Of the many games I’ve played, there are only three that I’d call truly “immersive”: an online text-based adventure named Legends of Terris, the first 3D graphical MMORPG named EverQuest, and the freeform exploration experience named Minecraft.
That is, until recently, when I loaded up a game of Delver and found myself transported into a world and feeling like I was actually there rather than seated in a chair, staring at a monitor, playing with keyboard and mouse.
You can think of Delver as a dungeon-crawling Minecraft with fantasy RPG elements and distinct, procedurally generated dungeons. Whereas Minecraft is about gathering resources to build things creatively, Delver is all about managing the limited resources you have to push your limits, survive, and retrieve the Orb from the deepest dungeon, then make your way back to the surface with it. It’s hard, but engagingly so.
Despite the pixellated graphics, Delver does immersion better than any game I’ve played in the last five years. If you prefer games with retro graphics and you love first-person survival adventures, you’ll love Delver’s immersion. But what do I mean by “immersion”?
For me, immersion is more than just graphics, mood, ambience, or story. I like to use the distinction between “in-character” and “out-of-character,” where in-character is everything in the game world and out-of-character is everything in the real world. Immersion is when I’m so engaged with the in-character experience that all things out-of-character melt away. I forget that I’m playing a game when it’s immersive, and not many games actually do this for me—but Delver does!
Everything comes together in a cohesive way, including the sound effects, texture design, and even the shroud of darkness that keeps you guessing at what’s further down that cavern or corridor.
I also appreciate that Delver offers a number of possible ways to build your character, but not so many as to be overwhelming. There aren’t any character classes or any skill trees—only a few attributes (Health, Attack, Defense, Magic, Speed), different weapon types, and various spells that you can find in wands with limited charges.
Everything in Delver is procedurally generated: dungeon layouts, item stats, monster spawns, trap locations, etc. It strikes a right balance between too random and not random enough, leading to a gameplay that feels structurally the same across playthroughs but experientially different because you can’t always make the same choices. You’re forced to adapt based on the loot and dungeon layouts that you encounter on that run.
While I may not be a huge roguelike aficionado, I do think that Delver properly captures the spirit of what it means to be a roguelike even though it’s a lot more action-oriented in gameplay.
Another thing I really appreciate, especially as someone with a background in competitive gaming, is how every action in Delver is skill-based. Sure, the weapons and spells may have a slight bit of randomization with regard to damage ranges, but every swing of a sword or stab of a dagger or loosing of an arrow is always the same. If you landed a killing blow, it’s because you aimed and timed it well; if you get hurt, it’s because you made a mistake.
And many mistakes you will make. Delver is not a forgiving game, particularly near the start of a new adventure. You’re weak, you lack items, enemies are strong, and several ailments—like poison—can sap most of your life away in the blink of an eye. Yes, if you make a mistakes it’s entirely your fault, and yes, you will pay for those mistakes in costly ways.
Gameplay-wise, the only real complaint I have is that Delver is surprisingly difficult. I’m a pretty skilled PC gamer, if I do say so myself, and I tend to end up in the above-average percentiles whenever dexterity and action games are concerned. But in 20 hours, I’ve yet managed to beat this game.
Here’s why it’s so hard: You start off at base camp, and you have to venture through 2 Dungeon levels, then 2 Cave levels, then 2 Sewer levels, then 2 Ruin levels, before finally arriving in Yithidia, which is basically Hell. At the end of Yithidia, you defeat the Lich to grab the Orb, and then you have to backtrack all the way through the levels—with the Lich waiting to fight you once again at each level’s entrance. The longer it takes you to get back, the faster the enemy spawn rate increases.
I’ve reached the Orb numerous times, but have never been able to bring it back to camp. OK, so maybe it’s my own failing, and maybe I’m not as skilled a gamer as I think I am. But knowing that I can’t win, it’d be nice if I could tweak the difficulty a bit!
Don’t get me wrong: the journey itself is more fun than winning, and I thoroughly enjoy the process of crawling through each level again and again, trying to survive my way to Yithidia for the hundredth time. Delver is entirely worth it even if you never beat it. I just wish there was a difficulty setting. It’s a minor complaint.
I’m also a tad disappointed by the fact that Delver released in February 2018 and hasn’t been updated since March 2018, at least according to its Steam community page. It’s a polished game overall, and I understand that sometimes developers need to move on to other projects. But I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention this. Fortunately, there’s always the ability to mod the game if you want to try adding new content. (Java programming skills required!)
Delver is an incredible indie game in that the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing about it is truly revolutionary or even interesting on its own, but as one complete unit, it’s a lovely game that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys dungeon crawling.
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