Monster's Den : Godfall Review
Excellent combat, varied loot, and interesting character building are essential parts of a successful dungeon crawler. But those factors alone don't make a great dungeon crawler. The dungeon itself is an important part of the equation. Great dungeon crawlers take players to mysterious and unusual places, where its never clear what is around the next corner. They also offer the player a break now and again from combat. Whether its clever puzzles, enviormental hazards, scrolls full of lore, strange fountains to drink from, a story of sorts (though this is never central to a dungeon crawler), or varied locations, it is essential that a dungeon crawler mixes things up to keep combat from becoming too repetitive. Monster's Den: Godfall is an impressive one man project. Its also a fairly low priced indie dungeon crawler, and while it does many things well, in the end it forgets the “dungeon” in “dungeon crawler.”
Story and Atmosphere
In Godfall you play the Sword of Aristei, the long dead general of perhaps the only surviving goddess of your world. All the other dieties were slain in an event called the Godfall, in which a mysterious being appeared and destroyed them. The church of Aristei goes to great length to ressurect you, both because of your supposed strategic genius and your loyalty to the goddess. Once resurrected, you are too weak to fight yourself, so you organize your own units of elite soldiers to aid the church. The story itself is actually interesting in concept, but in terms of presentation and depth it leaves a lot to be desired. Of course the story of a dungeon crawler is normally secondary, and usually simply provides an excuse to explore the dungeon or dungeons, so we can't fault the game for that.
Godfall offers a campaign with primary missions, and a number of secondary ones. It's the secondary missions which make up the heart of any playthrough, since you need them to get the gear, money, and experience to get your party through the campaign missions. Each side mission sends you to a random dungeon and gives you prestige with one of the game's seven factions. The missions can be broken down into four categories, namely: kill all the monsters in a dungeon, explore the dungeon (visit 90% of the tiles), find a specific room in the dungeon, or kill a specific monster group. While, for example, you need to find a fallen scout for the sentinels, and for the mages you need to find a hidden library, the quests essentially run the same. The seven factions aren't fleshed out very much, and the influence you win with them simply unlocks one or two extra items.
The game's campaign at least offers monsters and places you won't find in the side missions. Unfortunately though many missions just end up defeating X waves of opponents.
The primary campaign doesn't offer all that much more. You are sent to the only outdoor dungeons of the game, but these don't play any differently than the underground ones. Or you are sent to fight a number of consecutive battles. Afterwards you get rewarded with a few snippets of text, and an occasional drawing which explains what transpires before the next quest. The campaign took me 24 hours to complete, but that was with at least one side quest in between each main mission.
While the artwork for the monsters, items, and battle backgrounds are quite decent, Godfall is a typical small scale indie production in terms of graphics and sound and won't impress anyone who makes these things a priority in the games they buy. But Godfall also doesn't impress in terms of atmosphere. Some dungeon crawlers shine in terms of art direction, weird lore, and what not, but Godfall feels like a generic fantasy setting with generic fantasy monsters, in generic dark dungeons. The campaign has a few different opponents and unusual moments, but in general Godfall doesn't do anything memorable.
The presentation of the campaign is very basic.
On first sight, with its four man party, skill trees, and (basic) five classes, Monster's Den:Godfall seems simple. However, in what appears to be a fairly basic system there is actually a large amount of room to build characters and parties of great variety. Each class has two trees which have quite a different focus. For example, the ranger has one tree which focuses on ranged combat, while the other has a variety of summons and cures. The fighter has one tree which focuses on melee combat, while the other contains various buffs and heals. That means while the fighter and ranger will never be as good a healers as a cleric, you can certainly run an effective party with no cleric. Added to that each class has a fair variety of equipment they can use. A ranger can be equipped with two handed melee weapons and shields, for example. So, even though a starting ranger has a bow, you can build a summoning/healing/melee ranger if you like. Fighters can also be very effective back ranked characters with a crossbow in their hands. The system works so that you can focus on one or both trees. Focusing on one tree gives some advantages. At the end of a tree is the ability to unlock the tree's prestige class, which prevents you from buying skills from the other tree. However, each skill has two possible upgrades, and you can only buy one if you don't belong to the prestige class. Also you get the ability to buy or be rewarded with special skill books that only members of the prestige class can use. This allows a huge amount of flexability.
