I wasn’t planning on following up my post on Castle of the Winds with another roguelike, but I picked up Risk of Rain from the Steam Summer Sale and so I’ve got the genre on my brain. With that in mind, I’m going to talk about my youthful love affair with Ancient Domains of Mystery.
ADOM follows the strict interpretation of the roguelike genre; turn-based, randomly generated dungeons, and you lose all your progress when you die. Unlike some roguelikes, ADOM doesn’t take place in one single dungeon; instead it has several dungeons linked by an overworld map. The overworld map, along with specific dungeon levels, is the same every game. This gives you some ability to plan out a run from day one. You know where the dungeons are going to be, what equipment, abilities, or level will be required to access them, and where the major milestones are. Some of these dungeons are strictly optional, designed to provide a specific challenge with major rewards at the end. Others are necessary sideroads that must be followed in the course of attempting the game’s main quest.
The storyline of the game follows a titanic struggle between Law and Chaos, shades of 1st edition D&D or Michael Moorcock’s Elric series. Somewhere under the Drakalor Mountains, a gate has opened to the realm of Chaos, releasing not only horrible monsters, but also a steady stream of chaotic energy like background radiation. This energy is slowly corrupting the denizens of the Drakalor Chain, including you. As it builds up, the Chaos energy results in mutations, which provide useful effects (your hands sweat poison that hurts enemies you hit!) coupled with negative side-effects (all of your food and potions that you handle will get poisoned unless you wear thick gloves). Get too corrupted, and you’ll be turned into a gibbering mass of primal chaos, which is just one of many ways to die in this game. The background chaos serves as a sort of hidden timer for the game: You can mitigate its effects, but it will eventually kill you if you don’t shut the chaos gate.
ADOM has a bit more story than your average roguelike. There are a variety of friendly characters you can interact with, either to get sidequests or just to learn more about the world around you. This is both a blessing and a curse. If you’re like me and really enjoy the narrative aspect of games, most roguelikes are so lacking in this area that your actions start to feel hollow on your umpteenth attempt, and ADOM’s more involved storyline helps allay that. At the same time, the lack of progression between attempts means you’re getting the same story over and over, which is going to get old sooner or later. I wonder if this is also an area where procedural generation could be useful: Have random elements to the storyline, even just minor character details, so that the player feels like they’re getting something new each time.
Character creation in ADOM involves choosing from twelve (ten when I played it back in the day) races, each of which has its own array of starting skills and traits, and twenty-two classes (used to be twenty), each of which has its own selection of skills and special powers. On top of the procedural generation of the game world, this adds an enormous amount of replayability. If your attempts to get through the game with a Fighter keep failing, you can try a Paladin, or a Wizard, or a lowly Farmer, etc. Layered on top of that are a variety of talents, spells, and subsystems.
All of this detail adding up probably gives you an idea of why I’ve never “completed” or even “beaten” ADOM. I’ve been playing it on and off for years, and I’ve never shut that chaos gate or gotten any of the game’s several endings (aside from the one in which you die). When it comes down to it, enjoying roguelikes is about letting go of beating the game and simply embracing playing it. This can be a difficult thing to do, and I know I’ve gotten frustrated with ADOM many times in the past. I suspect that sooner or later I’ll be picking it up to play again, though, especially given that it is still in development and has been Greenlit on Steam. Some achievements might be just the thing to get me motivated again.