Freezing at the beach

Getting ready for a vacation and knowing that it might not be bright and sunny at the beach every day, I wanted to load a few games onto our little netbook in case we got rained out. Finding games that will work with this laptop’s tiny resolution has always been tough but the roguelike, Frozen Depths, with its small tile-set, sprung to mind as something that might just work.

I have played Frozen Depths off and on for a while now but I hadn’t yet had the time to properly get into the game. A week away from work and without the ability to play fancier games, this seemed like a good time to get to know it better. After having played a few ASCII roguelikes recently, I was able to dive into Frozen Depths very quickly, without being daunted by learning a new game system. Though it sure would be nice if roguelike developers would agree on a singular control scheme; I made the mistake of playing a game of DoomRL in between sessions of Frozen Depths and it took me a moment to remember what the key commands were.

Boiling down Frozen Depths‘ characteristics to describe in a blog post, it sounds like the game is a rather vanilla roguelike, since it doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary. It’s the simple things, however, that Frozen Depths does best and I was immediately impressed with how clean and well thought out this particular roguelike is. Monsters behave fairly intelligently (like swapping places with each other if one gets hurt while facing you), you can generally see how your base character scores (like strength or agility) behave when modified by a magical effect, and selecting special abilities is very straightforward and easy to understand. The game’s dungeon is littered with special sites that have numerous random effects to spice things up. One of my favorites so far was praying at a shrine and a mysterious voice asked me to name my death (the ASCII letter of the monster that would be my killer). I guessed three-armed skeleton, turns out it was a pack of wolves.

Frozen Depths has also kept my interest as it requires smart tactics to survive the deeper levels of the dungeon. Ranged combat has become my preferred style with a nice two-handed weapon once a monster gets too close, but with three character races and classes, and multiple special abilities, you can mix and match to suit your own style. Out of the roguelikes I’ve played this is one of the first where you actually have a chance to run from a monster if a fight isn’t going well. Since there’s no ticking clock of a hunger mechanic in this game, you can escape to some quiet corner and rest up. Being able to rest with little consequence is hugely important as magic potions are little more than useless in Frozen Depths. Even if you take the risk of using a potion to try and identify it, encountering another of the same kind is very unlikely; meaning you can’t count on finding a healing potion, or at least when it matters most.

A dearth of information and description is not a failing specific to Frozen Depths—many popular roguelikes have the same problem. I’ve been spoiled by Brogue which is very open to letting you see its behind-the-scenes mechanics. I understand the need for the identifying mini-game in roguelikes, not knowing if a weapon or item is magical or cursed until you take a risk and use it, but once I use said item, I want to know more about it. When you die in Frozen Depths the game reveals the status of the items you’re wearing (cursed or blessed) but not what the effect was. Once, it turned out the ring I was wearing was a “Blessed Ring of Awareness” but no information was provided as what “Awareness” even means. Does it mean that I was better at sensing traps (ironically, I died thanks to a Sleeping Gas trap) or that I could see further? Opaqueness in roguelikes only serves to keep me from being fully engaged with a game and is one of Frozen Depths‘ few negative points.

Frozen Depths was a good find for a beach trip and I think it will stick around on my play list for a while since it doesn’t require a lot of dedication to start up. Also, it’s probably one of the few roguelikes I’ve played where I genuinely feel like I stand a chance of beating it. So far I’ve made it past the first demon boss (who has a fun trick up its sleeve) and think I can make it much further with a bit of luck and patient play. The game, with its mechanics of growing cold as you get deeper into the dungeon, while I played at a sunny, warm beach made for a nice vacation juxtaposition.