Retro review: Ancient Domains of Mystery

A long time ago, in a fantasy realm far, far away… there was a bit of this, and a bit of that, and then suddenly monsters and a prophecy and a Chosen One who will defeat the great and terrible tide of evil that threatens to engulf the entire world, etc.

YOU ARE [NAME HERE]! And this is where I always got stuck for about two hours, randomly generating characters over and over until I had a dark elf thief vaguely resembling Per Gessle from Roxette. What can I say – I was way into my roguelike RPGs, but I was also a teenage girl, and even when it’s just ASCII graphics, looks matter.


That’s because – and this is the important bit, so pay attention – playing Ancient Domains of Mystery is about 50 percent code-based dice-rollin’, player hatin’, and conditional catastrophes, and about 50 percent imagination. Think Skyrim, but where a “T” represents a tree, a “#” is a wall, and death is totally, permanently, incontrovertibly final (more on that in the next paragraph). So, basically, pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons, only the Dungeon Master couldn’t be bothered to make proper coloured-in maps.

This game is very much the same sort of thing as Dungeons & Dragons, though. Go boldly forth, slay and rob many a thing, only to die of both starvation and disease, ignominious and instantly forgotten, among the windswept crags of whatever mountain range lay in the south, I’m not actually sure it had an official name, game over, haha, would you like to play again Y/N? Oh yes, this is where I explain that you can only save the game on exit, and the file is deleted on load.

Just between us and about eight months of daily playing, I never actually managed to finish the game, and this one time, I really did die of hunger and pestilence on some lonely Ancardian bluff.

I died a lot.

One of the game’s more notable features is a corruption statistic that increases over time, causing character mutations that are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes a bit of both. The trick is, good or bad, the corruption will eventually overwhelm your character entirely, transforming him or her into a “writhing mass of primal chaos”, and it’s game over, haha, would you like to play again Y/N?

The game is huge, perhaps even excessively complicated, and brutally difficult, but one of those games that everybody has to try once, just to say they did, and they died.

Ancient Domains of Mystery is free to download, and available for Windows (including a Java version), Linux, and Mac. Get it here.

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