That screenshot up there? That’s it, my friend. That’s all you’ll see as you work your way through Deathtrap Dungeon. There are no shiny cinematics or tense QTEs. No convoluted item management or crafting. It’s just you, that guy, and that immensely comfortable-looking chair of his.
The weirdest bit? You don’t need anything else. And yes, that bit surprised me, too.
There’s a temptation here to think that Deathtrap Dungeon has limited appeal – it’s based on Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series, and it’s incredibly faithful to this source material – but shake that off now, adventurer. Even if you’ve never heard of the series nor stumbled into the world of Dungeons & Dragons before, this is an immensely enjoyable FMV branching adventure story. You don’t need oodles of experience to get to grips with the simple RPG mechanics, either; just a little luck.
Which is something I didn’t have a lot of, actually. The first time I spotted something of note (a wristband, that’s all it was; it’s not like I was trying my luck for a gigantic sword), I had four Skills points shaved off because it was cursed. Another time I peeked into a backpack and a Black Widow spider promptly chomped off six – six – Stamina points. It’s all Random Number Generation – dumb luck, in other words – and while it often feels as though the odds are stacked against you, persevere. Your progress through the Deathtrap Dungeon might depend on the fickle mood of Lady Luck, but at least there are savepoints here.
The atmosphere is astonishing. Yes, I mean it. It’s extraordinary. Gentle soundscapes kick in at key points throughout your adventure, and occasionally you’ll be blessed with the original book’s line drawings of whatever denizen stands in your way. Narrator Eddie Marsan is a bona fide storytelling wizard, and quite possibly the world’s best Dungeon Master, the gentle timbre of his words a warm, familiar companion as you pick through the dungeon, his smiling eyes always teasing of secrets yet to be discovered.
Sadly, it’s not a very long experience, and while the combat sequences are wonderfully written and a blast to play, you’ll sometimes hear Marsan repeat the same statements in protracted battles. It’s presently only available in Early Access, so it’s a little rough, but not prohibitively so. You can’t stop or pause the game – a nightmare, given it’s a story-dense game that requires your full concentration – and there’s no option to rebalance the ambient sounds against the volume of the narrator, for instance, or activate subtitles. The UI overlays the dice rolls, too, so you can’t always see the dice land in real time.
I’m being picky, though. I’d have said instinctively Deathtrap Dungeon was definitely not my kind of thing, but it turns out I’m entirely wrong. I love it. Maybe you will, too.
Combat battles are at once both fabulous and frustrating, requiring the temperamental fortunes of a dice roll to get you through unscathed. But my goodness, does Marsan pull you in. His snappy summaries keep you fully immersed as you keep tapping that mouse, desperately trying to secure that elusive double-six…
A brilliant, if brief, branching adventure story.
Genre: RPG Adventure | Format: PC (tested) | Developer: Branching Narrative Ltd | Publisher: Branching Narrative Ltd | Price: £7.99 | Release: Out now