Dungeon crawlers hold a lot of importance in the gaming world. Though not every game is considered a dungeon crawler, most games incorporate certain aspects of the genre into their own gameplay. Whether it is the simple inclusion of a dungeon/labyrinth to explore, randomly generated items from killing enemies, or the constant growth of armor and weapons; almost every RPG and rogue-like game take elements from the earliest of dungeon crawlers. So in honor of one of the best and earliest genres in the video gaming world, let’s talk about the top 10 dungeon crawlers.
- System: PC
- Publisher: Milkstone Studios
- Developer: Milkstone Studios
- Release Date: Aug. 14, 2014
Are you ready to become a neophyte sorcerer? Well, you’re going to have to complete your rite of passage, which involves entering a labyrinth and taking on hordes of enemies. If you’re up for the challenge then jump into Ziggurat and become a wizard.
Ziggurat holds the honor of being the only first-person shooter to make its way onto this list. In general, one probably does not associated first-person shooters with dungeon crawlers. That’s not to say it’s unheard of, but it’s just not first expected. Well, Ziggurat proves how versatile an FPS game can be by introducing extremely rogue-like elements to the game and making these elements mix better than you could have imagined. It’s fast-paced and allows you to have a range of fighting styles that you will probably want to master in order to get through the game.
9. Demon Gaze
- System: VITA
- Publisher: NIS America
- Developer: Experience Inc.
- Release Date: Apr. 22, 2014
Demon Gaze puts us in control of Oz, a young man who has the power to see and seal demons. Your job is to literally go into dungeons and seal demons with the help of secondary characters that you can create.
Demon Gaze is a solid dungeon crawler in basically all of its aspects. The combat is solid, the items and upgrades are pretty cool as well, and the transition between dungeon and safe city is classic. What makes this dungeon crawler better than most though is the amount of demons that you can summon (admittedly not on the level of SMT but still good) as well as the type of support characters that you can create. There are seven job classes and five different races to choose from, which lets you customize your party and playstyle quite a lot. The amount of fanservice provided with the demons can also be seen as a plus.
8. Crypt of the NecroDancer
- System: PC
- Publisher: Brace Yourself Games
- Developer: Brace Yourself Games
- Release Date: Apr. 23, 2015
The Crypt of the NecroDancer sends Cadence, the daughter of a renowned treasure hunter. Well, she’s searching for this father and ends up falling into the crypt of the NecroDancer who steals her heart and forces her to take on his hordes of minions.
The Crypt of the NecroDancer is one of those indie games that you just have to try. It reminds us of how important indie games are and it is simply a blast to play through. What makes this dungeon crawler so unique is how well it mixes a dungeon crawler with a beat-matching rhythm game. These two components work wonderfully well together as each monster has a set rhythm of attack that you must learn if you want to survive through each area.
- System: PC
- Publisher: Mossmoutth
- Developer: Derek Yu
- Release Date: Aug. 8, 2013
In Spelunky you are a spelunker (go figure). The point of the game is to adventure through underground levels with a limited amount of ropes and bombs at your disposal as you pick up treasure, save damsels, and defeat monsters.
Spelunky is such a joy to play due to the difficulty of the gameplay that requires you to be constantly on your feet. Avoiding and defeating monsters, especially in the latter half of the game, becomes quite a challenge. With only limited supplies, you have to think about each choice you make and it’s tough because often you will find yourself in a situation that doesn’t offer you an ample amount of time to go through your options.
6. The Binding of Isaac
- System: PC
- Publisher: Edmund McMillen
- Developer: Edmund McMillen
- Release Date: Sep. 28, 2011
The Binding of Isaac puts us in the shoes of a young boy named Isaac. This child was living relatively happily until his mother started hearing a voice from above. At first, this voice simply told her to take away his belongings. Then the voice told her to lock him away. Now the voice is telling her to kill him. This is when Isaac escapes to the basement and must face a torrent of enemies.
The Binding of Isaac is another one of those recent games that has garnered a lot of respect. The respect that this dungeon crawler has earned comes from a plethora of reasons. You have the option of choosing from a range of skills, with each being quite unique and offering a variety of gameplay styles. There are also a plethora of monsters in the game that will test your agility, dexterity, and strategy.
However, the main reason the game is able to draw so many people in is due to the unique and disturbing narrative that it follows. Just let reread the plot of the game above. Your mom is trying to kill you and to escape you have to face the corpses of your past siblings who were killed. That’s disturbing and yet it definitely pulls you in.
5. Darkest Dungeon
- System: PC
- Publisher: Red Hook Studios
- Developer: Red Hook Studios
- Release Date: Feb. 3, 2015
Darkest Dungeon starts off with the protagonist inheriting a mansion from a relative who used the dungeons beneath the mansion as a source of income and adventure. However, his exploits in those underground environments led demonic forces popping up. So it is now up to the protagonist to recruit some local badasses and dive into the dungeons.