During my time in the game I built three fighters, a crossbow wielding commander, who healed and buffed his allies, a tank-like front rank figher who fought with sword and shield and specialized in melee skills, and a two handed weapon wielding damage dealer, who took skills from both trees. Each of these characters was effective in their own way. Monster's Den does a great job of making each class very flexible in the role it plays. Every class except perhaps the mage can be built to function well in the front rank, and every class can also be built to fight in the back rank. Both the mage and ranger can summon melee oriented allies, so its not even a problem to have a party with three back ranked characters and one front ranked one. You do unlock the ability to recruit other classes later in the campaign (these have the same skill trees as the main classes, just mixed. For example, the ascetic has one skill tree in common with the mage and the other with the cleric.)
Better healing or cheaper healing? A difficult choice. If your cleric specializes in the confessor class they can have both, but the cost is shutting off access to the classes's offensive skills.
While this seems like it would encourage you to build and try out all sort of character combinations, Monster's Den shoots itself in the foot to some degree here. While you can dismiss or hire anyone in your party as you like, you are limited to a party of four characters for a very long time. You actually aren't allowed to make a second party until you get a so called writ of expansion. This isn't explained anywhere, and needs to be bought from a special shop that you can build in your base. Your base is upgradable, and offers a number of minor additions, such as more options for nonactive parties, the ability to find a dungeon with an artifact, the ability to stash extra equipment, and the ability to give all of your characters universal stat bonuses. You also get a writ of expansion quite a ways into the main campaign, but at a point where its no longer interesting to run around with a low level party. Also only one party can go adventuring at a time, and the other party can be given a number of things to do of minor importance, like building influence or earning money. This is strange because you are supposedly in charge of a mercenary company, but it never really feels that way.
Combat is the heart of Godfall and is well done. Battle starts with displaying your and the enemy's starting position (you face 1-6 opponents). You have 4 party members and a six space grid. Before battle starts you can use consumables or move your characters to any space you want. I like this system, as it benefits flexible characters like clerics, rangers, and rogues. In my main party I had a healing specialist cleric. In battles against weaker opponents I started him in the front rank, so he could attack in melee, since he seldom had to heal. In tougher battles he stayed in back, so he was less of a target. Even though you only have six party members, you can use your last two squares for summoned allies. You can also move a character into any open square during combat, but it comes with an action cost. The deployment phase is also the only time you can use consumables in combat. This makes consumables, in contrast to other games, rather potent. There are no combat healing potions in Monster's Den, but regeneration potions last the whole combat, as do quickness and flaming elixir potions. You don't find these very often, but they are useful in boss battles.
Consumables can only be used in the deployment phase of a battle and last for the battle's entire length, which makes them very valuable in tougher battles.
Combat works on a timer, and heavily armoured and armed characters recharge their timer more slowly. While a fighter with a two handed axe does massive damage, he attacks slower, and thus has potentially fewer turns in any battle. Godfall balances its equipment pretty well though, so there is usually a good tradeoff for using different equipment. The battles are turn based and each dungeon has unique qualities. For example, in unholy dungeons healing is less effective. There are also usually random squares on each side that allow a bonus or penalty, like cover from missle fire or an evasion penalty.
The player's party has a fairly overviewable set of skills. Each tree has nine active and four passive abilites, meaning a maximum of 18 active abilities at level 18. The reality is though, that its more efficient to buy upgrades and passive abilities, and I think at level 14, I had somewhere between 6-9 active skills on each character. You can spend your points in any order, so for my mage I spent most of the first 8 levels buying active abilities, and spent the higher levels improving them and buying passives. This gives the player a large flexability on what combat options they have, and that is a good thing.
There is also a nice variety of opponents. Each dungeon in Godfall is controlled by a monster faction. Very rarely you'll find a non-faction opponent in the dungeon, but mostly you'll fight creatures of one faction in any given dungeon. There is a good number of factions, including undead, green skins, planar cultists, demons, spiders, deep creatures, outcasts, and dwarves. Each faction has 6 or more monsters and the makeup of any enemy group is randomized, but for the most part it makes sense. That is, fighting types are up front, archers or healers are in the back. And after completing one dungeon, you'll often fight completely other enemies in a different dungeon. There are also some unique monsters you can encounter on the overland map or in the campaign that don't belong to any faction. The only problem is that enemies don't change as you level up much. While you may encounter a high level faction opponent from time to time, for the most part, you're fighting the same skeletal archers from the beginning of the game, but they do more damage and have better health. All in all this means that by the time a player has reached about the 15 hour point, they've seen about 95% of what the games has to offer in terms of enemies.
