Welcome to the first of what will be a regular feature here on The Digital Fix - our roundup of what’s going on in the weird and wonderful world of Indie gaming. Each fortnight we’ll highlight some of the great games that are made by independent developers. This is an area of gaming which is bursting with new ideas and innovation, and we’ll bring the best of it straight to you!
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Realm of the Mad God is a bit of a mongrel. Not because it has really sad eyes and will destroy your furniture, but because it is a mixture of many other different types of games. At its heart it is a fantasy MMO - like World of Warcraft, or Everquest. There are hundreds of players all existing within the same world at the same time. You can chat to each other, you can help each other, you can trade items or just shout nonsense at the sky - it’s up to you. There are portals leading to different parts of the eponymous realm and you can form parties and run off together slaughtering monsters, and generally having a fun time. It’s all very free form, you can join or leave groups whenever you like or you can lock onto another player and teleport to their location if you lose them. Co-operative play is certainly encouraged. It can be difficult to co-ordinate, and players are always coming and going, but there is definitely safety and power in numbers. Working together means that you can support each other - healers can heal and fighters can hit things in traditional and time-honoured RPG fashion. Every character on-screen also receives experience points for everything killed by the group so it really doesn’t make sense to go off on your own. This, combined with a complete inability to damage other players, fosters a very community-minded spirit - for example people will often give you better equipment for nothing and without even being asked. It’s nice.
To start you create a character from one of 13 different, unlockable, classes and progress through twenty levels - getting stronger as you go. Your character has different attributes which affect movement speed, shot speed, damage given and received etc. Also, as you progress you earn fame which carries over after your death and enables you to access more challenging areas of the game or buy items. Predictably, you can also acquire better weapons, armour and equipment on your travels, or back at base. So far, so standard. However, where ROTMG differs from the norm is that it isn’t a lavish 3D immersion-fest, it’s a 2D scrolling shoot-em-up - with graphics that were state of the art in about 1992. It is a lot like Smash TV, if you’re old enough to remember that. You move your character with the keys, but can also shoot in any direction with your mouse. You can even press a button which makes your character shoot constantly without you having to do anything. That should tell you something about the type of game it is. Things can get quite frenetic.
Not only this but the game incorporates some rogue-like elements in the way it treats death. In this game, death is final. You can only use one character at a time and when they die, that’s it. No save points, no going back to the last checkpoint, nothing. You are dead and that’s that. Time to start a new character. Some people will find this difficult to deal with and if you’re one of those people then this game might not be for you. In much the same way that farmers don’t name their pigs, it’s best not to get too attached to your little alter egos. They probably won’t be about for long. You can quite easily find yourself up against an over-powered enemy and death can come quickly.
So it’s a shoot-em-up MMO, with rogue-like elements. The question is, does it all work? Well, yes, it does is the short answer. I’m not sure that it will take over your life, or that you will commit hundreds of hours to it - but if you want something for a quick blast then this fills that role perfectly. The action is solid and your character becomes noticeably more powerful the further you progress. Add in the unlockable classes (which have real differences), and the co-operative play and you’ve got the basics for a good game. It can feel frustrating to have to start afresh every time you die but the fame system at least provides some continuing progress. ROTMG is a curious mixture of genres but it works well and is worth a look.
Ancient Domains of Mystery is one of the classic ASCII rogue-like RPGs. This is a genre with a long history in indie gaming, with previous examples including Moria, Angband, Nethack and, of course, the eponymous Rogue. They typically feature pretty standard RPG elements; character classes, elves, magic swords and all that stuff - along with randomly generated dungeons and, importantly, no restarting from a save. Unlike most other games, when you die you stay dead. You have to start with a new character, right from the beginning, but a different beginning because everything is randomly generated. Remember? This means that every game is truly different, every attempt is a fresh adventure and you never know what’s around the next corner. This game is free, it takes seconds to download - you’ve got nothing to lose.