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Adv: DROD Journey to Rooted Hold [by Caravel Games]

Game Review: DROD – Journey to Rooted Hold
Reviewer: Moritz Voss
Release Date: April 2005
Developer: Caravel Games
Genre: Puzzle / RPG / Quest
System Requirements: Windows 98/2000/SE/XP or Linux or FreeBSD (Windows version tested here)
Players: 1 (online rankings available)
Price: $19.95


Let’s see. Deadly Rooms of Death – Journey to Rooted Hold is one of the most curious games that I’ve played to this day. At first glance, it appears to be some kind of dungeon crawl RPG akin to Nethack, but soon after you start playing, you’ll discover that DROD – Journey to Rooted Hold is a very complex and challenging puzzle game. In other words, it’s a Rolepuzzling Hack & Slash.

There is some kind of story line, with humorous voice-over dialogue, but as you are told in the tutorial, you can solve the game without listening to the dialogue at all. It is my opinion, though, that the funny remarks and retorts the characters have in store for each other make the game that much more entertaining.

You play the role of Beethro, who appears to be a member of a troll-like species, and whose job it is to get to the bottom of whatever dungeon he enters while clearing the vermin out of all the rooms, and of course he must do this without dying himself. You have a sword which always points in the direction you last turned, marking a kill zone for Roaches, Spiders, Wraithwings and other mobs you encounter in the dungeons. Sometimes, you are accompanied by NPCs like your nephew Halph, who have special abilities and behaviours that factor in as parts of the current puzzle’s solution.

Your movements are entirely turn-based, meaning that you can meticulously plan your every move – and believe me, you must! In later levels, every step you take must be a part of your solution unless you want to get eaten alive by a giant cockroach – or worse. Doors need to be triggered in time, your sword needs to be sticking out in the right direction, and your NPC friends need to stay put or follow you around at the right moments. The game is very challenging and sometimes frustrating because of the high degree of precision and discipline it demands from its players.

There’s one more thing that’s definitely worth mentioning – the game developer, Caravel Games, runs a service called CaravelNet where you can download new dungeons and discuss the game in well-maintained discussion forums. The game also includes a powerful editor with scripting support if you want to build your own levels – and you can make them available to others via CaravelNet.

Thanks to this intimate relationship between the community and the developers, the DROD fandom is flourishing.

Graphics: 6
The graphics aren’t spectacular and they seem a little outdated. But when you look at the user interface and the dungeons closely, you’ll find that they serve their purpose well, and that some aspects of the game can even be considered “pretty”. I still think that the graphics are among Journey to Rooted Hold’s weaker assets.

Sound: 8
The main journey (the default dungeon of the game) has excellent voice dialogue and a rather decent and varied soundtrack. The characters voices are easy to distinguish without looking at the text-bubbles when they speak, and Beethro’s grumpy statements appear even funnier when Halph makes another spoiled brat’s comment about how bored he is.

The sound effects leave a bit to be desired. Beethro’s death sounds especially get to be annoying because you will die and restart every so often in most of the rooms while you try to figure out how to solve the puzzle.

Game Play: 9
While the keypad control method may seem a little unintuitive at the beginning, the game is easy to control and everything on screen reacts promptly to your input, including the mouse and hyperlinks in the menus.

The (countless!) puzzles are interesting and usually offer two or more approaches, including rewarding ones for ponderous and creative players. Basically, there’s something in it for everyone, especially with the free downloadable add-on dungeons, some of which aren’t quite as difficult as the original Journey to Rooted Hold.

Value: 9
For a game that looks a bit like an EGA game of the 1980’s, twenty dollars may seem a bit much to ask. But with the level editor and additional dungeons, as well as the excellent community interaction, the value rating is still pretty good. It may, however, prove to be a little difficult to find useful information within the community, because both DROD and the DROD players don’t take themselves seriously at all – everything has a tongue-in-cheek flavour to it, including the game manual and the advertisements on www.drod.net

It needs to be said, that CaravelNet is a value-added service which will cost you a little extra.

Concept: 8
DROD – Journey to Rooted Hold is a fine puzzle game, and while the learning curve is steep, the puzzles are always logical and pondering over the situation always pays off. You can retry a level as often as you want, and in some rooms there are intermediate game save points so you can restart without having to go back to the beginning.

The story is weird and has a lot of tongue-in-cheek references to both puzzle games and role-playing games, which gives you a reason to breathe and smirk a little between rooms. Also, the story provides guidance and hints, as well as a purpose to Beethro’s efforts and countless deaths. After all, he is a smitemaster whose duty it is to rid all dungeons of roaches and other horrors.

Fun: 7
The game is very difficult at times, though there’s usually some kind of alternate route around the most challenging rooms, though often you’ll need to solve them later. I believe that this could cause beginning puzzlers to become stuck in the game – and the “Help, I’m stuck!” forum on www.drod.net isn’t really a solution to the problem – merely to the symptoms. There should be two or more difficulty levels to appeal a broader player base. As it is now, I can only recommend Deadly Rooms of Death to seasoned puzzle players.

Overall: 8
Deadly Rooms of Death – Journey to Rooted Hold has a sizeable fan base, mostly since the DROD series has already been around for a couple of years and because Caravel Games goes to great lengths to please the community. CaravelNet is nothing short of a revolution when it comes to indie puzzle games, it was never easier to obtain and play additional content – you don’t even need to leave the game to install new dungeons!

The puzzles are, as I said before, strictly logical but often deviously complex, meaning that you can easily spend an hour or more trying to solve some of the higher level puzzles. The tongue-in-cheek dialogue is good for an occasional laugh en route to your next Deadly Room of Death.
Added: September 9th 2005
Reviewer: Moritz Voss
Score:
Hits: 6080
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