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The appeal of the classic dungeon crawler has never waned, inspiring a continually growing list of beloved franchises and titles. It’s easier than ever to get lost in your own favorite quest for loot or exploration. Rich environments, large and engaging communities, along with diverse approaches to gameplay all help set titles apart.
Our list of dungeon crawlers covers the top ten to check out in 2020, mixing a few classics with new experiences that can stand up to the old favorites. You may find a few familiar legends that have always delivered great support and community, but there are also new titles and even crossovers that build on a variety of popular game styles.
Here are the games we’ll focus on today (in no particular order):
- Minecraft Dungeons
- Last Epoch
- Children of Morta
- Darksiders Genesis
- Torchlight 2
- Slay The Spire
- Binding of Isaac
- Diablo 3
1. Minecraft Dungeons
| Release Date: May 26, 2020
Our first title, Minecraft Dungeons
, is a new offshoot from developer Mojang, who created the now-iconic building-block universe of Minecraft
. That game focuses on building with a minimalist approach to physics and textures in order to create expansive, procedurally-generated universes for players to explore and enjoy.
Minecraft Dungeons takes the basic look of the original and applies it to the classic dungeon crawler. By nixing the focus on building and crafting, Dungeons offers a fun framework for a brand-new adventure. According to the developer’s blog, players will fight the “evil Arch-Illager and his relentless swarm of new-and-nasty mobs.”
Details are still emerging about gameplay and mechanics, but players can count on several different modes of play: a single-player experience, four-player local support, and online multiplayer. In addition to a standard version, the game will have a “hero edition” that bags you some extra cosmetic gear and access to DLC.
2. Last Epoch
Eleventh Hour Games’ Kickstarter-funded action RPG Last Epoch
has already made a strong positive impression on players despite currently being in open beta. It centers on character and skill customization, and it already features more than a dozen character classes to master and 110 unique skill trees to experiment with.
When it comes to gameplay, Last Epoch is a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler with a time-traveling fantasy setting. It sets itself apart with diverse environments, a strong focus on variety, and huge potential when it comes to tailoring your character. Players can choose from 5 base character builds and an additional 16 mastery classes like druid or beastmaster and even more are in the works.
The official release is slated for later in 2020, so there’s still time to explore the early access version. Check out Eleventh Hour’s announcement section
for specific release updates, which include the note that costs will go down at release and beta players will have ways to receive a variety of different rewards playing during the beta. Supported by multiple operating systems, we recommend Last Epoch
for fans of PC dungeon crawlers in particular.
3. Children of Morta
Developer: Dead Mage
| Release Date: September 3, 2019
Children of Morta
offers colorful pixel-art animation and a deep focus on story and the rotating cast of hero characters players use. Another successful Kickstarter concept that has exceeded expectations, Children of Morta
is an already popular entry with an immersive storyline and gameplay loop.
Children of Morta focuses on the Bergson family, with each family member having unique abilities and class features. They’re tasked with defending Mount Morta, as the game follows the Bergsons in their fight against an invading corruption across various dungeons and levels. Switch between your preferred heroes and upgrade the entire family’s abilities as you level up.
Fans of online multiplayer may have to wait a little bit longer for support, but Children of Morta does feature single-player and local co-op. Dead Mage has made two substantial free updates to the base game, and online multiplayer is slated for a future round of improvements.
Another popular game in open beta, Thorium Entertainment’s UnderMine is an action-adventure roguelike dungeon crawler. It has received positive comparisons to classics in the gaming space, including earlier Legend of Zelda titles or Binding of Isaac. And they're completely justified.
The game centers on mining using solid mechanics, as it tasks players with completing quests and accumulating power-ups to make the next dungeon run easier. It also includes permadeath, which means restarting with a new, named hero when your current character bites the dust. You’ll use potions, fight bosses, and pursue quests to rescue others trapped underground in UnderMine.
There is no official release date yet, but it’s looking like 2020 may be its year. Thorium has provided a detailed release roadmap
in the meantime. The core UnderMine
team is only two creators, but so far they’ve made regular updates and keep close to their original timeline.
5. Darksiders Genesis
Based in the Darksiders
universe and set before the core trilogy, Darksiders Genesis
takes the familiar franchise into a top-down version for a more classic dungeon crawler feel. Airship Syndicate has a growing reputation for their commitment to the genre and format after the success of Battle Chasers: Nightwar
, and Darksiders Genesis
already has a strong fanbase.
With its new perspective and focus, Genesis focuses more heavily on loot and will likely appeal immediately to Diablo fans. The story is set after the four horsemen’s battles in Eden, and the Charred Council has sent War and Strife to stop new aggression from Lucifer. In this approach, Genesis offers an appealing new format to show players how the game’s universe came to be, making for a fun addition to the larger series.
