Currently in its early Alpha stages of development, Dark Gates by DFour Games is a new RPG with a definite retro appeal, but one that all Role-Playing Game fans should check out. I should start this preview off by saying that Dark Gates is a classic RPG, but not just any classic RPG. It is a game heavily influenced by old D&D style boardgames such as DeathMaze and Citadel of Blood. Players would form a party of heroic adventurers and then set off into a randomly generated dungeon to seek out fame and fortune by defeating monsters, exploring dark corners, avoiding traps, and growing through exploration and experience.
Dark Gates takes the mechanics from those games and turns them into a methodically paced, yet atmospheric and entertaining, dungeon crawling roguelike with turn-based combat that plays out almost like the combat found in the old 1988 classic AD&D PC game, Pool of Radiance. It’s important to remember that this is the type of game that harkens back to an era where ones own imagination was a key element of gameplay. Surprisingly, because of the random nature of each new dungeon, Dark Gates captures the feeling of the boardgames while offering computer gamers an RPG experience with almost limitless replay value.
Exploration and combat in Dark Gates are both grid based and turn-based. As mentioned above, every time you play a new game the dungeon is randomly generated, ensuring that no two game sessions will play out the same way. The game is entirely controlled by the keyboard (so far). The Arrow and WASD keys are used for movement, while a handful of other keys are used for searching and exploring, skipping turns in combat, and viewing the stats of your party. I think having mouse support would add to the ease of use and comfort while playing for extended periods of time, but Dark Gates does a good job allowing players to become immersed in gameplay due to its simple controls.
Graphically, Dark Gates has a look about it that is straightforward and simple. This isn’t the type of game you buy for its outstanding visuals and effects. It’s played from a top-down 2D point of view that matches the look and feel of the classic RPG boardgames. However, the character avatars, monsters, and some of the smaller discoveries found throughout the dungeon are nicely illustrated and provide enough detail to make the game atmospheric and pleasant to look at. The audio is very subtle but it also adds to that sense of atmosphere with a soundtrack that is slow and foreboding. This creates a nice combination given the simple but effective aesthetics.
I would definitely recommend Dark Gates to any fan of the Classic RPG genre. More importantly, I would urge gamers who haven’t had an opportunity to play this kind of RPG to give it a try. Whether for the sake of nostalgia or simple curiosity, Dark Gates offers players a slightly different experience with influences from classic RPG boardgames and classic computer games from the CRPG and Roguelike genre. It must be stressed that Dark Gates is still in it’s early development stages, but you should definitely keep an eye on this one if you’re a fan of the genre. There’s an old alpha-demo available at the Dark Gates website where you’ll also find additional info and blog updates. You can purchase Dark Gates through GamersGate and Desura where you’ll gain early access and updates to the latest versions as they’re developed.