Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Long-Lost Multiplayer Dungeon Crawler

Adults of a certain age can remember going over to a friend's sleepover and playing split screen shooters. Games such as Halo, Perfect Dark and Goldeneye were the toast of the town for most high school aged kids in the 90's, but for a small group those games just didn't scratch the itch right. Guns are all well and good for some, but for others they're be dragons afoot, goblins to slay, and treasure to loot.

I'm talking about the multiplayer dungeon crawler.

The Original Loot and Shoot 

The concept of these games was that you and a buddy (or little brother) could each pick up a controller and be fighting monsters in minutes. Loot and shoot games include, but are not are not limited to

Balder's Gate: Dark Alliance 1 and 2

Champions of Norrath 1 and 2

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2

X-Men Legends 1 and 2

Justice League Heroes

The main game play was smack bad guys and collect the stuff that falls out of them to either equip or sell to buy more stuff to equip, repeat till victory music plays. The games were all co-op, requiring everyone to play nice (though some did feature friendly fire, much to the hysterics of all involved) loot would occasionally have to be negotiated for with a friendly shouting match.

Appeal of the Crawl

The appeal of these games were the obvious hits to the serotonin the games produced. Every monster dead, every boss defeated, every dragon slain meant more chances for loot and for your character to grow. These were the kinds of games where you looked at the talent tree and thought "I need to get to bed, but I'm just one more level away from unlocking that new ability". Adding another player meant water cooler talk, meaning you could discuss endlessly new strategies and loot combos to maybe get that boss you've been stuck on. Interaction was imperative to get the best results, and while it wasn't intricate discourses on Shakespeare, parents were glad to see their children not ripping each other's faces off.

The Superhero Angle

Among the titles were a few contributions from Marvel and DC, which changed the formula somewhat but hit the same notes. Instead of loot it was improvements to abilities you were after, and the appeal was playing as your favorite superheroes and building your own teams. Marvel allowed customization of teams of four to run around with, and bonuses for teams from the comic books.

Death of a Genre

As the internet became more widely used the need to have split-screen multiplayer dried up. Gamers could now play with others from across the street, across town, or across the world with just the click of a button. Shooters held the bigger appeal and overtook the role-playing genre in the multiplayer realm and so the multiplayer dungeon crawlers were reduced to a trickle with split-screen going all but extinct. The few that managed to survive, such as Diablo 3, did so through brand recognition and exceptional innovations to the games.

A Resurgence? 

RPG's for years have stayed in the realm of single player, focusing on the individual experience rather than the group. The popularity of Skyrim and The Witcher have demonstrated that there's still a place for hunting monsters, but lately a small resurgence has started. Starting with 2014's Divinity: Original Sin, the split-screen co-op RPG was shown to still have a fan base. Following its sequel, several games started resurfacing following the old slay and loot rules. The Nintendo Switch helped this tremendously, which has continued to emphasize the need for local multiplayer as a viable option for friends and family to game together without much hassle. While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 came out to less than ideal reviews (Okay but honestly I have fun with it), anticipation is high for Balder's Gate 3 coming out sometime this year, which will be the first of the original dungeon crawlers to resurface since their departure.

Anyone game?


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