From indie developer, Dungeoneering Studios comes the retro attempt at a classic dungeon crawler, Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness. While creative in its efforts of producing an enrapturing plot and environment, this game unfortunately falls flat across the board. Suffering from sub-par graphics, repetitive audio and a yawn-inducing, repetitive difficulty, Castle Torgeath had its struggles. Even keeping in mind its “Early-Access” and extremely “indie” produced titles, the asking price of $4.99 does not seem worth the amount of entertainment received.
As a big fan of old school dungeon crawler RPGs, this game held my hopes high from the very start. I attempted to give it every benefit of the doubt, excusing the game-play as possibly slow and the entire product as unpolished or underdeveloped. But after a couple hours of struggling to keep motivated and find creative ways to have fun in this dreary game, my hope quickly turned into disappointment. To be fair though, this game did have a few things going for it and I’d like to start by highlighting those.
While anyone could agree these graphics look at best, old, I gotta give them credit on the attention to detail they at least took on their enemy skins. It all seemed a bit unbalanced that the main player would have weird needle-thin fingers attached to static zombie arms that never bent or swayed. When you consider that Dungeoneering Studios actually managed to achieve some truly creepy elements that could scare even the veteran gamer under the right circumstances. It just seems odd the small nuances that merited such dedication. For instance, the animation of a rare loot chest opening looks very fluid and realistic. Yet when you speak to friendly NPCs, they stare at you with blank eyes, un-moving mouths and no voice over accompaniment.
The game’s audio quality, while repetitive, did a truly great job at encapsulating a great mood to carry the game forward. It was lively when it needed to be. It was suspenseful when it needed to be. The problem came down to variety. After hearing the same few, short loops over and over, I began to crave ANY other sound than the same old, same old. Not to mention, the game fell prey to the notorious mistake of Silent Hill. The audio completely gives away the enemy. Is there a spider in the dark ready to pounce behind me, injecting me with a slow-acting poison? I wish I could have the experience of a great scream or jump scare to share with you here. Unfortunately, every time an enemy is even remotely within an absurdly large radius the music would abruptly change into its “combat mode.” This is another feature that soured the possibly immersive experience Castle Torgeath could have been.
While that may not have seemed like all too much of the best praise, those are the few compliments I could find to give this game fairly. Now to emphasize where it really suffered: difficulty and enjoyment. If this game was up to par of the epics like the Dark Soul series, in terms of difficult, and unpredictable AI interaction mechanics, it may have been elevated to a whole new level. Unfortunately, the AI moved lifelessly on an obvious grid, making sharp 90-degree turns and lining up in single file to be slaughtered by spam left-clicking, what a challenge. Even later on, when you get to ranged enemies, “bosses” etc., the enemies are so predictable and unoriginal that you can run carelessly around, using the ever-obtrusive environment to kite them for days.
The places where this game should really not have had difficulty issues were all too prevalent. The lack of any sort of map made navigation in a dark, and copy-pasted repetitive labyrinth near impossible. Players would find themselves spending half of their playthrough back tracking over and over again, through empty areas looking for random keys and keyholes in the hopes of progressing through an aimless quest. Castle Torgeath emanated an unfortunate sense of aimlessness. There are no quests, there is no discernible path to take, not even a clear cut system for leveling-up and looting. I understand this game was meant to be one of creative exploration. If that’s the case, at least reward players for their time spent, and efforts. I shouldn’t be able to follow along half of the perimeter of a room, opening doors and clearing out mobs to find nothing but cobwebs.
It was never even clear what was clickable and what wasn’t. I’d often find weapons or armor on the ground and get elated thinking, “Yes, finally some kind of upgrade!” Only to spend a few minutes figuring out I couldn’t interact with the faux-loot. Almost immediately, the game became nothing more than another type of survival game. Players will spend 50% of their time looking for food to stave off the rapid-acting hunger and the other 50% of the time pausing the entire game to figure out the janky inventory system to actually eat their food.
Even very simple upgrades, like the map, would’ve made this game so much more enjoyable and not so tedious. A simple voice-over for character interactions, a narrative backstory of the characters, enemies and environment would make a world of difference to bring this game to life. I will give it credit here. As far as text-based plot elements, this game did shine. If I felt like reading a lengthy novel, I’d have more to commentate on here as well. Unfortunately, if I’m not playing an old school text adventure, I have difficulty committing to these in-depth textual elements in a game, especially considering the lack of gameplay to back up the creative original story.
The Bottom Line
I should never be happy to die in a game. As a learning experience, maybe. But death is meant to be a frustration in the gaming world, at the very least. Dying in Castle Torgeath: Descent into Darkness, was a relief. Because it meant I got a break from the monotony. Yet it was also still a frustration because the death animation and following screen, looked like it took a teenager a couple of minutes to whip up on Microsoft paint. Sorry. This game more than earned its rating. I’d like to say the low price point makes it some kind of value. But in the air of complete candor, I didn’t very much enjoy playing this game, even for free. I would not recommend it.