Firefly Studios don’t seem overly keen on the word “dungeon”. If the title isn’t being partially obscured by an arc of blood, or fading into cavernous darkness, or harangued out of a URL through repetition (heroherohero.com), it’s being contradicted by the game’s setting, which isn’t dungeon-based. “It’s not really in a dungeon,” muses Simon Bradbury, Firefly’s head honcho, “and you’re not a hero either. We should’ve called it Not Really In A Dungeon Psychopath...”
Having quietly made a name for themselves in the buzzing castle-building RTS niche (selling a cool four million copies of Stronghold, they’re keen to point out), Firefly are turning their attention to the action RPG genre with Dungeon Hero. Ask them to name one thing they hate about the fantasy genre as it stands, and they’ll wheel out the same response with bristling enthusiasm. “Personally I’m a big fan of Dungeon Master on the Atari,” reminisces Bradbury, “and then following on from that, Dungeon Keeper. But in my mind things have sort of stayed the same since: you go into a room and objects have been plonked in there, it’s very Tolkeinesque, there’s wolves in that room and a giant spider in this room and two trolls over there. We want to do a game that moves things on.” You only really notice how artificial fantasy is until it’s pointed out in these absolute terms, and it’s a haunting realisation that’ll have you waking up in terror. Just where do goblins shit and what happens to the dismembered corpses you leave behind?
Dungeon Hero has you in the starring role, a psychopathic anti-hero from the surface, introduced through the insane garblings of one goblin who escaped your wrath long enough to tell his mates about your imminent arrival. Through some unseen masterful diplomacy on the goblins’ part, you become enlisted in a war against the rival goblin clan and it’s here, in the goblin trenches bordering no-man’s land, that Firefly’s presentation begins. “We’ve just left the door from the city,” explains Bradbury, “this is where the goblins’ wounded are and their supplies.” The sky is sketched with burning mortar bombs, and along every wall of the trench there’s something happening – a unique NPC animation, a few lines of overheard dialogue, a medic sawing through a wounded soldier’s leg. “We’ll have more NPCs here, we’ll have medics with stretchers running along the trenches – just to give it more life.”
The goblin pile-ons carted out for our previous peek at this dungeon crawler-stroke-action RPG have been stretchered off to some developer’s workdesk in another room, and what we see of the close-quarter combat is a more timid affair. Take a defensive stance when surrounded by enemies and you can counter-attack in four directions, slamming your shield into a guy’s face, or kicking him in the stomach with your tree trunk legs. While this is a visceral style of melee, at this point in development it’s not all that weighty with no feeling that blows are connecting with foes – at least not to the degree shown in early gameplay footage, and (a cruel comparison we know), certainly not with Diablo III’s cinematic aplomb.
And that’s potentially a problem for Dungeon Hero, as its RPG leanings aren’t ready to back up any slack in the combat. There are no tenuous stats to worry about, instead you’ll work your way through a skill tree, the combat component of which comprises new forms of violence. “If you spend your skill points on a headbutt,” states Bradbury with pride, “you’ll be headbutting goblins in your next fight.” Firefly have got the better part of a year before they put Dungeon Hero to bed, so they’ve got the benefit of the doubt (especially as they’re on the cusp of a revelatory new build for E3) – and with a developer so enthusiastic, ambitious, British and so deserving of the adjective ‘plucky’, we’re hoping more than usual that they can follow through on their promises of a realistic dungeon romp, whether it be inside a dungeon or not.
Aug 18, 2008