I'm getting deja vu, folks, because a first-person PvPvE dungeon-crawling RPG is topping the Steam Next Fest trends. This time it's Dungeonborne, a rather fittingly named riff on last year's Dark and Darker, which has left the door open for a competitor like this by still not being on Steam following a legal spat with Nexon.
So far, Dungeonborne is a fairly familiar extraction RPG. Make a character, choose a class, build a loadout, then pop into an easier solo world or harder group world in search of loot and XP. If you die, whether that's to a monster or a trap or another player, you lose all the stuff you have on you. This frames the genre-defining decision-making that goes into each excursion – what to bring with you, and what to keep in storage for a rainy day, and boy does it rain a lot. If you find some great loot, you can escape using portals which spawn in as a battle royale-style field corrals the lobby into smaller and smaller spaces, further stoking the fires of PvP.
I've put a bit of time into the Steam Next Fest demo, and can say that a lot of classes and weapons will feel right at home in the hands of seasoned Dark and Darker players, as will much of the pre-launch jank. It plays like a first-person fantasy RPG in the vein of Chivalry or just The Elder Scrolls, but with even more deliberate attack animations, which is a nice way of calling them slow as molasses in an igloo. The game's Steam forums and budding Reddit community are awash with almost nostalgic complaints about class balance and connection issues, but there's also a fair bit of not undeserved praise.
This formula worked for Dark and Darker, and it works reasonably well here, even if it is in dire need of polish and, for god's sake, faster interaction animations. A lot of the fun is baked into the social dynamics and inherent tension. Rooting around your inventory is fun in a Resident Evil kind of way, and it's exciting on a base level to plunder the map while keeping one eye on the ever-ticking timer and another on the lookout for approaching monsters or players.
That said, I find myself unusually ready to be kind to Dungeonborne for the simple fact that it's padding my ego like my character pads his pauldrons. I've played a few lobbies and somehow haven't died, not even after raising the obvious death flag of buying a fancy new sword. I can tell you right now that I am not the God King of Space when it comes to extraction RPGs, so I'd attribute this inexplicable success to a few lucky breaks.
First of all, I apparently chose the broken class: the tanky, melee-focused Fighter. See, a decade of writing about games, and therefore playing a lot of demos for games I'm unfamiliar with, has taught me a golden rule. When in doubt, pick the heavyweight class. When I'm in my element and actually feel confident with a game, I usually opt for glass cannons that are all about damage and dodging. But when cornered or confused, I pull out the greatsword and the heavy armor every time. If I'm going to be dumbfounded, I may as well be durable, if only to stay alive long enough to understand what killed me.
I've also crucially managed to avoid any duels with long-range fighters, who I suspect could turn me into ash or a pin cushion twice over in the time it would take my armored ass to turn around. Don't get me started on the greatsword swings, which you need to queue up two to three business days in advance of your attack actually connecting. Spells feel a little slow to recharge but still hurt, and throwable items seem ludicrously overpowered, and that's bad news for my knight. So I will continue to exclusively bully the people who don't seem to understand how shields and charge attacks work. If you want to join in, you've got until February 12 to try Dungeonborne's free demo.
More Steam Next Fest fun: I woke up and destroyed my heartstrings with the Psychonauts-esque Steam Next Fest demo for this surreal puzzle platformer about family.