Review by Sashanan

Reviewed: 01/24/06

In the end, DotU fails to stand up to the game it was founded on.

Moraffware is responsible for quite a number of cute DOS era games, but foremost among them are a trio of dungeon hacks titled Moraff's Revenge, World and Dungeons of the Unforgiven respectively. Of these, Moraff's World was a major improvement over Revenge, having an entirely new game engine and lots of new options to play around with. Dungeons of the Unforgiven, on the other hand, takes the engine of World, throws only a few things around, and feels more like an elaborate mod than a brand new game. Its main aim is to tackle Moraff's World biggest flaw - the fact that it was too easy - and at that part, it succeeds to an extent. Unfortunately, it also fails to fix certain other problems and introduces several new ones. The resulting package is still decent, but unfulfilling.

Like its predecessors, Dungeons of the Unforgiven is a dungeon hack, meaning the game centers around creating a character, going down into a maze, and killing monsters for loot and experience to become more powerful so that deeper dungeon levels may be attempted. The screen consists of a bird's eye view dungeon map as well as four first person views of the passages to the north, south, east and west of your character, where approaching monsters can be seen. The graphics used for these are primitive even by 1993 standards, meant to be functional rather than appealing. Everything your character can do, from moving around and fighting enemies to casting spells, is controlled by the keyboard. There is limited mouse support but for the most part, learning the right keys and using them is a lot easier and quicker than clicking your way around. Keyboard control is solid for the most part, with only one irritation: you now use the left and right cursor keys to turn and the forward key to move, rather than just pressing one key to take a step in the direction you want to go. This was changed from Moraff's World and can make moving around more of a hassle than you'd want. It's puzzling that this choice was made as there doesn't seem to be a gameplay reason for it; you can still turn in place as much as you want without monsters moving (they only do when you take a step or skip a turn) and if you get attacked from multiple directions at once, enemies striking from the side or rear don't get any kind of bonus for doing so. Nevertheless, this is only a minor irritation.

There are greater irritations in Dungeons of the Unforgiven. In an attempted graphical overhaul, many walls now have coloured patterns on them (instead of the never-changing bricks of Moraff's World). For every few levels you descend into the dungeon, wall patterns change and often floor colours do as well (with some levels even having water for a floor). None of this impacts the gameplay, it's all purely for decoration - but in a game that was never meant to impress on a graphical level, it is a bit of a wasted effort. Worse, some of the colour patterns are really rather painful to the eyes, making extended play tiresome and sometimes making it hard to spot ladders or enemies from a distance. Considering that these supposed updates only interfere with gameplay and haven't really made the game any prettier, I could have done without. Sound remains virtually non-existent as it was in the previous games.

Presentation is one thing, and not even all that important in a title like this, but there are other problems. For instance, monster variety is down a fair bit. Rather than letting you face a large group of monsters to begin with and then gradually adding more options deeper in the dungeon like Revenge and World did, here you will find the game divided up in modules and each module in different dungeon sections. Basically, this mean that every module consists of a town with its own dungeon (and you use warp portals to get to other modules), and each dungeon has a few levels with a certain theme, then a few with another, and so forth. It adds variety in one sense but the critical flaw is that each section comes with its own set of no more than four different monsters. So, in a specific section, there may be one monster that doesn't have any special abilities, one that's poisonous, one that gets a lot of hit points compared to the rest, and one that can drain experience. Then in the next section, you get four new monsters with similar abilities, and never see the old ones again. The result is that on any given dungeon level, you're going to see a lot of familiar faces. The fact that a few extra monsters exist that do show up throughout the game doesn't help much since they all appear rarely. At least each section does have a boss monster in it that puts up a good fight and drops a unique magical item, so that there are lots of little quests and rewards to pursue, more than in Moraff's World.

It is obvious after playing Dungeons of the Unforgiven for a while that the main point the game was hoping to address was the lack of challenge in Moraff's World. World was a fine game but for the most part, rather easy to complete. It was occasionally tough to get a new character started, but once you got through the first few levels, you quickly outgrew your enemies, learned some pretty powerful spells and could then zoom through enemies of much higher levels than you, gaining experience at a frightful pace. I frequently would take a lvl 20 character as deep into the dungeon as my Descend magic would let me go, slay a few monsters with direct damage spells, and bug out with Ascend magic when my spell point supply ran low - only to instantly become lvl 40 or 50 after a night at the inn. This was World's only real problem, and Dungeons of the Unforgiven takes several steps to try and address this.

