There's something wicked lurking on Steam. It's taken away my weekend, crowding my current favourite The Division out of rotation as I struggle to play more and more of the game. I've stayed up late and read Steam forum posts and Wikipedia entries to try and get a better handle on its mechanics and systems.
So, what is it? It's a mix of classic roguelikes, Dwarf Fortress and Dungeon Keeper, it's the, admittedly lamely named, KeeperRL.
It has managed to worm itself effectively inside my head, an almost insidious process that's seen me live and breath the game for the last few days. At its core, it's a game about running a dungeon, similar to Dungeon Keeper. Instead of a mission based structure however, this takes the form of a roguelike. There are no saves and checkpoints, and if your Keeper is killed, it's over. The Keeper is your avatar in the world, and you are dumped into a procedurally generated map to carve your lair into the rock itself.
These early days are fraught with danger. You have nowhere to keep all of your gold, and your tiny imps are good for nothing more than basic building and gathering. To protect yourself you'll need to recruit minions to fight for you, but this takes time.
There are plenty of enemies in the world, both major and minor. Each world is filled with NPC's that will help or hinder you including Dwarven settlements, Human villagers, giant spiders or tree-dwelling Dryads. Minor settlements won't affect you much, and will attack you periodically, pushing at your defences, sapping at your resources. Friendly tribes will not hinder you, letting you recruit their warriors, if the price is right.
If minor enemies are no more than a thorn in your side, the major enemies are a pick-axe roughly thrust between two ribs. Accidentally disturb the lair of a great dragon and he'll cut a bloody path to your base, viciously looking to tear your dungeon apart, kill enough humans too early and their retaliatory assault could wipe an inexperienced Keeper from the map.
But, this map ain't big enough for the two of us, and to win KeeperRL you'll need to wipe all of the major enemies off the map, slaying dragons and assault human strongholds as you grow in strength, all in the name of dominance.
The game is in early access and very much an Alpha right now, but there's an impressive number of minions and traps you can utilise. Ogres, Orcs, Zombies, Vampires, Goblins and all sorts of other fantasy beasties can be tempted to take up residence in your dungeon and then used to craft items, defend the place or loot and pillage the nearby towns. Keepers with a gift for tricks and traps will find the game has plenty to keep them amused, from crushing boulders to poison gas or just a big ol' bundle of web to delay attackers while you organise a response.
It's a solid Dungeon Keeper game, that makes the most of its roguelike trappings. The first hour or two tends to be simple, taking stock of the land and using this to plan out a defensible dungeon entrance. Meanwhile you'll also get to grips with some of the local characters, learning who you'll be rumbling against as you fight to conquer the map.