Set among myriad others, DELVER from Cuddigan (@cuddigan) and Joshua Skelton (@JoshuaSkelly) is a roguelike in the purest sense: dungeon crawler, randomized item drops, potions with unknown effects. You venture into a labyrinthine series of halls, descending ever deeper towards to the core. Each death sends you back to a base camp on the surface, populated with a few friendly faces who can offer some equipment for your next attempt. It’s tough as nails, it beckons you to try again and again, with every death trickling funds into your coffers, letting you to buy up some gear for you next run.
Obviously a labor of love, DELVER is an excellent action RPG in the best ways, constantly pushing you forward and swatting you down for your missteps, but in a way that simply wants you to be the best you can be. Outside of the combat, the game also offers a high level of fidelity when it comes to interacting with its world: bowls, candlesticks, bones, and so on can all be grabbed and used as projectiles. There’s even a bit of lore outside of the dungeon, notes scattered across the halls that flesh out the grander world and story.
The game plays in first-person, real time, almost harkening to something like an old 90s shooter with its pacing and feel. This is elevated with spell wands, some casting at a near-auto speed, like some magical machine gun ripping through orcs and bandits. You level up, allowing you to boost your health, attack strength, speed, and so on. A gorgeous, silky soundtrack accompanies your spelunking, steering away from the bloopy chiptunes one might expect to play against the beautifully chunky pixel art.
However, beyond this, the bare-bones experience of DELVER can leave something to be desired in the end. Its straightforward ties to the experience of Rogue leave it as a a bit of a blank canvas. This is where the wonderful modding scene steps in.
Featuring Steam Workshop functionality, the game allows for a huge amount of interchangeable systems. One of the few available right from the developer adds an entire overworld to the game, opening up real possibilities for what can be done with it; one could eventually add towns or entire other dungeons to the experience. The game itself can be changed in its entirety: another mod called Boarding Party changes the medieval dungeons and swords out for a sci-fi spaceship, laser guns to shoot, and aliens to fight.
These mods need not be so ambitious, either. Several expand the armory of the game, adding in all sorts of new weaponry and other equipment. Other mods allow for re-scoring the game with the music of Hotline Miami or… uh, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure? Further still, there are mods that aim to expand upon the base game, adding in more currencies and item rarities, stories to unfurl, and so on. Loading in and out of each mod is incredibly easy, as well. On the main menu, there’s simply a button that lists each mod you’ve installed, and you can check or uncheck whichever ones you’d prefer for the moment.
By all this, DELVER becomes less of a by-the-books roguelike experience, and more of a a platform, an excellent foundation of tight controls and action in which one could create a unique experience all their own. It feels like it has the potential to spawn a mod scene much like that of Half-Life: treating the game as an engine, crafting total conversions. There’s a niche but growing community poring over these releases, eager to expand their time and adventures in DELVER.
So, do yourself a favor and pick this up, and enjoy the excellent base game. Then, start bolting on the mods that strike your fancy, expanding the world or totally overhauling it, or, of course, start making your own! The scene needs the hands, and from what I can tell, it isn’t necessarily hard to get into. The Workshop features several example mods from the developers to get you started.
What are you waiting for? Get out there, delver, and plunge the depths.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.