvious; the customization screen is stripped down to the essentials and features only brief explanations of powers. The appearance of characters only seeks to select the voice actor (there are two male and two female options for each race).
Once the party creation is complete, those familiar with only current or past-gen RPGs are in for a bit of a shock. A cutscene-less narration sets the scene: you have journeyed far from your home and seek refuge in a home, but the house you take shelter in is not what it seems. Then - you find yourself in the first map of the dungeon. Of course, your map is completely blank; only by exploring each turn can you see it in full. The 3-D world moves in a grid-system, meaning each movement forward is one step, both for you and for any enemies you encounter. Turning left and right isn't so fluid as your typical FPS; to move left you tap a key, but looking left or right is on a different grid system, meaning a turn of the mouse is a lot more rigid and strict.
Navigating the world is clunky enough, but when it comes to fighting, there's a lot left to the imagination. There's no animation for an attack, the player simply clicks with a weapon from their inventory and damage numbers appear on the enemy. Fighting requires a bit of dexterity, as you can dodge enemy attacks with swift backwards movement or kite around them in a larger room. Magic attacks are a bit trickier in Dungeon of the Dragon Knight. There's a rune combination system, meaning symbols must be selected in a certain order to utilize a specific arcane attack. It's relatively easy to understand for those used to retro-games, but has a steep learning curve for the uninitiated. Mastering the runes is key if you plan on using any magic-based characters, and a well-rounded team is a must.
Luckily, DoDk isn't comprised of just fighting; if it were it would surely be a bore. The eponymous dungeons also contain hundreds of puzzles and riddles that have to be solved to progress. Some are as simple as using weights from found items to open doors, others are much more complicated. They are often enjoyable old-school, not requiring any physics knowledge like the average puzzle found in today's more robust games. That's not to say the solutions are obvious, but because everything has been stripped down, things do seem a bit easier.
Dungeon of the Dragon Knight is bare bones. There's no skill trees or hundreds of powers; each class only has a few to select from. Cooldowns and inventories are more similar to MMOs or Souls games. The game has a nice amount of polish, with updated graphics and a fun, albeit uninspired score. It's a blast to the past that will scratch the itch for retro fans, but there's nothing new to entice new recruits. DoDK's combat and general gameplay are far too lacking for the average player. But for a trip down memory lane, it certainly suffices.
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Dungeon of Dragon Knight is available on PC for $15.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital code for the purpose of this review.