Dungeon Lords Hands-On - Early Levels, Magic System, Combat

We finally get our hands on this action-heavy role-playing game for some impressions on the magic and combat system.

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There are two features that most classic role-playing games share: hacking and slashing (generally, but not always, in that order). The upcoming action role-playing game Dungeon Lords, from publisher DreamCatcher Interactive and developer Heuristic Park (and steered ahead with direction from former Wizardry designer D.W. Bradley), will have no shortage of either. In fact, this upcoming game won't attempt to skimp on anything that role-playing fans enjoy, such as story, character development, combat, magic spells, and all-around depth, but it will attempt to present an accessible, action-packed package. And we finally got our hands on it.

These goblins and skeletons are just a few of the many enemies you'll hack your way through in Dungeon Lords.

Dungeon Lords will set you off on an epic quest all by your lonesome. You'll create a character from one of seven races, including humans, elves, dwarves, and four "demigoth" races of otherworldly stock. The different races look considerably different and have different starting numbers in the game's six ability scores, which make certain races more predisposed to specific types of professions. For instance, the burly urgoth, a race that possesses unusually high strength, make for excellent warriors. While there are no preset character classes, there are templates that can be chosen to focus on regarding specific skills. These templates roughly correspond to the traditional role-playing warrior, rogue, and wizard archetypes.

Once you've created your character, you'll start on the outskirts of a small town that marks the beginning of your journey. Before you leave, it's best to equip your character with weapons, armor, spells, and potions, which can be done from the game's paper-doll inventory interface. Wizards may be better off using magic wands and staves, while fighters and rogues can opt to use melee weapons such as daggers, swords, and axes. Fighters and rogues can also wield shields in their off-hands; or even wield a second weapon at the same time.

You can also use the equipment screen to choose your character's readied spells from the game's four schools of magic: arcane magic, a more traditional school of sorcery that involves hurling bolts of flame and lightning; celestial magic, a more subtle school that affects the environment around you (one spell slows the flow of time, for instance); rune magic, a protective school of sorcery; and nether magic, a shamanistic school that lets you combine herbs and other reagents to unleash black magic on your foes. You can quickly bind any spell or potion (such as the all-important healing potion) to your keyboard's number keys for quick use; then you're off and ready to go. And it's not long before you end up in battle.

Dungeon Lords is an action role-playing game, so its combat takes place in real time and seems easy enough to get started with. You use your keyboard's WASD keys and your mouse to move and aim, much like with a first-person shooter. You click your left mouse button to swing your primary weapon, and you click your right mouse button to block with your shield (if you have one equipped)--if you're dual-wielding two weapons, you'll actually attack with both weapons with a single left-click. Swinging your weapon while pressing a directional key will result in a different kind of attack. Meanwhile, tapping a certain directional key twice will let you perform various evasive maneuvers, like rolls and forward dives.

Choose the right skills, and you can create a heavily armored tank or a skilled sorcerer.

You can't start the game with every skill in the game, which is something you'll discover if you try to equip heavy armor and you don't have the skill to wear it comfortably. Using items that you're not skilled with will incur penalties, but you can create a character that at least specializes in specific skills that will give you a good head start. You'll also gain experience levels fairly quickly, at least at the beginning of the game, and you can spend experience points immediately upon improving certain skills rather than waiting to gain a level. (Your experience is stored in a blue meter in the corner of the screen, just under the red meter that indicates your health.) Your choice of skills will be entirely up to you, but you may want to consider picking at least a few burglary ones to crack the locks and traps on various treasure chests. In a nod to the treasure chests of classic games like Wizardry, you'll have to contend with tricky traps that must be disarmed or bashed open, the latter action of which can come at the risk of triggering a trap, however.

Dungeon Lords promises something on the order of 40 hours of gameplay for the game's primary quest alone; more if you take on the game's many side quests. You'll battle with a great variety of foes, including lowly goblins and skeletons, and you'll encounter vicious spellswords that hurl bolts of magic between sword strokes, as well as snakelike naga people that don't take kindly to your eventual invasion of their sacred temple. Dungeon Lords is shaping up to be a good-looking, fast-paced hack-and-slash game. We'll see how the final game turns out when it's released later this year.

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