Tangledeep, newly off of Early Access, is a good traditional take on the rogue-like dungeon crawler. Though it doesn’t take huge liberties with the formula, developer Impact Gameworks demonstrates a commendable understanding of what has kept the roguelike alive since the 80’s.
A refined return to form
You take the role of a redheaded heroine as she delves deep into the living dungeon, Tangleedeep, with dreams of wealth and discovery.
On a mechanics level, Tangledeep is a rather traditional game. Gameplay is standard as far as turn-based dungeon crawlers go. Each map is cut into tiles and there are eight directions to move. Every movement counts as an action. You heal with a refillable flask, which can be upgraded as you level, food, and a camp every few floors. Everything else is the usual. But within this traditional framework Tangledeep manages to make modifications that make it feel like a modern game.
The thing I’m most impressed by is the variety of floor design. Starting off, you make your way through the Cedar Cavers, a standard, grassy dungeon with nothing special about it. But after the first boss, things get interesting. From there the caverns split into two paths, each having its own unique feel and set of enemies. There are secret locations on almost every floor, sometimes with an entirely different look than the biome it’s in.
It made me want to trek deeper into the dungeon to see what the next area would bring. Though dungeon crawlers are by their nature repetitive, Tangledeep’s level design prevents the game from becoming tedious. And it doesn’t hurt that the 16-bit artwork is stunning, from dark, cobblestone dungeons, to icy caverns or fiery lava filled floors.
Customization and Loot
The other place Tangledeep shines is in the loot area. Loot plays a big part in the appeal of the genre and Tangledeep has some pretty exciting loot and customization options. Let’s quickly break it down: there are 12 jobs (classes) total (9 initially,) 10 types of weapons, two accessory slots, and three armor types (heavy, medium, and light). There are a lot of options for building a character, classes run the gamut from the rogue class, Brigand, to summoner classes such as the Floramancer and everything in-between. And for a fee you can change classes when you want to, keeping all of the skills you’ve learned.
The character I ended up beating the game with is a Sword Dancer; an extremely mobile, sword/dagger wielding class. To get to an optimal build I started as a Brigand, changed to Budoka (Monk), Floramancer, and finally to Sword Dancer. I specialized in daggers, and went between medium and heavy armor. I appreciate having so many options when it comes to making a character beyond mage, rogue, and warrior. There was a lot of theorycrafting and figuring out what synergized.
Though I really liked this system a couple things stood out to me as off. The first is the inability to see what skills are available to each job before changing to that job, the other being the progression path. Tangledeep has two forms of progression currency: exp and job points (JP.) Both are earned from fighting monsters and completing quests. EXP raise your character’s level and JP are used for learning skills. It seems unnecessary. There could have just been skill points. Skill points are usually in the single digits making it easy to calculate how many you need for a build. Job points get into the high thousands which makes it harder than it needs to be. It’s not necessarily bad but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it should be a golden rule of game design.
Pets and Cooking
Other than the core gameplay, Tangledeep makes sure to include some other diversions to keep things feeling fresh. Mainly pets and cooking. If you go south of the main camp area you gain the ability to tame pets. To do this, you need a mallet. The next time you get a monster to low health, you can knock them out with the mallet and bring them back to base, capturing them in a monster corral.
This, creepily enough, even applies to some humanoids you meet in the dungeons. I never found a real use for them, they are too delicate and if they die, unless you pay for expensive pet insurance, they’re gone forever.
Finally, there’s a simple cooking mechanic. As you explore dungeons and collect ingredients you can either put a combination of three ingredients and some spices together or use recipes you collect in Tangledeep. This is worth doing, as food is one of two ways to restore health on the fly the other being potions, which heal over time while the advantage of food is that some dishes heal for an amount immediately.
Should you buy?
Yes, Tangledeep is a good rogue-like. It’s got good visuals, audio, and charming writing. Speaking as someone who has grown pretty tired of the genre, I liked Tangledeep. Even in its infuriating rogue-moments, such as having to restart the entire game, which is as frustrating as ever. But the variety of characters I could make and the promise of finding more secrets, for the most part, made this okay.
For those who don’t like perma-death, there’s also a mode where losing your HP simply knocks you out. For this reason, I think players who have been shy about trying rogue-likes may find a smoother entry but it definitely isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about turn-based dungeon-crawlers in general.