John Rich here, aka Exanora and there are some games that that constantly tell you how to do each and every little thing. I mean holding your hand for each interaction and hardly letting you go a few seconds without some sort of prompt telling you what button to press or which tool to use.
Of course there are some games that give you the controls as you learn the actions, then again if you seem to get stuck in one spot for too long. There’s even games that give you the controls only once before sending you on your merry way to your doom. Then there’s Caves of Qud.
Caves of Qud is a post-apocalyptic, turn based, and procedural generated old school Rogue-like developed by Freehold Games (makers of Sproggiwood). The game tests the player’s patience, skill and ability to deal with constant crushing failure. When you first open the game you are greeted by a simple menu; simple that’s no flashing lights, no background music, just the basic options like: New Game, Continue, Options, High Scores, Help, and Quit.
Upon choosing New Game, you are given an option of choosing to be a Mutated Human and a True Kin. If you choose Mutated Human (what could be considered Normal Mode) you are given a list of statistics and a pool of points to put into each, providing benefits or drawbacks to certain actions in game. High Strength means you can hit harder and carry more, while higher Intelligence nets you more Skill Points with each level up and an easier time identifying artifacts that you will come across in your adventure.
There is also Agility, Endurance, Willpower, and Ego, each of which affects an aspect of the game that will show up at one point or another. One way to go at this list is to try and balance your stats and make sure you come out without drawbacks and a couple of small bonuses. Conversely, you can put all of your points into a couple of stats or just stack one providing you with much larger bonuses but some drawbacks as well.
After allocating your points you get to the mutations screen. Here, you have a certain number of points to choose mutations that grant you special powers/abilities and you can pick from two types of mutation: Physical and Mental. Physical Mutations change your characters body and gives them skills that can be used in combat like an extra set of arms, or passive health regeneration, even flaming hands that can set fire to opponents (or allies) that you touch.
Mental Mutations grant you abilities like Pyrokinesis and the ability to summon a vortex that sunders the fabric of space and time destroying anything in its path. These may sound powerful, and they are, but mental mutations require a cool down between each use and the more powerful the skill the longer the cool down required. Want a mutation but are short a few points? You can take a Physical or Mental Defect that will give you more points. The more severe the defect, the more points it will get you. You could choose Myopia, limiting your character’s viewing radius to 4 tiles, or you can choose Narcolepsy, which makes your character spontaneously and randomly fall asleep for a number of rounds, leaving you vulnerable to anything that wants to do you harm. Regardless of what you choose, the next screen has you choose a Calling, or character class if you want a simpler version. Your character’s Calling will get them a small statistic bonus, a number of skills, and will determine your starting equipment.
Now choosing True Kin at the start leads to a similar stats screen but with higher initial stats, and is followed by a list of Arcologies, cities that survived that apocalypse, and Castes, roles within each Arcology. Each Caste acts like a Calling from the Mutated Human, giving your character a small stat boost and some starting skills, as well as determining their starting equipment. As a True Kin, your character will also gain an extra 20 skill points per level up, and bonus resistance based on your Arcology of origin (Bleeding, Cold, Heat).
What you will notice is that you start with no mutations, a characteristic unique to the True Kin. Modifications can be earned later on that are all cybernetic alterations. It is unknown if mutations will ever be allowed to be gained by the True Kin and clarification has been sought; if this ever occurs it will be noted at the end of the post*. It could be argued that choosing True Kin is like choosing Easy Mode, but that is far from the truth, as the only ease it provides is removing one screen from the character creation process and is as entirely susceptible to the monsters of Qud as a Mutated Human is. (So if anything it’s a quick start mode)
Now, after such an involved character creation process, one would think that the game would put you through a tutorial to get you familiar with the controls and explain how each control effects your character in the world of Qud. Well one would be wrong and very much so in fact. No, you get no tutorial you simply start at the southern edge of the village of Joppa as a little green person. From there once you figure out the controls the world is your proverbial oyster. You can try to talk to the people to find quests and there are quests in the game or you can go out into the world to slay monsters, get loot, and level up your character.
To be frank fighting is almost unavoidable as enemies will chase you down and try to kill you in as many ways as they possess: be it weapons, powers, or their bare teeth. The world will make you die often whether you’re backed into a corner fighting to the last, starving, dehydrating, or at the pull of a gun trigger by a turret that you couldn’t see… You will likely die. What do you get after death? Nothing. Your save file and character get deleted and there are no items or classes unlocked for killing a certain number of enemies or making it a certain distance. All you get is knowledge on how to survive longer next time based on your previous failures. Quite brutal.
It may seem like I have a negative view on Caves of Qud, but my honest opinion is quite the opposite. For all of its difficulty Caves of Qud is genuinely a fun game that challenges the player with each movement and encourages thought before action. Freehold Games also does update the game with some regularity, about once every month and a half and its all based on reports made by the players which encourages people to post in their forums in order to better the experience for everyone involved.
Does it need some work? Yes, there are situations that happen that don’t make sense or just seem ludicrously unfair to the player. Is it difficult? Incredibly, and every lesson you learn is one that was hard earned. Most importantly, is it worth the buy? I would most certainly say so. The world is huge and, with enough time and effort, you can navigate the world without fear of being randomly slaughtered by wildlife and see all the strange, if not fascinating sights that the world of Qud has to offer the opportunistic explorer that takes the challenge.
More than anything, there is a strange sense of pride you get whenever you make it farther than you did in your last run. Taking out that monster that killed your previous incarnation or completing that quest that you failed halfway through, it feels good to do better with each attempt. It means you’re getting smarter about how you play and what you choose to do after each loss. For $8.99, the game is certainly worth the buy if you want a challenge on the cheap.
[John Rich/Exanora has played 17+ hours on Caves of Qud prior to writing of this review]
* We’ve reached out to the creators of this game looking for clarification. Mr. Brian Bucklew, the games programmer stated: “True Kin can get cybernetics but not mutations. There may be a couple buggy ways to acquire mutations, but none of them are intended and they’ll eventually be patched out if they exist.”
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