Venture Forth Will Cheerfully Eviscerate You With Killer Dungeon Crawling

Dungeons, caverns, ancient crypts, earthquake-prone volcanic passages and other assorted subterranean hotspots are like adventurer catnip, in that they’re utterly irresistible and make those attracted to them engage in behaviors that, in retrospect, may be a terrible idea.  “Ooh, that’s a giant monster, I should totally poke it with a sword to see what it does!”  Yeah, great idea, except instead of getting tangled up in string and sleeping it off only to wake up wondering where one’s dignity got to, the adventurer looks back fondly at the time they used to have a spleen.  Venture Forth is a new dungeoneering first-person action RPG hungry for heroes to feed the beasts lurking in its deepest caverns, and now there’s a demo to help its Kickstarter gain a bit of traction.

Venture Forth has been in development as a one-man project for a while now, but in order to meet its full potential it could use a bit of help.  What’s being shown off in the demo has definite promise, and the inventory system in particular promises a world of depth for creating personalized loadouts, but there are several rough edges that a development team fueled by a successful Kickstarter will polish to a shine.  On the other hand, I not only beat the demo after much swearing and reloading but also had a great time doing it, so it’s already got a lot of things right.

There’s not a lot of plot in Venture Forth, or at least not yet, other than “there’s a cave, go explore”.  While the full game will be procedurally-generated from pre-built parts, the demo is hand-constructed to show off a wide variety of room styles.  Giant caverns, twisty tunnels, switch traps, and hidden passages fill up the world, and monsters lurk in its depths just often enough to keep you on your toes while also allowing time for exploration.  It’s a nice balance of combat and spelunking, with frequent bouts of reconfiguring equipment to keep things interesting.

Monsters are fairly generous with the loot drops, and while the inventory initially looks confusing it actually makes a lot of sense when you see how everything fits together.  Each of the item slots is a complete loadout, including head and body armor, left and right handed items, and a spare slot for arrows.  A single push of the number keys can  see you go from a hyper-fast archer to a zippy hit and run sword and shield unit and then a slower but far tougher tank.  Each weapon and piece of armor has bonuses and downgrades associated with it, so it takes a bit of juggling to fit a good set of equipment together.  Another fun aspect of the weapon system is that, once you’ve got an item, each additional pickup adds a +1 to the item’s strength rather than cluttering up the inventory with duplicate equipment.  Once I had a nice selection of gear I was constantly mixing and matching to see what kind of tradeoffs in speed, strength, and defense I could work with, leading to a number of interesting encounters against enemies that took me apart several times before I figured out a good strategy.

While rough around the edges, with keyboard commands for secondary functions that desperately need to be tuned for user friendliness (alt-F4 to save and quit?) and some questionable monster designs (not too fond of the darkness monsters, although the one that’s mostly invisible and also turns the surrounding area transparent is nifty), Venture Forth has a lot of good ideas already in place.  The demo is good fun to explore, with plenty of secrets to track down, and figuring out how to use an environment with a new weapon loadout to avoid getting swarmed made for some pleasantly tense encounters.  There’s a lot of work to be done and both a Kickstarter and Greenlight to clear in order for Venture Forth to get where it needs to be, but if it can successfully build off the solid base it’s already established, there should be a ton of great dungeon-crawling ahead for any adventurer looking to get their organs forcibly rearranged.