Review: Dungeon Drafters – Papercut

“Hmm, I’m feeling the need for a dungeon crawler. Oh, but I love deck building games, so maybe some of that as well. Dungeon Drafters by Manalith Studios looks promising! With a turn-based style combat and movement through randomized dungeons using a deck of cards to perform strategic attacks, this could just be the game that I’m looking for.” Well, it kind of is. Every time I think about Dungeon Drafters I have some fond memories of it. Until I play it again and realize why my anger levels have been so high this past week. 

Your journey starts by crashing your ship with a group of other random adventurers into an island where others are training to take down the big baddie. With all these characters, you’d think there’d be some backstory. Unfortunately, there is next to nothing to do in the hub world besides wander around and chat with a plethora of slightly adjusted character sprites. There are too many classes and characters to keep track of, and no one dives into why they are actually there. The character you choose has no underlying reason or motive. Dungeon Drafters is simply “Go to the dungeons. Get loot. Go home. Go to the dungeons again.” A monotonous loop. To help break up the monotony, the writers decided to name an abundance of classes, which are different from the names of the bad characters, which you undoubtedly will confuse. So when asked to go on a fetch quest to meet with a kind of character, the only hope of meeting them is by tripping directly over them.

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When starting the game for the first time you are greeted by this boss, but it’s not said what their deal is.

The gameplay of Dungeon Drafters is what I’m the most iffy about. On one hand, I enjoy the card abilities, the miniature battle scenes, and the focus on a single character turn battler. On the other hand, the controls are absolutely atrocious. There are button prompts on some moves, but toggling between cards, movement, and info is confusing. More than a single flub of the controls, I’ve accidentally moved my character thinking I was moving the cursor to highlight an enemy for its info. I’m trying to think of what exactly the problem is. It could be due to the lack of user feedback, where the sounds and art make the state switches less noticeable. Another problem is knowing where to look. The cursor jumps around the screen without a mere hint in where to look next. Poor navigational flow that leads to frustrating gameplay.

Outside of combat, the lack of user interface support is also glaring. Accessing your collection of cards submits you to a bombardment of various buttons, boxes, and screens, none of which are intuitively accessible. Some cards are locked because you need to equip enough runes to be able to use them, which I must mention is an interesting balancing puzzle, but other cards are dulled out for some reason. Even if the number says I have some available, I can’t add more for some reason. The card menu also doesn’t warn you if you have too many or too less of cards, so you could spend a good chunk of time balancing out your deck only to realize it’s illegal to use.

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Not everything in Dungeon Drafters is bad. Sometimes you turn into a frog, which is a vibe I’m here for.

Besides planning your deck and battling, Dungeon Drafters offers mini games and various challenges if you get tired of battling in the dungeons. There is a fishing mini game, a blob puzzle, and battle challenges. While in the dungeons there are also different rooms that offer different challenges, like a puzzle room where you have to coerce enemies to step on certain squares to open a treasure room. The “puzzles” in the dungeons don’t offer much in terms of breaking up the typical battle pace. Most of the time you won’t have the right cards to help you in completing the puzzles, so the only option is to battle through and take the loss on the rewards.

Dungeon Drafters don’t make your rewards feel that exciting. At least monetary-wise. There are options to purchase cards, but it’s only the cards you’ve already owned, so there’s no reason to clog your deck with the same card. The only other things money is used for is to pay someone to randomly get you a bonus item (which is pointless because the free one the bartender gives you in the beginning is the best one), or pay to do battle challenges. You may have been wondering: “Why would a game offer minigames when the base game is such a drag?” I’m asking the same thing. Don’t worry, though, because the mini games also offer terribly confusing controls.

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The boss battle sequences and animations can be really cool at times.

Besides the awkwardly put together UI, the art in Dungeon Drafters is pleasing and nice to look at. I wish there was more integration to the opening sequences and the character art. The opening is a great blend of color and has nice scene setting, before it falls into blocky pixel art. At least the pixel art is not blurry or difficult to understand. Along with the moderately well art, Dungeon Drafters’ music is very catchy. The music is also dynamic, where the melody continues through the level, but changes dynamics and instruments based on where you are located and your character status. What would have helped the game was provide more intuitive feedback when toggling menus and making choices.

In summary: Dungeon Drafters is a fun card management game with terrible controls. A monotonous gameplay loop with nice art and catchy music.

Jordan played Dungeon Drafters on PC with a review code.

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