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During the early 90s there was a plethora of computer AD&D 2nd Edition products, and most were fairly successful for their time. Strategic Simulations, Inc. and Dreamforge brought out Dungeon Hack to give fans more of what they liked. Using an engine based on the one in the Eye of the Beholder series, Dungeon Hack seems aimed at the more hard-core AD&D types used to playing the pencil-and-paper version.
SSI's Eye of the Beholder gave fans a pseudo-first-person perspective. Laid out on the traditional grid D&D players were used to, gamers could face and move in the four cardinal directions. Monsters, treasure, spells, traps and the rest of the traditional table-top D&D were translated into computer-based gaming. Dungeon Hack continued the same trend with the addition of some further assets based on the Advanced 2nd Edition ruleset from TSR. The big difference was the ability to randomly create dungeons based on parameters the gamer chose.
Some knowledge of AD&D 2nd Edition's rules, or at least reading the manual from cover to cover, is virtually a requirement. Dungeon Hack does one thing, and it does it well: it provides the gamer with a dungeon crawl with all the fixings. The traditional character types such as fighters, clerics and mages are represented, as well as the standard race archetypes like human and elf. This is a single character-only adventure, so there is no managing a party. A player rolls a character, chooses a race and class, and starts adventuring. Simple as that.
Dungeons can range in size from 10 to 25 levels. A host of parameters can be set for things such as undead, food consumption, monster toughness, etc. (see screenshots), based on what gamers like or dislike. One warning: choosing the default hard difficulty sets the game in "ironman" mode where the death of the character erases all saved games as well. This can be toggled off during dungeon creation.
There are 49 monster types that are listed in the manual, but it is stated there may be some others (wonder why I got that protection from dragon breath scroll?). Each level has two main monster types, and 1 boss monster from a tougher monster type from lower dungeon levels. Monster types can repeat on close levels. Loot can range from sparse to plentiful, and is dependent on character class as well as dungeon settings. There are even some unique artifacts for most of the character classes. There is a huge variety of mundane and magical treasures, including some very nasty cursed items. Monsters constantly respawn, so the idea is to explore each level as thoroughly as desired and then go to the next. It can really help to thoroughly explore each level, as a critical piece of loot may be found which is needed later - for example, a Helm of Underwater Action (for an underwater level) or an Ioun Stone of Nourishment. Starvation or drowning can be a real problem on the lower levels depending on dungeon setup.
Unlike many RPGs, Dungeon Hack has no stores, non-player characters, taverns, or things of that sort. There is only a player's character, monsters, the dungeon environment, and what you find during the adventure. The whole plot is to recover some bauble for a sorceress, but this game is not played for the plot. It is a loot-and-level grind, pure and simple. A gamer's skill in using everything available for their character is what determines success, which brings up my next point.
This game can be frustrating. It is possible to build a powerful character who then dies on a level because they cannot rest and heal due to starvation, or who drowns on the underwater level. I would recommend setting food consumption to low and food availability to its highest setting the first few times playing until a player gets a feel for how the game handles food, resting, spells, and healing. It is by the rules, but sometimes rules can be more frustrating than fun. I would also suggest turning off multi-level puzzles to allow easier exploration of the first few dungeons. There will be enough running around to find needed keys and the like without retracing your steps to another level.
The graphics were great for the time and still hold up well. The sound is minimal and gets repetitious, especially the one sample for doors opening, of which there is a lot on any given level; also, there is no music. Each monster type has a characteristic sound, but only one. However, this provides important audio clues that there are monsters nearby (although you can't tell their position) and if doors have opened. There is automapping, which is very important for finding where a player has not explored yet. This feature especially reveals its tabletop roots because you can print the maps for use in your own campaigns.
A great game for the avid AD&D fan who likes to really roleplay one character class at a time. It can really challenge a player, and because the dungeons are randomly built every time, the game claims there are over 4 billion possibilities; basically, unlimited replay. It can be a real struggle to finish with certain character classes, but the journey is worth it. There is nothing new here, but it is well done. A hero can have a lot of fun with stats like that!