(I’ve been playing Diablo II, if you can’t guess)
The dungeon crawler is an interesting kind of game. It really takes the RPG formula and boils it down into the essential components: numbers.
You click around the map, click enemies to death in massive amounts, with increasingly powerful spells. You collect slightly better armor and weapons, then do the Spreadsheet Tango to figure out if one helmet is better than the next. You go back to town, sell your loot, then pop right back into the dungeon to go deeper and deeper, all the while doing essentially the same thing. And we love it.
Here’s the thing about the gear, that ever-present driving force: it would make a lot more sense if getting better gear would allow you to unlock new abilities. But it really doesn’t, beside making the ones that you already have stronger. Since only the true alpha nerds get a kick out of slightly bigger numbers, there must be something that forces you to dive back into the dungeon!
I read somewhere once (and then a thousand times in similar articles) that the MMOs’ real kick is that it gives you instantaneous gratitude. Now, anyone who has spent time at level cap will tell you that the “instantaneous” part is a bunch of bullshit, but I suppose you have to put it in perspective. You are guaranteed to get something new, an improvement of some sort, if you invest an amount of time that is relatively small when you put it in the scope of your entire working life.
However, the dungeon crawler is much more…er… “instantaneous-er” than MMOs. The hour/reward ratio is much higher, especially since games like Diablo, Torchlight, Titan Quest, etc. have enemies dropping items like they have armor instead of blood. Even if you can’t use it on the character, the bits can be sold to the local merchant for something, which is still a reward. Even the normally rare, intense high of getting That One Legendary Sword is both strong and frequent, since so many items have names and l337 stats.
But perhaps it’s more than that. Maybe, just maybe, it’s our curiosity that drives us deeper into that dungeon. After all, who doesn’t like rewarded exploration? Crawlers typically reward players that dig into the deepest recesses of every cave, as these games should. Let’s take Diablo for an example. Yes, the final objective is to kill Diablo, but is that what makes you pick up and play every day? The end goal? Obviously not, as it’s too easy to lose sight of the bigger goal at hand. No, it’s what’s around the next corner that draws you in, as you nervously finger your AoE or stun spell and dive through to doorway to find The Treasure Of the Ages in the middle of a thousand skeletons.
No problem. FWOOSH!