Personally, I see Egoboo as a prime example of well designed gameplay mechanics.
It squeezes them dry to drain out all the fun it can and deliver it to the player.
Egoboo is an open source project with a long story. The game has been developed by many people over the years of it’s existance. It was dropped a few times only to be picked up again by a different group of programmers. All along Egoboo kept growing better though. Currently, any updates or new releases sometimes take a long while but generally I believe the progress is heading in a good direction often introducing interesting new content, many bug fixes and valueable improvements and new features.
Egoboo is a dungeon crawler RPG. The graphics don’t look very promising although they’re not a pain in the eye either. At first, the game may seem simple and plain but some of the content and mechanics are really unique.
Let me start from the basics. Player controls his/her character. The character can hold two items – one in each hand. Additionally, a number of items can be held in inventory but only two can be held in hands and thus be usable without switching. As usual, a character has life points. Some classes have mana (either arcane or divine). There are also other stats that influence a character’s effectiveness: strength, wisdom, intelligence and dexterity. A player has pretty much no influence on the statistics of his/her character. There might be some items or events that will have effect but that’s pretty much it.
Characters are divided into classes and those are one of the elements in Egoboo I appreciate a lot. The thing is that character classes have different abilities, compatibilities (e.g. with items) and a very unique play style. It might not sound like any special system but the classes in Egoboo really require completely different tactics and approach. For example, being an adventurer you have to combine your average combat and magic skills. Being a rouge you will want to outrun most enemies and dodge while attempting some sneaky tricks. For a wizard there are many possible tactics depending on the spells he gets. Gnome should rely on his guns, traps and explosives. Soldier can pretty much charge into most fights with any desired weapon and his tons of health. The character classes are designed in such a way that it really makes them all different in their purpose and their play style varies a lot.
It’s time I write something about the items. There’s really lots of those in Egoboo. There are torches, lamps, daggers, claws, swords, hatchets, hammers, spears, tridents, whips, shields, bows, crossbows, guns, explosives, beartraps, potions, scrolls, spellbooks, magic accessories and many, many more. The aspect of equipment in Egoboo that I find most uncommon and interesting is that all of these vary in practical ways instead of mere variation of statistic modification. Claws deal small damage and have short range but their attack speed lets you keep your enemy away or bash him to death without letting him get up from the ground. Swords are swinged around in a large angle letting you fight a number of enemies at once or kill those which are hard to hit. Spears let you hit from a long distance while not letting e.g. a sword-armed enemy even get close. Also magic equipment doesn’t just give you +X to this, +Y to that. They have really cool and unique effects like invisibility bracelet or shoes that let you walk over water, jump really high or run really fast.
In general player has to worry little over statistics in Egoboo. They are just back end mechanics. Customising character comes mostly with choosing what items to carry and all of these have some practical use. It is also worth to mention that most weapons don’t even vary by statistics. A spear you may find is just like any other spear you would find anywhere else in the game. You don’t need to pick up every single spear you see to compare the statistics with your current weapon. When you want to use a spear and you find one, that’s all you gotta do. It doesn’t mean that equipping your character is boring though. In the opposite, it is really fun due to the variety of weapon types and their practical difference letting you think up your own tactics.You can mix crossbow with claws or use spear together with a sword. Such combinations do make a difference.
There are also magical versions of weapons. They are rare and hard to find but have some neat usefull effects like bouncing projectiles, turning holder into a giant, summoning a thunderstrike, detecting nearby undead, whispering to you… (*shiver*) and many others. One special magical effect that I have to mention is a Kurse. Those are fairly common (even more on higher difficulty). Kursed items cannot be dropped or put to inventory. When you pick those up you’re stuck with them until you free yourself. With those around it is good to think twice before picking up a weapon you don’t need. Also, you may consider carrying a few scrolls or a spell for getting rid of Kurse. Lastly, healer class is capable of detecting Kursed items.
Special case of items are armors. Each class has 4 sets of armors they can find in dungeons. Armors are specific for each class and cannot be used by a different one. Another thing I appreciate in Egoboo is that in this case it also favors customisation over progression. None of the armors is best as all have advantages and disadvantages, for example some have high defense value but reduce movement, some may provide special protection against an element, etc.
One problem with items is the limited inventory. Very limited inventory. There’s just so many usefull things you’d love to carry around or take with you from a dungeon but you can’t: health potions, unkurse scroll, torch, lamp, sword, crossbow, beartraps, keys and any other character specific or fancy items you find. You can’t carry all that and it’s great. It’s realistic and it makes you ponder over your character, tactics and playing style. It also adds a great deal of replayability to Egoboo encouraging you to try out different setups of each class.
Another very uncommon solution in Egoboo is that spells are not assigned to the character. Every spell is represented in game in form of a spellbook. Simply, when your wizard holds and uses a “Spellbook of Magic Missile”, he fires a magic missile. This solution doesn’t doom your character with memorising the few spells he will be using for the rest of his life (and after that). If you get bored of your old spells you can just switch them to something new. Additionally, the idea of spellbooks means that acquiring new abilities requires effort from the player. To get a new spell player has to either buy it in town or find it in a dungeon. What you find is what you cast. Now regarding the spells themselves: there is again a large variety and again any statistics are put aside in favor of practical effects. There are spells of magic missiles, fireballs, meteors, thunderstrikes, death gas clouds, teleport, unlock doors, magic bridge, wall of swords, reanimate dead, enchant weapon, haste, levitate, reflect magic missiles, morph into other creature (disguise) and many more. All these are unique in their effects and usage. They give huge possibilities of customising your magic caster.
