1982 – Dungeons of Daggorath

Tension flows at every step. The only sounds you hear are your own heartbeats, and the distinct roar of beasts who wish to stop it. Dungeons of Daggorath is, in many ways, the logical follow-up to the similarly brutal Akalabeth.

Players takes the role of a prophetic hero out to defeat an evil wizard who spreads darkness over the land. In desperation, your village sends you into the wizard’s dungeons, with nary but a wooden sword and a torch to light the way.

Daggorath ramps up the stakes from prior first-person dungeon crawls by being fully real-time. Commands must be quickly inputed in the text parser, since enemies won’t patiently wait for their turn. To make things easier, you can use abbreviations, such as typing “A R” instead of “Attack Right” to strike with the weapon in your right hand.

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Linked in deep with this is the mechanic of a constant heartbeat representing the character’s health. It will steadily accelerate as the player takes action or gets hit by enemies – exhausting yourself or taking too much damage will send your heart into a tailspin, possibly leading to a blackout. Players must find a safe place and catch their breath for a bit, lest they want to risk a heart attack ending their adventure.

Exploration is limited by torches the player collects. If a torch begins to dim, your hit rate against monsters becomes lessened as their outline becomes dimmed. Having to replace torches or other items requires real-time inventory management, during which a slow player can be decimated.

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The real defining characteristic of Daggorath is its atmosphere, using its monochromatic color palette and foreboding heartbeat sound to the fullest. Each step carries not the just the fear of being overrun by monsters, but also of getting lost in the dungeon.

The game culminates on the fifth level of the dungeon, wrestling with the parser to activate a magic ring which finally shows the wizard what-for, and the player taking his position as the ruler of Daggorath.

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Dungeons of Daggorath is certainly still worth experiencing, being an important precursor to Dungeon Master (1987). It’s not easily digestible, but every single element has a purpose. The RPG legacy owes at least a respectful nod to Daggortah. Ethan Johnson

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