Competitive gaming is all the rage these days. Between Dota 2, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and upcoming games like Gwent, there are plenty to choose from. However, one thing that these titles all have in common is how similar they are. Every subsequent release borrows a popular element from a previous release, and puts a slightly different spin on it. For example, League of Legends is an easier form of Dota 2. Heroes of the Storm is an even more user-friendly version of both, and so on. All of these games are fun, and some may be better than others, but there is an undeniable feeling of deja-vu with all of them. It’s not often that I come across a title that feels like a unique idea, and still fits it into the competitive gaming mold. Dungeons of Zaar, developed by KURB Studio, is one of those games. I recently had the chance to play the game in its pre-Alpha stage, and was left pleasantly surprised.
The game certainly fits the mold of a competitive game. The menus all conjure up images of Hearthstone, League of Legends, etc. Instead of cards, though, gamers will be managing units called ‘explorers’. Explorers are the units players will send into the actual “Dungeons of Zaar” to do battle. Each unit fits into a traditional role: Attack, Healer, Tank, and Control. Viewing the tutorial, I was told to assemble a team before engaging in battle. I settled on a combination of two healers, a tank, and two attack units. There are only a limited handful of explorers to choose from at this time, but I imagine more will be available soon. The game requested that I name this group of vagabonds, so I named them “Team Bluster”, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and was full of nothing but bluster.
Now I was ready to try my hand at an online match, currently the game’s only playable option. It took a little time to find a match the first time I tried, but it should be noted that all of my other matches loaded quite quickly. Starting a match, you are given the option to position your party on the game’s (approximately) 10×12 grid before starting the match proper. After setting up “Team Bluster” just the way that I wanted them, it was time to begin. Matches are turn based, and each explorer has a set amount of movements per turn. Also at your disposal are various spells, and attacks that are specific to each unit.
I quickly fell into an aggressive play-style with my tank, while my healers flanked him. One of my healers was able to summon giant blocks of ice that served to damage, and trap opposing explorers. I used this to my advantage while I did damage with my tank. Meanwhile, creeping around a corner, and using the cover available on the battlefield, I began buffing a ranged attacker who had a particularly nasty area-of-effect attack. It was a speed/attack boost, which allowed it to move almost anywhere on the battlefield. All of this put a lot of pressure on my first opponent, affording me my first win. However, my luck ran out during my second match. Certain levels have environmental damage, which makes placement crucial. These traps create interesting scenarios of players purposely taking damage, and becoming vulnerable, in order to reach items that appear randomly on the battlefield. These items tend to be more powerful than the items you can equip pre-match. Unfortunately, I became a bit too bold during my second match, and “Team Bluster” went down in disgrace.
The first thing that struck me about Dungeons of Zaar is its visuals. They already look very polished in this early stage, and remind me an awful lot of the Skylanders series. There is a lot of depth here, to be certain, but the cartoon-like aesthetic does make me think that kids may enjoy giving this title a try. The explorers are all distinct, and memorable. I can imagine players having a bit of ‘Pokemania’ while trying to collect them all. I’m very interested to see what some of the more “Legendary” explorers may do. As it stands, all of the explorers have similar defense stats, and damage output. This makes matches feel a bit slow, as enemies are all attacking with the same force, and absorbing the same damage, give or take. However, this made buffing units very important, and made for frantic scrambling to the items that would appear throughout the battlefield. I do wonder how future units will vary from the ones I have played as, but right now there is a surprising amount of depth in this deceptively simple looking game.
Overall, I was very pleased with Dungeons of Zaar. The game reminds me of a recent title called Duelyst. Perhaps these two titles will start a new competitive category of their own. Either way, it works. Dungeons of Zaar exceeded its goal of €25,000 and to date has gathered €26,250 of funding on Kickstarter. I encourage you to take a look, and support this game if it interests you. In the meantime, “Team Bluster”, and I have some more Dungeons of Zaar to play.