Heroes of a Broken Land - Retro inspired dungeoneering [Review]

Heroes of a Broken Land is a classic first-person grid-based dungeon crawler with overworld exploration and city management. Recruit multiple parties of heroes and crawl near countless dungeons in a procedurally generated world -- No two games are alike.

I’d like to begin this review by pointing out that I have a soft spot for anyone who uses something powerful and complex to create something simple and elegant. This is the case with the developer Winged Pixel and their game Heroes of a Broken Land. The game is written using Unity, a very powerful and feature rich game engine used to create tons of indie and mainstream games like Wasteland 2, The Big Dark, Endless Legend and Torment: Tides of Numenera. Despite the fact that you can make almost anything with Unity, Winged Pixel decided to create a minimalistic first-person grid-based dungeon crawler game using low resolution sprites, unfiltered texture maps and a rather small total file size (~80 Mb). This rubs the old-school crawler fan in me the right way in all the right places, and the game is off to a really good start.

When you start a new game you must decide the size of the generated world and game difficulty level. Bigger size means more land to explore and tons more dungeons to crawl. You may also choose to customize the world generation further by altering various parameters. I’ve been experimenting with different sizes and ended up with using small. That still gave me a couple days worth of gaming. The other sizes are, like the description says in the game, “kinda silly large”.

The story, while not terribly original, works well enough to set the mood. You assume the role of a wizard who played big a part in shattering the old world into a bunch of fragments now floating about in the void. You must visit every fragment, build and upgrade cities, recruit and equip heroes, complete quests and cleanse the fragments of all evildoers. The story is appropriately presented using a slideshow of hand drawn (pixelated) images with on-screen text.

About halfway through the introduction you are asked to select the wizard character that you wish to play. Each wizard offers a specific bonus for your heroes such as increased hitpoints, magic points, attack rating, defence, experience points gained and the rate of finding magic items. I believe offence is the best defence so I chose the wizard which gave increased attack rating.

Upon arrival on your first fragment your first order of business is to create a farm fresh party of four hapless heroes.

Like in many classic RPG’s, there are four character classes to choose from: Fighter, Rogue, Mage and Priest. You may opt to re-roll stats a maximum of 8 times. You should know that this maximum is for the whole party, not just a single character. If I’m being honest I would’ve preferred that they didn’t put a limit to the re-rolls, or they could’ve removed the re-roll altogether. With a limit of 8 re-rolls I could see that some players would restart the game just to roll good stats, making it a design flaw. A miniscule one, but a flaw nonetheless.

The character stats are of the garden variety types which includes strength, endurance, agility, speed, intelligence, willpower, hitpoints and magic points. Additionally your heroes have resistances to various elements and damage types. Each character class also comes with one or more starting skills or spells.

I strongly recommend that you create a balanced party, or at the very minimum add one rogue to your party. Rogues start with the skill of disarming traps and that is something you will be needing often, as the dungeons are full of them.

I thought it was odd that you couldn’t change the name of the character. This is one aspect of RPG’s that really makes you identify and connect with the characters you play. I tend to name my fighter Bubba, Bonk and sometimes Sir Slashalot, but I guess Abdul Jabbar will have to do.

After your party of randomly named heroes has been created, the first thing you need to do is visit your main town, and I love this part of the game. Your main town acts as your head quarter and it is here you recruit new heroes, train skills and buy equipment.

You can, for the right price, upgrade your town with new buildings, ten in total. New buildings opens up new ways to aid your heroes. You can build shops where you can buy and sell equipment, an Adventurers Guild where you can train your heroes, a Temple where you can buy spells and Stables which provide your heroes with horses, enabling them to explore farther and faster. Each building may be upgraded for the right amount of gold and crystals.

You should be aware of the fact that you can’t remove a building after it is built. Since you only have 6 slots to build on and 10 buildings to choose from, something’s gotta give.

The world map is another great feature to this game and, like the upgradeable towns, bears a resemblance to the Heroes of Might & Magic series. When exploring the world you will uncover treasures, recruit new heroes, encounter monsters, receive quests and find plenty of dungeons to crawl. You move your party by clicking adjacent squares. Each party has a finite number of movement points per turn and different terrain squares cost different amount of points. When you explore the area around your main city you will discover some fairly easy dungeons to start with. It seems that the further out from the main city the harder the dungeons get. It might be a coincidence in the map generation, but the times I’ve played it seemed like a planned and sensible progression.

I recommend creating two (or more) parties early so that they will be of adequate level later when things start getting hairy. This way you can also cover more ground when exploring the lands.
A really cool feature is that you can crawl dungeons with multiple parties at the same time, infact some dungeons even require it. Once inside the dungeon you can quickly switch between the parties by clicking a button. You should be aware that while you are playing one party, the other one might be attacked by wandering monsters.