Genesis also marks another big first for the franchise thanks to the introduction of split-screen co-op gameplay. In cooperative mode, players choose between War or Strife for their playthrough, replacing the standard character-swapping element from the solo campaign.
6. Torchlight 2
Developer: Runic Games
| Release Date: September 20, 2012
is a hugely popular entry in this series. It instantly pleased fans for staying true to the spirit of the original, while making long-requested additions like multiplayer support. Its audience is also still growing, with some extra help from a multi-console port in September 2019.
Torchlight 2 offers a lot of familiar gameplay and mechanics, but it expands the scale of your experience and swaps in a new set of character classes. These include engineer (technical heavy), outlander (ranged), berserker (a mixture of melee and speed features), and embermage (elemental). The game begins where its predecessor left off, charging players with following the now-mad Alchemist who helped defeat the town of Torchlight.
Fans are holding onto their seats as details emerge regarding Torchlight 3
, with a last-minute name change nixing the planned title, Torchlight Frontiers
. While Echtra Games
gears up to release Torchlight 3
, now is a good opportunity to get some time in with its classic predecessor.
Released in 2018 by Spanish indie developers Digital Sun, Moonlighter
has won support for its well-balanced gameplay. It’s also praised for its strong visual sensibility, reminiscent of the pixel art style that we saw in Children of Morta
It’s a highly accessible action RPG and rogue-lite (that is, somewhat like Rogue, but not enough to fit into the “roguelike” genre definition). Its unexpected premise and varied color palette help set Moonlighter apart.
In Moonlighter, players explore the town of Ryoka and the surrounding environment through the eyes of adventurous shopkeeper Will. During the day he manages his shop, but in the evening he explores the town’s old archaeological excavations and abandoned sites to fight enemies and collect loot.
And when you finish the base game, Moonlighter
offers substantial DLC in the form of Moonlighter: Between Dimensions
. The 2019 expansion beefs up the base game with loads of extra content and a new playable storyline, including new enemies, equipment, and more.
8. Slay The Spire
| Release Date: January 23, 2019
Building on the success of a popular early access release in November 2017, Slay The Spire
has a large and devoted fanbase thanks to its distinctive combo of deck-building and roguelike dungeon crawler gameplay. While elements of the game have changed since its release, fans and critics alike stick around for the well-developed core mechanics.
The plot is a little less important here, but in Slay The Spire players advance up a spire by fighting and looting enemies to build their deck. You confront bosses along the way and can resupply or buy new cards periodically from the game’s distinctive blue shopkeeper.
Deck-building games have seen a strong upsurge in the past few years, with several credited to the already widespread influence of Slay The Spire. And while the format may seem unusual for some devoted dungeon crawlers, it hasn’t stopped Slay The Spire from building a commanding presence.
9. Binding of Isaac
Developer: Edmund McMillen
& Florian Himsl | Release Date: September 28, 2011
As Binding of Isaac
approaches its 10-year release anniversary, it’s considered one of the best PC dungeon crawlers around. It’s also a pioneering roguelike experience, with its influence reaching far enough to touch on several of the other games we’ve already covered above.
The premise of the game and its story is based loosely on the famous Biblical story of the binding of Isaac to ready him for sacrifice, but the game’s plot diverges into a more modern, very dark storyline of isolation and escape. Isaac fights through hordes of enemies and bosses as he gathers power-ups to acquire special abilities and reach one of the game’s many different endings.
Despite its darker subject matter and the fact it’s nearly a decade old, the Binding of Isaac remains wildly popular for its accessible and surreal gameplay. In 2014, publisher Nicalis released the game as The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, which brought the game to modern consoles.
10. Diablo 3
As we close out our list with some of the more iconic dungeon crawlers, what could be more appropriate than ending with Blizzard’s beloved Diablo 3
? It’s a classic and a bestseller by just about any definition, with a continuous stream of fan content and ongoing patch support from Blizzard.
The game opens with your familiar guide Deckard Cain and his niece Leah investigating Tristram Cathedral as they search for evidence of an ancient prophecy. Players jump in as the Nephalem, choosing between 7 different character classes each with its own distinct mix of features and abilities.
Diablo 3 may be one of the oldest titles on our list, but its staying power is undeniable. With the Reaper of Souls expansion to explore and Blizzard tentatively planning a sequel, there’s plenty more to uncover in Diablo 3.
What is a dungeon crawler?
The term dungeon crawler is often used loosely, but it generally refers to a particular type of fantasy game with closed environments for the player to traverse. Action and RPG elements are extremely common, with the newer roguelike and roguelite categories adding their own recognizable range of new features like permadeath and pixel-art aesthetic.
Fans of the dungeon crawler have plenty of classics to fall back on, but there are so many more options out there today. There are plenty of new games to explore and tons more to look forward to throughout 2020. With more and more competition for players' attention, next year’s list of the best dungeon crawlers may very well look completely different.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.