Dungeon Hero • Page 2

Taking fantasy seriously for once.

Colours are muted and dark, the overall atmosphere bleak and claustrophobic. As you trek towards the battlefield, you walk past tables of goblin soldiers playing cards, while just down the corridor a less fortune soldier screams as a doctor saws off the remains of his leg. Even in an unfinished state, it's a fairly powerful piece of mood-establishing storytelling, and certainly lends some weight to the developer's claim to be doing something totally different with the dungeon crawler genre.

Once we move past the back trenches and towards the front lines, our hulking anti-hero starts to encounter his first foes - goblin soldiers from the rival tribe. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate the combat system. Much as with Firefly's changes in narrative, the combat is designed to bring a certain measure of realism to the fantasy environment. "We're a bit sick of kung-fu movie-style fights, where loads of guys sort of queue up to hit you," says Bradbury. Dungeon Hero's combat is very close-up and physical, but it places huge emphasis on positioning and, more importantly, on space. If there's a mob of enemies, the whole mob will attack you - simple as that.

In response, the combat model grants you a set of moves that don't do much damage, but effectively shove enemies out of the way to give you manoeuvring space. When you're clearing space, these moves map to the face buttons, so you can intuitively choose which direction to attack. In the demonstration we saw, clearing backwards would whip around to plant a nose-crunching elbow in the face of a goblin approaching from the rear - without dropping your guard relative to the foe in front.

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We knew that goblins are traditionally the evil race of fantasy fiction, but we hadn't realised that they played ukulele. That's nasty.

The basics of each brawl, then, come down to knocking back the enemies around you, and then selectively engaging with one of them in proper, sword-swinging combat - keeping an eye on his pals to ensure that they don't creep around behind you and knife you between the shoulder-blades in the meanwhile. It looks fast, deep and exciting.

In order to keep it fresh throughout the game, Firefly is also building its RPG-style progression system entirely around combat moves. Rather than powering up statistics ("hmm, spend points on SPI or INT? Decisions, decisions...") as you progress, each level allows you to unlock upgrades to your combat moves. The team wants to make levelling up into a meaningful event, says Bradbury; something which visibly improves your character, giving you cool new combat animations and abilities.

Overall, the aim is to create something that isn't vastly intricate and hardcore in the sense that many stat-heavy D&D based games can be. It's not that Firefly can't do depth - Stronghold is one of the most intricate and complex games on the market - but that the developers feel they can bring that depth to the genre through tactical combat and well-realised narrative and environments. From the promising fraction of the game we've been exposed to so far, it would be worth tracking the developers' progress to see how well they do, and with a year left to run in development we'll be sure to do just that.

Dungeon Hero is due out on PC and Xbox 360 next year.

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Rob Fahey

Rob Fahey

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