I realized earlier that today was the last day of Steam Next Fest, and I panicked. I remembered seeing a certain demo on Steam that made my ears prick up and make my eyes three times bigger than usual, and until now I didn’t have time to try it out. So today I set aside a small part of the day to download the demo and play for dome keepera wave based survival game about protecting your glass dome house from alien invaders using a giant laser.
Unfortunately, I ended up playing it for a little too long, and now I haven’t given myself time to write about why it was so great. Argh. Let me try anyway.
Dome Keeper started life as Dome Romantik, a Ludum Dare 48 invention that attracted a lot of attention last year. The game begins with you housed in your little dome, wondering what to do next. You play as a little jetpack boy who slowly drifts around in his little bouncy spacesuit. For the first 30 seconds I just looked at the outside world and took in the sights. The style reminds me a bit of Kingdom, but more effervescent. Everything has nice friendly rounded corners, both above and below the earth’s surface. But I quickly learned not to trust the kindness. This game has no qualms about tearing your bustling little house to shreds in a way that makes you wonder how you could have even stood a chance.
Once I averted my eyes from the world outside my dome, I saw that there was a hole in the bottom of the dome leading to the ground, and I was able to bump my little jetpack boy into rock tiles to mine them. Mining feels wonderful in Dome Keeper, really palpable and satisfying. That’s good, because half the game will be spent mining, searching for precious materials and hoisting them home Wilmots Warehouse style so you can spend them on upgrades to your dome and character.
The other half of your time will be spent defending your dome from attackers. Although you won’t be able to see it until later, there is a progress bar that repeatedly empties, and when it’s empty, the next wave of enemies will come and start hammering your dome. When that happens, it’s time to go home so you can manually control the laser on the outside of the dome. It felt very Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime, having your little player safely inside spinning the controls, moving the giant death laser around the rim of the dome and blasting the approaching vices to smithereens.
The subsoil is divided into different layers, each of which is more difficult to mine than the last. I soon realized that I had made a huge mistake on my first run, devoting all my resources to improving my dome health and my laser, as it turned out I should have put a bit aside to improve my mining speed. to improve. It got to the point where I wiped my brow after defeating a wave of enemies, would fly to the bottom of the cave I was digging, smash myself into some super-hard chunks of granite in vain, and then have to go all the way back to flying overhead to prepare for the next wave.
That sounds like a review of the game, but after playthrough #2 I realized it was an issue with that run and my strategy (or lack thereof). On my second try, I went in with a game plan and balanced my upgrades more sensibly, and found it to be a much easier and more enjoyable time.
It turns out this was going to be a theme in my time at Dome Keeper. Every time I thought, “hm, that’s a bit of a black spot on this otherwise good game,” the game responded with a new feature or upgrade that addressed my complaint. For example, the moment I was wondering if there would seem to be anything to make the underground more interesting, I came across a buried relic, which I took home to unlock a new gadget (in this case, it was a secondary laser that automatically moves around stunning enemies).
Another time, I was just starting to complain about the distance I had to travel from dome to bedrock between each wave, when I unlocked a teleporter that I could grab and manually place anywhere underground, providing the perfect answer to my woes. Every time I had a complaint it would barely survive in my mind for 5 seconds before something happened to silence me.
I will say it was a very stressful time playing the Dome Keeper demo. It reminded me a lot of Rymdkapsel, another wave-based survival game that I love, but also evokes an intense fear every time I play it. In both games, the difficulty of the waves increases very quickly, with the game swinging hordes of tiny bombers, ethereal flying creatures and galloping monstrosities with many limbs at your base within the first 10 minutes. I also ended up taking a lot of time to complete all my goals between waves because the further I progressed underground, the longer I had to travel and the less time I had to spend mining. On my second attempt, I finally managed to beat the demo, but it was a very close run, and I suspect I was lucky enough to get some very good gadgets that helped me out.
It’s a fantastic foundation for what could become a brilliant game. But there was a little voice in my head that told me I want Dome Keeper to be a bigger game than I fear it will turn out to be. The underground is the part that needs the most work. There are no caves, no ruins, nothing but the materials you need for upgrades and the occasional buried gadget. So everything down there feels very dull indeed – which is a huge shame when you consider how much fun I had just banging my jetpack boy against the walls to mine them. How can they make mining feel so good, and then not give you tons of interesting stuff to explore underground? It was only a demo, of course, but there wasn’t even a hint of the possibility of procedural terrain generation in the full game. It makes me a little sad.
That said, Dome Keeper already gets a lot of things right. It has a wonderfully sinister vibe to it and a handful of great ideas beautifully executed. I just hope there is a huge amount of content in the full release because the game really deserves it.
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