Dwarf Fortress is one of the most arcane and complex experiences in gaming. That’s due in no small part to the graphical style it uses; the entire game is rendered in ASCII characters – text, in other words – so without installing a tileset to assist you’re going to need to learn how to understand what you’re seeing before you can even begin to grasp the deep underlying mechanics. It’s not the only ASCII RPG out there, though; one of the more recent offerings is SantuaryRPG: Black Edition, a strange and humorous grindtastic journey that updates the original version.
SanctuaryRPG, like Dwarf Fortress, is an ASCII-only game. Rather than making you decipher an arcane system of symbol-to-monster heiroglyphs, though, SanctuaryRPG tends to prefer ASCII art. It’s not going to blow your mind like whatever the latest hotness on PS4 or Xbox One might be, but it’s more than functional for what it is.
What is it, though? Well, it’s…an RPG, I guess? You choose a character class, there’s a throwaway plot to read and then you spend your time killing monsters and dealing with various events. There’s a fair degree of luck involved in deciding what monsters you fight and events you encounter, but smart play will take you pretty far. It’ll have to, as the default settings of the game include roguelike-style permadeath. Pretty much everything is accompanied with text that trends toward the “Tumblr random” style of comedy, so your mileage might vary when it comes to how funny you find the game. It certainly wants to be funny, at least. I didn’t find it all that irritating.
It’s an RPG, so you’re going to spend a lot of your time running around slaying baddies and grabbing loot to slap on your body so other baddies don’t eat you. SanctuaryRPG’s combat system is an unusual combo-based system where you can select from different combat techniques with different effects, each of which lead into other combat techniques with their own unique effects and so on. Learning the appropriate times to use your various techniques is paramount to your success; so is playing toward your class’s strengths. For instance, an Assassin relies on taking out their foe quickly as their dodge-based defenses won’t stand up to prolonged combat, while a Paladin can restore their HP quickly enough that they can grind down powerful foes over time. Winning battles will earn you experience (leading to levels and statistic upgrades), gold and loads of loot that can be equipped, sold, salvaged or whatever as you’d like.
Along with monster-slaying, looting and leveling up, there’s a few other systems to mess around with. You can run your own tavern, for instance, which is a helpful way of earning gold. You can craft items using materials dropped from monsters and found in dungeons and events; these tend to be better than the junk you typically find. There’s an arena to battle in, a library where you can do research and gain free experience points and a variety of quests to toil on if that’s your bag. The amount of content available in such a seemingly simple game is kind of staggering, actually.
You just need to survive long enough to see it – SanctuaryRPG isn’t exactly easy, and it can be a bit of a grindfest, especially if you’re playing cautiously with permadeath on. You’ll grind for experience, for gold, for crafting materials, for quest items, for events to help boost your character, for loot, for pretty much everything. People who enjoy that kind of thing can expect to lose hours. It lends itself to a sort of Zen state where you turn on some background music and just veg out.
The Steam release is the “Black Edition” of the game, meaning there’s even more new content compared to the original Desura version out there. Among other updates, you’re able to imbue gear with magic powers, most of the art has been improved and there’s a new distance element in combat. And let’s be real here: it’s $8 and, if it clicks with you, will surely offer more than enough playtime to be worth the price. If you’re into this sort of thing, SantuaryRPG: Black Edition will suit you nicely.