First, any sense of forgiveness in the gameplay is gone entirely (much like the game's name suggests). Raise Dead contracts no longer exist - if your character gets killed, it's over. Poisonous and diseased enemies show up on the first few dungeon levels already, far before you have the magic needed to defend against them. Level drainers are similarly all over the place. Individual enemies do a lot more damage than they used to in World, and the bosses can be especially brutal, often capable of cutting your character down in only a few rounds if you haven't levelled up properly before challenging them. At the same time, the game's dialogue never gets tired of making fun of you and reminding you how weak you really are.

Second, money remains a problem throughout the entire game now. In World, you'd need a little cash to buy starting weapons or armor if you weren't lucky enough to find them, and maybe some to have poison or disease cured from time to time. Apart from that, the only purpose of your gold reserves was to buy a new Raise Dead contract if you were careless enough to die. Dungeons of the Unforgiven, on the other hand, introduces Culture Stock and Magic Crystals, two items that you must buy plenty of whenever you use the inn to rest up (the only way to gain levels with the experience you've amassed). Without enough Culture Stock, resting ages your character which results in stiff stat penalties, and without Magic Crystals you cannot regain the spell points you've spent. The number you need of both increases over the course of the game. More importantly, the price of both items and the room price the inn itself charges you increase exponentially based on your character level. You may be hauling in millions of gold pieces late in the game, but you'll still be broke after a single visit to the inn at that point. This was, in fact, a bit overdone - often I had plenty of experience to gain several levels at once but I simply could not afford the inn, and had to go back into the dungeon hoping to find more treasure. Gold has become much more of a barrier to your advancement than experience points.

While these changes have definitely made Dungeons of the Unforgiven a harder game in which success is a lot more satisfying, I can't help but feel that challenge was introduced in the wrong way. The *real* problem in Moraff's World - the fact that so many spells are extremely overpowered - was hardly addressed (unless you count the need for Magic Crystals). What was achieved is that getting a character started is even harder than before: low level characters are prone to being surrounded and killed very easily, getting poisoned and being unable to afford a cure, or running out of spell points and being unable to visit the inn. High level characters, on the other hand, can still easily kill enemies of a much higher level through use of direct damage spells or the pretty reliable Autokill, priests can still get full immunity to poison, disease and level drain with cheap protection spells, and the only real annoyance to characters that have gotten through the rough start is finding the gold needed to advance. Which is tedium rather than challenge.

It is also disappointing that, for all the things Dungeons of the Unforgiven seeks to change about Moraff's World, a lot of issues that could have been addressed weren't. Fighters are still useless because the game cannot be reasonably won without magic, Monks and Sages still don't get nearly enough spell points to be remotely useful, and the other four classes still play basically the same. You can still invest spell points in crafting a Ring of Anti Magic that does nothing because, like World, Dungeons of the Unforgiven *has* no enemies using magic. And perhaps most insulting, World's online documentation has been copied almost word for word, with only a few changes made here and there to accommodate the new game, and certain errors that were in the documentation the first time around are still there. My personal pet peeve is with the Sage character, which the game introduces as a class that is "good for exploring without being noticed" and that supposedly "gains experience just for exploring". Neither is true - they were planned features for a novelty class that were never introduced. It's bad enough that these features were missing from World and the chance to add them now has been missed; it's downright irritating that the documentation *still* talks about a gameplay feature that doesn't exist.

When it comes down to it, Dungeons of the Unforgiven was built on the foundations of a good dungeon hack and as such, it still works. It also attempted to address the previous game's major issue and succeeded to an extend. But it doesn't manage to recreate the magic and introduces enough new problems that World remains the better game. Had Moraffware taken the plunge and created a new game from scratch - as they did when they moved from Revenge to World - the end result would likely have been a lot better. As it stands, Dungeons of the Unforgiven is not a bad game to play, but wasn't worth the purchase in 1993 and wouldn't be now if it wasn't shipped in one box with Moraff's World to begin with. In the end it's little more than a disappointing example of a sequel done wrong.

Rating: 6

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