The spells mentioned above are the arcane ones. There is also divine magic which focusses on buffing and protecting yourself or allies. There is a much lesser variery of effects compared to arcane ones but you still gotta use some of them wisely (for example, some spells may buff also enemies if casted carelessly). I guess the divine magic users are also fairly capable using weapons so divine magic is “just” an additional support advantage.
6. Mounts and pets
In Egoboo you can find mounts and pets. Mounts can be ridden simply to increase your moving speed or attack enemies with a lance. Some mounts have special attack that you can utilise. They may also provide some additional protection as enemies may hit your mount instead of your character. Unfortunately, mounts cannot be taken with you after clearing a dungeon. Pets are a different case. Once found, they can be picked up just like an item what allows you to take them along. When dropped to the ground, pets will follow and help you fight. Some pets got their own attacks – often with special effects to it – but some will pick up one of the nearby weapons and use it. Pets can also level up to become stronger and more reliable in combat.
In Egoboo dungeons are called “modules”. Every module looks always the same and offers the same rewards and items you can find. There are quite a few really nice modules implemented but someone who really gets addicted to the game may run out eventually. It is never over though as the developers constantly add something new to the game – new modules as well. There are also some tools prepared for helping out with development and that includes a module editor. Making a module is not very easy and editor alone won’t do without a fair bit of coding. Still it’s a motivating fishing pole offered to a hungry Egoboo player.
Egoboo modules are really nice and entertaining. I will start from the beggining – character creation. Yes. That also has to do with modules. You don’t just setup your character and “poof” – it’s made. To create a new character you gotta get through a starter module. There are separate starter modules for all the classes. In every starter module player gets a new fresh character of the module’s class. Once the module is beaten, game saves the used character with all the items, expirience and gold acquired. It is a very nice and original idea of combining character creation with a tutorial and practical try-out of a class.
Starter modules aside there are also “normal” dungeons. By “normal” I mean that any character can play them as many times and in any order desired. Starting a module is no real obligation as characters are saved only after finishing it. If you can’t clear a module then there’s nothing to worry about. At the same time you won’t get any of the items or other rewards unless you do get through the dungeon. Some of the modules in Egoboo are locked at first. Player has to unlock them by doing quests, beating other modules or finding secrets.
Lastly, there are also towns. They are special case of modules where character is saved upon exit. In towns you won’t find monsters or enemies (unless you make them) but just peacefull NPCs giving you hints, quests or selling items.
Egoboo have many times surprised me with it’s realistic interaction mechanics. For example, when you drop a spellbook into water it soaks (and becomes a notebook). If you drop a burning torch or cast fireball at a scroll, it burns it. If you swing a torch at a source of fire it lits up. If you walk with a torch into water it goes out. If you enlarge yourself to giant size with a spell you can jump onto and pancake enemies. Picking up a potion won’t tell you anything about it’s contents. If you don’t identify it you may end up drinking poison or something worse. Also when playing with allied characters you have to watch out for friendly fire. These mechanics force player to be very carefull about his actions as those have consequences. It also allows to be smart and tricky. It is perfectly practical to pull enemies into dungeon traps. As an extreme example I can mention the situation where I instantly killed a very difficult boss… by squashing him with a gate.
Egoboo appears so simple and it feels simple but in reality it can surprise you so many times with the possibilities and content. And even if you play it all through and know all the modules you can still find ways to replay them – with a different character in a different way. This game has this great feel of discovery which draws you in. This is not a game with set rules and gameplay mechanics which you can figure out in half an hour to know what’s it gonna be like all along. Egoboo has been created by the creativity and ideas of many people working on it. It has so many surprises up it’s sleeve and while playing you never know what you’re going to find or encounter next. Fortunately, despite all these unexpected things Egoboo’s gameplay was kept consistent enough to not confuse the player. There are most craziest things added but still they don’t feel misplaced. There is also a bit of humor in the game which is pretty nice and fits the “silly” graphical style.
As the greatest downside of Egoboo I have to mention bugs. Unfortunately, most of the releases had fair amounts of these. Although they rarely were any game breaking, some of them might be annoying, for example, when a fancy magical piece of equipment you found turns out to be broken or even messes up your character forcing you to quit the module. Usually new releases fix a lot of problems though so that downside is not being ignored. Hopefully Egoboo will become more stable in the future. Even with the bugs though Egoboo is still playable and worth ignoring that downside.
Egoboo is terribly fun once given a proper chance. If you can deal with old graphics and bear many bugs, it can get really addicting. The rules are simple but the possibilities and freedom given to the player to play the game in so many ways are huge. Personally, I see Egoboo as a prime example of well designed gameplay mechanics. It squeezes them dry to drain out all the fun it can and deliver it to the player.