It can be very challenging, if not impossible, to complete a multi-party dungeon if you enter with parties at very different level. A rather peculiar thing is that, as far as I know, your parties will never actually meet in the dungeon, so it’s really like they are entering two differently generated dungeons. It would be so much cooler if they could meet up and swap items, transfer characters, heal or buff each other. Even cooler would be if you could engage combat with both parties and make a really big and strong party. Still, the multi-party feature is unique compared to other dungeon crawlers and it’s cool enough to make it interesting.

Since there are no “rest party” function inside dungeons, with the exception of the odd fountain which restores hitpoints and magic points (some also gives you a permanent stat bonus or penalty), you need to stock up on potions. And I really mean stock up; bring as many as you can afford to buy. This is one of the things I like the least about this game. It would be so much better if you could rest your party, with danger of being attacked during sleep by surprise encounters of course, or maybe even have a regeneration stat which could be improved when levelling or by equipment.

You crawl the dungeons square by square and 90 degree turns using the arrow keys, similar to great classics such as Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master. By default the movement from square to square is animated with a smooth transition but luckily, being the old-school crawlerhead that I am, there is an option to disable that entirely in the settings screen.

There are different types of dungeons with their own look and feel. However, since the dungeon layout are randomly generated they all feel a little bit generic. Sometimes a secret button opens a wall to an empty square leading nowhere. That being said, each generated dungeon offers plenty of challenges and good crawling fun and lasts appropriately long to be enjoyable rather than repetitive and boring.

The typical dungeon in this game centers around killing hordes of monsters and finding switches or buttons in order to unlock doors and stairways. Gold and items are acquired either by killing monsters or by looting the many chests and crates scattered around the dungeon. Some special dungeons comes with a quest, which usually means that you have to either locate an artifact or rescue some damsel in distress. Regular non-quest dungeons are considered complete when all monsters are killed. After completing a dungeon you receive a bit of bonus experience points and a summary of your achievements. Then you are asked to leave the dungeon by finding the exit by yourself. A nice thing here would be if the game asked you if you wanted to leave, instead of having to crawl all the way back to the entrance. Once completed, dungeons can be sealed shut, for a price, so that monsters can’t escape to the world map. Occasionally you might want to let some monsters escape so that you have something to kill in the overworld and get some extra experience points and loot, but it’s nice that you have a choice.

The combat is the all-familiar turn-based variety of I-hit-you-and-you-hit-me, which coincidentally happens to be my favorite type. I like to sit back, relax and enjoy a “cup of joe” while making combat decisions. The combat mechanics works like you would expect and sometimes you really have to plan your approach. In a mixed group of monsters some might absorb damage and heal up from your fireball while others take damage. It is however a little strange that during combat you can choose to use a potion from one character’s inventory and select someone else to quaff it. It reinforces the issue that this game makes you rely too much on using potions.

A really cool thing is that new encounters are unknown at first, but over time your heroes will learn more about them like level, hitpoints and types of damage dealt.

In today's blockbuster games with next generation graphics it’s always a refreshing too come across games that tries to challenge the norm. I am not saying the graphics in Heroes of a Broken Land is revolutionary or unique in any way, but for this genre it is perfectly appropriate. I am partial to anything that is drawn by hand, pixel by pixel, and it was a dying art for a while. Now there’s quite the renaissance for pixelated indie games and nothing could be better!

The sound effects are few but the ones that are there does the job. I wish they added character sound effects and responses to various actions, as well as more unique monster sounds. The music however is absolutely fantastic even though the songs are not really what you would expect in a dungeon crawler, but if you like mellow piano tunes then you will feel right at home.

As for replay value this game has it in bundles! Every new game feels different. With completely random world map and dungeons there is enough replay value to make this game last longer than most in this genre. You can pop in during lunch time for a quick session and crawl a dungeon or two and then relax your bones in the main town afterwards.

Heroes of a Broken Land does a great job at redefining the dungeon crawler genre by adding above-ground exploration and city management. The developer did a great job creating an entertaining game with enough interesting additions to the genre to make it something that I would strongly recommend that you pick up and play, especially if you’re a crawlerhead like me.

Heroes of a Broken Land is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. More information can be found at the game's official homepage.

  • It's a first-person grid-based dungeon crawler.
  • Random worlds and dungeons means great replay value.
  • Redefining the first-person grid-based dungeon crawler genre with above-ground exploration and city management.
  • Multiple parties in dungeons is a great new addition to the genre.
  • Great music which is very easy on the ear, especially in the dungeons.
  • A limit of only 8 re-rolls for the entire party in character generation.
  • The gameplay relies too much on using potions to regain hitpoints and magic points, and that you cannot rest party inside the dungeon, or even regenerate over time.
  • They could have added more sound effects, like for character responses and actions.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Reviewed by:
@zooperdan of dungeoncrawlers.org - "Online database for classic and modern first-person grid-based dungeon crawler games"

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