Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition Review: The Return of a Classic Deckbuilding Adventure
It’s not every day you can return to a game you love with fresh eyes. I mean, sure, you can always replay a game after putting it down, but it can be hard to find the motivation. And while many AAA games get remade at a brisk clip, it’s more of a rarity for indies. We’re lucky if indie games get one release, let alone multiple. So when one of my all-time favorite indies announced it was getting a totally remastered and polished build, I perked up. That game is called Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition. It effectively takes all the elements I loved in the game several years ago, fine-tunes most everything, and gives fans a huge incentive to pick it up once more. Keep reading this Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition review to see how the game shapes up some five years after I last played it.
Now, I would love to touch on all the tweaks and balances to the Ultimate Edition, but that would take another review. Many are quite subtle balances that make the game smoother. Suffice to say, Gambrinous did a ton of work. There are more bard songs, lovingly played to either cheer you on or mock your ignominious defeat. There’s some 20+ new monsters to slay. Hell, there are even three new classes to really mix things up. And that’s not even the tip of the proverbial iceberg. For those focused on minutiae, you can read about all the updates by clicking here. For everybody else, just know that all the tweaks make an already great game even better.
Glory and Gold
Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition is like the love child of Monty Python and Dungeons & Dragons. It’s all about a not-so-trustworthy character setting up his own guild. Mostly to poke his loathed rivals, the Ivory League of Explorers, in the eye. And yes, your benefactor is selfish and lazy, but he makes up for that by hiring the best heroes. And did I mention all the Dungeoneers are expendable? The game’s main loop is going on quests, defeating monsters, winning loot and gold, using gold to unlock more content, rinse and repeat. Each turn, you can play up to 3 cards on the dungeon map, adding to the stage geometry and creating a path towards your goal. To help move your Dungeoneer where you want, put something shiny in their path, and they’ll race that way. Helpfully, if you don’t want any of the gear from defeated monsters, you’ll gain loot cards you can place next turn. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. Best of all, you’re the one that actively makes things more chaotic every time you unlock more stuff.
Choose Your Hero
There’s a ton of different classes in the game, and at first, they’re pretty inexpensive. Early on, you’ll only need a small handful of gold to unlock each one. A couple of hours in, you’ll need significantly more to unlock the higher tier classes, not to mention items (which show up randomly in chests afterward) and talismans. Which brings me to my one minor complaint about the game – I never felt like the amount of gold I earned scaled up at the same speed as the in-game challenge. And while I don’t mind beating multiple quests to cash in, and appreciate how even in defeat, I earn some gold, it’s still not quite enough. Once you start to figure out which classes work best for your playstyle, you can just focus on those. But for completionists, you’ll be spending quite some time getting everything. Especially since Ultimate Edition added many new Steam achievements.
On the topic of the classes, there’s more than I can mention, but I will touch on some of my favorites. If you prefer to tank damage and play it safe, you’ll enjoy the Bruiser. Every time they block all incoming damage, they throw some pain back at the opponent. Or, if you’re more of a jack of all trades, you might enjoy the likes of the Shapeshifter. They can deal magical and physical damage, and quickly learn more skills thanks to their Wild trait. Those that enjoy risk vs. reward can try the Ice Cream Monk, who deal extra physical damage with each attack so long as they hold nothing in either hand. Or maybe you’ll enjoy the likes of newly added Grave Digger, who “borrows” items from deceased Dungeoneers at the start of their run. There’s plenty more, including the new additions of Super and Ultra Chumps. But you’ll find something to fit every playstyle, along with cards to help make their strategy work.
To the Death!
As for how combat works, it’s all card-based. Every Dungeoneer has a starting deck that helps guide how they fight, and many also have special inherent traits that can enhance your chances. Additionally, depending on what equipment you have equipped to your head, body, or hands, you’ll get a bunch of new cards added temporarily to your deck. You’ll get more loot every time you defeat a monster or open up a treasure chest. And if you have a Dungeoneer that keeps winning subsequent quests, you’ll earn additional random traits that can make them stronger or weaker. For example, they might become drawn to Fountains, which can come in helpful and harmful varieties. Or they might become overconfident, making them more Stupid, which leads to blank cards in their decks. It’s wonderfully intricate, but not overly complex. Everything is just very well streamlined, which is why I loved the original version of the game.
In battle, you’ll deal damage after your opponent, unless you have access to Quick attacks. If you lose all your health first, you die, unless you played a card to gain health that turn. Some cards will provide blocks to physical or magical attacks. Others will let you deal unblockable damage. Spellcasters can do things like burn their opponents, forcing them to take damage every turn. As your Dungeoneer succeeds in battle, they’ll level up, to a maximum of Level 4. This boosts their base health, but not much else. The rest will depend on what you have equipped to your Dungeoneer. And if you want to even the odds even more, you can use favour to change the odds. These are basically magical runes you find on some stage tiles, and once you have enough, you can do all sorts of fun things. You can draw extra cards during battle, burn a card from your deck, and much more.
While no new massive areas have been added in Ultimate Edition, there’s enough existing content from past DLC to keep you busy for several hours. And while many of the new additions to the game are small, the following are notable. One is called the Guildopedia. It’s a complete list of all the cards you’ve used in the game, along with their rank. For example, there’s Holy, whose cards generally deflects damage or heals your Dungeoneer. The Guildopedia also helpfully lists all the creatures you’ve faced, along with the cards they can use in subsequent encounters. Another massively helpful addition is the ability to look at your Dungeoneer’s complete deck at any time during a quest. And for those that like to tweak the look of your characters, Gambrinous added a bunch of new customization options. Again, the game might not have strictly needed these, but they definitely help things run better.
Visually, Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition is simple yet attractive. The whole black and white aesthetic helps the game look like it was ripped out of a Dungeons & Dragons manual, as do the sound effects of paper ripping. Though it’s not an overly colorful game, all the color choices are used strategically. Red denotes physical attacks, and Blue indicates magical. Stuff like that won’t win it any GOTY awards for visual design, but it’s nevertheless wonderfully functional. Musically the game is a joy. I love the sardonic bard who sings of your success or defeat after each run. Another nice touch is how the Dungeoneers will say different things during combat. Just a fair warning, you’ll quickly get tired of how the Cat Burglar yowls during battle. Overall, though, Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition is attractive and stylized, with great music to boot.
Still Fantastic, Several Years Later
Honestly, it’s hard to complain about much of anything with Guild of Dungeoneering: Ultimate Edition. This is still very much the game I loved several years ago, just streamlined. It’s fast, intuitive, and sleek. That said, it’s not quite perfect, but close enough, it almost doesn’t matter. If you’re a fan of quirky and strategic deckbuilding combat, I’d definitely check it out. And for those of you that already own the game, rejoice! Your copy already updated to Ultimate Edition for no additional cost. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go kill some diabolical monsters and expand my guild…
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Gambrinous; Developer: Gambrinous; Players: 1; Released: November 18, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: Review Copy Automatically Updated from Original Build