Much like last week's game, Desktop Dungeons is a streamlined rogue-like. It strays a little further into rogue-like territory with level gaining and such, but like Tiny Crawl, it's a very simple game that just about anyone can understand and get into. However, underneath the layer of simple controls and basics, Desktop Dungeons has a complexity and depth that make it surprisingly engaging and addictive. In fact, we could almost compare it to the title Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. Short, simple to understand, and difficult to master are all characteristics of both games, and this makes Desktop Dungeons a great game if you want to relax for a few minutes over a coffee break with some monster slaughtering. Beware, though, as you might lose track of time and get reprimanded for spending too much time dungeon crawling!
The goals of any play session of Desktop Dungeons are twofold. The first and most important goal is to get your score as high as possible. This can be achieved through a number of factors, such as exploring, killing monsters, engaging in conducts, and your character level at the end of the game. Conducts are actions such as killing the boss in normal combat, pertifying a ton of monsters, never taking a health potion, and never dropping below 50% health. Conducts are incredibly important if you are going for a big score, as they give a ton of points independent from the regular game. The easiest two conducts are, arguably, explore 95% of the map and kill all monsters, both of which give a decent amount of points. Monsters do not move or attack you, which allows you to set fights up at your own leisure.
The second goal of Desktop Dungeons is to kill the boss. Killing the boss is no small task, given that they are the highest possible level (ten), hit very hard, and have a lot of hitpoints. Most of the game will be preparing yourself for the confrontation with the boss, which means that you will have to clear as many monsters as possible before facing him down. After all, you have to be a high enough level! Other preparations include getting better items, stocking up on potions, finding spells, and collecting upgrades to your attack, mana, and health. You can kill the boss without ever actually attacking him, but in order to get the boss kill bonus, you have to kill him normally, and doing this is important.
You can collect a number of different things to help your character in Desktop Dungeons. There's health and mana potions laying around, which increase your health and mana when used. There's health, mana, and attack squares which increase the appropriate attribute by a small amount. You can also find gold, which is important as it carries over between sessions and is used to buy items from shops. Shops carry items ranging from a better sword to an amulet that makes you immune to poison to more potions. Once a shop has been used, it can not be used again, so purchasing wisely is important to the game as well. Beyond these, the only thing left to find are glyphs, which act as the spells of the game world.
Spells are very important, as they drastically increase your survivability and save on exploration. To clarify, the only way you can regain health and mana without leveling up or using potions is to explore. No exploring, no health and mana. There has to be a black tile nearby, with the amount regenerated by discovering what lay behind the black tile depending on your maximum health and character class. Anyway, there's a few different spells to choose from, with the summon monster (brings a monster of your level to you) and remote viewing (looks at 3 random unexplored tiles) being the most important spells, thanks to their leveling and regeneration benefits. If you find that you don't need any more spells, you can sacrifice them to get more of a particular attribute, depending on your character's race.
The game stores all of the metagame data in a profile that you name at the beginning of the game. If you are just playing normally, the default profile works fine. Progression in the metagame is determined by your achievements in the regular game. For example, unlocking the next job in a career path is only possible after you have killed the boss normally with the previous class. Unlocking the next job also increases the usefulness of shops and adds new monster types to the dungeon, making the game harder as you master it more and more. Thankfully, you start with all races unlocked at the beginning, with five to choose from. This natural progression of difficulty is very nice, with the culmination being the unlocking of ranked play. Ranked play is unlocked by completing the game with every character, and drastically increases the difficulty while adding your score to online leaderboards. Thanks to this metagame aspect, it's very easy to lose yourself into Desktop Dungeons.
The end result of all of these aspects is the creation of a game that feels like half puzzle and half rogue-like. Figuring out the optimal order in which to do monsters within a level (most levels are beatable, if done right) supplements the depth of the class and glyphs system. The metagame aspect, which is greater than a simple online leaderboard, helps keep the game fresh even after you've mastered the concepts underneath. It's an excellent game to have to play on any sort of break, and the rigid turn-based gameplay is a blessing for when you have to get right back to work. You can download Desktop Dungeons from the developer's website.
For another look at freeware games, take a peek at Joystiq's Free Game Club weekly feature!