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Rucksack avatar 10:52 AM on 05.20.2009  (server time)
Monsters' Den: A Free Game That Doesn't Suck

I’ve always been skeptical about free PC games. I grew up in the great age of freeware discs, so my idea of a “free game” is something with limited capacities, poor art, and derivative gameplay.

That’s why the quality of Monsters’ Den: the Book of Dread blew my mind.

At its core Monsters’ Den: the Book of Dread is an old-school dungeon crawler. It plays something like a mash-up of Diablo 2 and the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop role playing game, and it’s completely unapologetic about borrowing liberally from its source material. It’s a game clearly made for fans of the genre by a group of individuals deeply steeped in the core mechanics of the games.

A player begins by choosing a four character quest-party from a slew of fantasy archetypes (Warrior, Cleric, Mage, Ranger, Rogue, Barbarian, and Conjuror), assigning names to the selected characters, and picking out an appropriate portrait. After the initial creation process the player can select from several lengthy campaigns with vastly different themes, plots, and difficulty levels.

Once you’re plunged into the game-proper you quickly realize that the game is graphically simplistic. The world is represented by a series of nondescript halls, viewed from a distant overhead view, forming a maze. Further exploration reveals graphical icons that represent potential battles, treasure chests, resurrection shrines, and dungeon exits. Once a battle is initiated your team of dungeon-delvers and their dastardly foes are displayed as static portraits. Graphically, it’s all very simple but I found the aesthetic to be extremely tasteful: the well done enemy portraits, animated attacks, and an intuitive interface all added spice.

Battles are turned based and you can prompt your party to perform any of six individually assigned attacks, buffs, summons, and spells. Your adventurers have an energy-bar, which is depleted from the use of magic, and a health-bar that you need to keep an eye on. Most enemies are exceptionally weak to certain attacks and are extremely resistant to others. In short, if you’ve ever played an electronic RPG or “D&D” you’ll feel right at home.

Where Monsters’ Den really shines is in the absolutely mind-boggling number of loot drops. Every defeated monster and treasure chest will yield loot in the form of weapons, armors, potions, and magical items. They all have randomly assigned statistics, values, and rarities. The rarer items are uniquely named and provide the user with additional statistical bonuses ala Diablo 2. There is also a town shop at which you can either sell excess loot or buy additional items. It’s all pretty heavy stuff for a browser based game.

As you delve deeper into the dungeon you gain an additional level with each new floor. This allows you to tweak your statistics (Strength, Endurance, Dexterity, and Intellect), and learn new skills. This lets you craft the character you desire and is an almost direct copy of the Dungeons and Dragons system.

Monsters’ Den: the Book of Dread is a monster of game. If you love playing with statistics, dungeon crawling, old school role playing, or just table-top gaming it comes highly recommended. You’re allotted four permanent saved game slots, you can select any number of difficulties, it has an intuitive interface, and there’s even a game-plus mode for every campaign. It’s an impressive game, and the best part is that it’s absolutely free.

Score: A

Play the Game Here

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