At the start of the game, you choose between a warrior, rogue, and mage, which vary slightly in stats and general flavor. You’ll unlock more characters as you progress through the game, but they all feel exactly the same to play. You move through each of the game’s levels, automatically running head-first into a conga line of enemies as your character flails away with their primary weapon. Attacks are also automatic, but you can hammer on a button to speed up their pace, hold down the attack button to block, or use a charged attack that breaks an enemy’s guard. You also have access to a special ability, and you’ll gain two more for each character as you progress through the game.
It’s easy to play, with basically no rules to learn, but it’s so simplistic that I don’t know why you’d bother. With both movement and basic attacks happening automatically, it feels more like you’re watching a lightly interactive animation than playing a game most of the time. Blocking and power attacks add a bit of variety, especially when you’re up against larger enemies that require you to time blocks and big hits between their massive attacks, but they don’t feel satisfying. Your special abilities don’t add much; you just tap a button for a minor effect like a short-term damage increase or a stronger attack. They’re also on long timers, and it’s usually better just to use them whenever you can than to wait for a strategic time to strike. This element feels very much like something carried over from a mobile game, despite the fact that Furnace Games is developing the PC and mobile versions simultaneously.
This mobile feeling is also apparent in the loot system. You get random rewards for defeating enemies, including armor and materials you need to upgrade your characters. Since these are doled out randomly, it’s possible for one or more of your characters to become completely underleveled if you never happen to pick up the right items. It’s exactly the kind of trick that bad mobile developers will often pull to get you to invest as much time in their game as possible, or to eventually charge you for instant access to the items. In a PC game, it just feels weird.
The one interesting part about Dungeon Stars’ combat is switching characters. Each character has an elemental affinity, making them stronger against some enemies and weaker against others. You can see which elemental types a level will have before you start and choose up to three heroes to bring into battle. During the level, you can switch between these heroes at will, adding an interesting layer of strategy: Do I save my fire mage to fight the ice troll at the end of this level, or use them to clear out smaller enemies and risk being stuck with a weaker character in the end? Unfortunately, that ankle-deep bit of tactics is as interesting as it gets.
The best part about Dungeon Stars is its graphics. It has a vibrant comic-book style that looks great in screenshots and even better in action. Some of the character animations are stiff, but watching the cute designs and bold colors of the enemies come to life on screen is great. The look of the game is pretty unimpeachable, it’s just a shame that they’re wasted on such a dull game.
As a mobile game you play to pass the time in long lines, Dungeon Stars could be a pretty fun proposition, but as a PC game, it seems to have no place. Even if you’re only looking for a mindless romp, there are plenty of better options out there for you. The game still has some time left in Early Access, but what it would need to be appealing is a complete gutting, not minor tweaks.