While a Dungeon crawler can't function without at least decent combat and character progression, you actually need an interesting place for all these mechanics to function. Monster's Den relies largely on random dungeons. This is certainly a drawback, the best dungeon crawlers rely on hand placed puzzles, loot, and encounters. On the other hand there are a lot of good dungeon crawlers that rely at least to some degree on procedural dungeons. Hack and slay ARPGs like Van Helsing, Diablo, and Torchlight come to mind. While the maps in these games are largely random, their areas each have a distinct visual identity. As far as turn based dungeons go, a number roguelikes also rely on procedural dungeons, but these are usually full of interesting items or places to interact with. The dungeons in Monster's Den lack both a visual identity and a variety of noncombat interactions.
Dungeons are full of monsters and treasure, but not enough else. They aren't much to look at either.
The game's dungeons are shown from a very high up bird's eye view and zooming in doesn't help, because the tile sets are very spartan and don't vary visually to a huge degree. Most are simply different shades of gray or brown. The battle backgrounds of each tile set are different, but not radically so. In fact, I didn't even notice until I made it a point to look. When you enter each dungeon you can use a tooltip to see each dungeon's qualities. These are random variables that determine the amount of terrain in combat, how many monsters can be sneaked past (with a somewhat uncommon consumable scroll), and other factors. While I looked at these on occasion, the game doesn't give visual feedback on these minor mechanical differences. I know the developer meant well by this and hoped to give each dungeon its own flavour, and while I prefer good mechanics over good visuals, when I was playing through the Monster's Den I felt that the area's were much more repetitive than say Torchlight's which have almost no mechanical differences, but stark visual ones.
Godfall's dungeons also have a very minor amount of noncombat activities. Loot can be found in a variety of containers, whether its unlocked chests, locked chests (monsters have the keys), so-called puzzle chests or other containers, they all hold the same randomized loot. You go into dungeons with limited rest possibilites, which is measured in supplies. These replenish any time you enter a town. You start with 3, and can raise it to 4 later in the game. However, you occasionally find a supply cache (with one supply), a healing altar (which acts like a supply, except you have to pay for it, or a defiled altar (a healing altar that needs to be cleansed before use, with a special consumable). So basically that's two interactions, finding loot or healing. Some dungeons have locked doors which can be opened by finding the single switch on the dungeon floor. Also in rare occasions you'll find a mysterious altar which gives a random beneficial buff, attribute or experience raise. In any case its always positive.
Your goals in a dungeon are also limited to killing all monsters, exploring 90% of dungeon tiles (which means killing 95% of dungeon monsters), finding a specific room, or killing a particular monster group. The first two quests get especially tedious near the end, since there is little to do between most fights except heal or siff though treasure, which about 95% of the time is only worth selling for gold. Also the monsters, all belongi to the same faction, which becomes very repetitive after the first 6-7 battles. The random dungeons where you don't have a quest to kill all the monsters, occasionally have an NPC who offers you random loot if you kill all the monster's on the floor. On rare occasions you also can run into a dwarf merchant.
This lack of variety means its seldom fun to play through more than one dungeon in a sitting, and multilevel dungeons become vary tedious.
The game's side missions seem promising at first. You gain influence with various factions, and quests appear to be faction oriented. Unfortunately the faction system is shallow and the quests are mechanically very simlar.
About 3 years ago I reviewed another turn based, party based indie dungeon crawler with procedural dungeons called Heroes of a Broken Land. While that game probably had weaker mechanics and definitely, less variety in terms of opponents and much worse visuals, it understood how to make exploration fun, with tricks like traps, puzzles, hazards, dungeons that needed multiple parties to complete, end dungeon treasure stashes with rare items, and an overland map which gave you new options and interesting rewards if you could find them, and I enjoyed playing it for over 50 hours. Godfall in contrast, while it has so much potential to be a better game, really falls flat in making its worlds and its dungeons interesting or worth exploring. It fails not because it has poor building blocks, but because it's not better than the sum of its parts, or because the mortor which should be holding its bricks together is faulty. Its feels like the developer made a checklist of what qualities a good dungeon crawler needs, and these qualities make the game entertaining for 10-15 hours or so, but fails to make it what the developer intended, namely an endless dungeon crawler, where you potentially could ransack dungeons for hundreds of hours with multiple parties. If you like turn based combat, interesting mechanics, and dungeon crawlers it might be worth a look, provided your expectations aren't too high.
The most important part of the world map turns out to be how long it takes you to get from your base to whatever dungeon you need to explore for your quest. If there were only interesting things to find other than the same random treasure you find in most dungeons!
Information aboutMonster's Den: Godfall
Developer: Monstrum Games
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2017-07-06
· Publisher: Unknown
- Well done tactical combat
- One can build a variety on effective characters
- Well designed equipment system
- Interesting story idea
- Variety of monsters
- Boring dungeon design
- Unrewarding exploration
- Very generic fantasy world
- Uninteresting campaign missions
- Very spartan presentation