Darkest Dungeon is one of the newest games on this list. It just came out in 2016 and immediately pulled in a huge fanbase. The required strategy and narrative are both really strong in the game, but what sticks out about this dungeon crawler is the character builds. More than presenting us with simple class builds that we must choose between, we are given flawed characters who have certain weaknesses and strengths that can easily turn the tide of battle. These are introduced through the Affliction system, which measures the level of stress that is being put upon each character as they traverse the dungeons. This adds a whole new level of depth and intrigue to the game that is hard to ignore.
4. Grim Dawn
- System: PC
- Publisher: Crate Entertainment
- Developer: Crate Entertainment
- Release Date: Feb. 25, 2016
In Grim Dawn, we find ourselves in a world that has been torn apart due to the war between two extra-dimensional beings. You see, one group wants to use the humans as a resource, while the other simply wants to destroy the human race. Basically, humanity is getting tossed around like a rag doll. The simple truth the game forces you to accept is that the world cannot go back to the way things were. You must simply accept this new reality and learn to survive its horrors.
To be frank, Grim Dawn is the sequel that Diablo II deserved. It doesn’t have the perfect polish that Diablo III displays, but one must ask, if that little bit of grit actually makes it more akin to Diablo II. This game is one of the best in terms of setting, armor customization, enemy types, and hellish gameplay. At some points, it can feel a bit like a hack-and-slash type game, but that’s only when you find yourself farming in a certain area or at an early level. Later on, you have to utilize and combine the skills of the two job classes you took on to effectively defeat basically everything that comes your way.
The main two pluses to this game, despite not being Diablo III polished, is that the textures and world are gorgeous in a gothic fashion with dark colors and heavily shaded environments. The second is that the world is quite expansive and you will get to enjoy a heavy amount of exploring.
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
- System: 3DS
- Publisher: Atlus
- Developer: Atlus
- Release Date: Apr. 16, 2013
In Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers, we are given control of a group of hackers who go by the name Spookies. While our MC is hacking into a new virtual world game and starts playing the world, he comes to the realization that this world is not all it seems to be. It seems that the group behind the game are using it as a means to steal souls.
Soul Hackers is one of the many series that belongs to the Shin Megami Tensei universe, with each entry being connected through a demon compendium that takes beings from across a plethora of pantheons. For those unaware, this includes games such as Persona and Devil Survivor. Now, the Soul Hackers entry is different that the rest, even the others in the Devil Summoner series, because it really pushes the harshest aspects of the dungeon crawling experience.
First off, the demons can always be a little troublesome to deal with, but this is especially true for Soul Hackers, where a demon can actually ignore a command if it does not fit its personality. Oh and demons can refuse to work with one another if they don’t fit in the same clique. The battles are generally tough enough as well as the navigation of the dungeons. Having testy demons dials up the difficulty by a decent amount.
2. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight
- System: 3DS
- Publisher: Atlus
- Developer: Atlus
- Release Date: Aug. 4, 2015
This dungeon crawler puts us in the shoes of the Fafnir Knight, who is destined to become the next Black Guardian and seal the Calamity from coming about. However, our relationships with the world we know cause us to slightly botch our transcendence to the role. Thus, the Calamity begins to approach and it’s our job to seek the Ruler of Heavens and set things right.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is another game that represents the impact that JRPGs have had on the dungeon crawler genre. The entirety of the Etrian Odyssey series is actually extremely good and worth your time, with Etrian Odyssey 4 being the most friendly to newcomers and this one being the epitome of what a JRPG can be.
First off, the gameplay is quite intense and forces you to take note of every environment that you enter. It does this by actually forcing you to actually map out the dungeon your exploring. This can be seen as time consuming by some, but extremely delightful to others. The other shining feature of the game is just how lovable and interactive the characters are. Each person is pretty unique and makes the entirety of the journey enjoyable.
- System: PC
- Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
- Developer: Blizzard North
- Release Date: June 29, 2000
Diablo II sets us into a world where Diablo is corrupting the soul of the hero of the first game, which is creating a conduit of sorts for demons to the world. Well, this corrupted soul does not want to simply bring demons into the world, but to take mass destruction. Thus, his aim is to reunite with two more prime evils, Baal and Mephisto.
The entire Diablo series is one of the best examples of a dungeon crawler that has ever been made. Two things must be admitted about this series though. First, the latest entry into the series, Diablo III, can feel a bit more like hack-and-slash adventure. That’s not to say that it is not a great game with a plethora of weapons, armors, and skills to use. Then it must be admitted that Diablo II is by far the best in the series. This is quite widely acknowledged as people generally use Diablo II as a means to measure and compare the worthiness of new dungeon crawlers.
In this game, everything is tailored towards the dungeon crawling experience. From the labyrinth layouts that force you to explore the maps and understand which enemies are where to the required organization of your inventory, you are forced to practically crawl through each and every environment of Diablo II.
There you have it. The top 10 dungeon crawlers that you can easily spend hours playing. However, this conclusion is going to take a moment to honor one game that did not make its way onto the actual list: NetHack. Netack came out in 1987 and is a trailblazer for the genre. It showed the world just how enthralling it can be to explore an endless labyrinth.