As the third entry in the Dungelot franchise, Dungelot: Shattered Lands was my first experience with the series. The original Dungelot released in 2013 and my fellow writers at Gamezebo really enjoyed it. Dungelot 2‘s switch from retail priced to free-to-play fell a little flat, so now with the third entry in the series the developers returned to the game’s one-price roots. I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic when I say this, but Dungelot: Shattered Lands could be the best mobile dungeon crawler we see this year.

At first, Dungelot sounds like a weird genre mashup. The game combines roguelike mechanics with Minesweeper-like elements, and the result is a surprisingly fluid, addictive gameplay experience.

Dungelot Shattered Lands review

In Dungelot: Shattered Lands, players tap away unexplored tiles on a dungeon-themed board, revealing loot and monsters as each tile is uncovered. Players are in search of the key that is hidden on each level that unlocks the door to the next floor in that dungeon. As soon as the key is picked up, players can move onto the next floor, regardless of how much of that dungeon is left unexplored.

As a roguelike, Dungelot: Shattered Lands substantially stacks the odds against the player. All of the monsters in the game are tough when you first come across them, and under unfavorable circumstances they can become even stronger (like the Rat King who gets stronger for each adjacent unexplored tile around him). Players aren’t obligated to attack a monster just because it’s been discovered, but so long as the monster is alive, its neighboring tiles are inaccessible to the player. Once the monster is defeated players can resume their search for the level’s key or scour the freed tiles for extra loot.

Loot comes in many forms. There are the standard health and armor regeneration items, as well as stat buffs, and ranged weapons and abilities that can be cast upon any revealed monster in the dungeon. So even if you haven’t physically explored to the skeleton archer (who instantly appear and shoot arrows at you) in the far corner of the level, you can still pelt him with throwing knives or bombs until he is destroyed. I enjoyed the variety of the items at my disposal and how it was easy to understand what they did. Nothing is complicated in Dungelot: Shattered Lands, which is great, since the game is already supremely challenging.

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Every dungeon is broken apart into a set number of levels. The only way to complete a dungeon is to progress through all of the dungeon’s levels with your one life. Everything in the game is randomly generated, so each dungeon run is different, but at times it certainly felt like the deck was stacked against me. As frustrating as this was at times, it took me a minute to realize that Dungelot: Shattered Lands is different, in that regard, to most other mobile games. Dungelot is not difficult for the sake of trying to get you to buy boosters or power-ups; Dungelot is difficult because it’s a legitimately challenging experience.

In this era of free-to-play, I’ve admittedly grown accustomed to playing mobile games where the first dozen levels can be completed in as many minutes, and some cute little creature holds my hand for the first hour of the game. Moving from that to a game as challenging as Dungelot was jarring — but I really, really enjoyed that challenge. When I wasn’t snarling at my iPad screen in frustration, I was smiling at my successes.

With the randomly generated levels, you might get close to finishing one dungeon, but the next three attempts to complete it see you wiped out in the opening stages. It’s that chase of getting close to the end that drove me through the frustrating bouts, where bad luck was more at play than my lack of skill. In fact, luck is a large determining factor in your success. Luck works both ways though, so if that’s going to frustrate you, Dungelot: Shattered Lands might not be for you.

Still, progress can be made. When you die, you still hold onto the gold that you’ve earned (and even receive a small gold bonus for dying with items in your inventory). While you lose everything in your inventory when you die, your gold pool slowly accumulates, and eventually you’ll have enough to buy a new weapon or armor piece, both of which remain equipped on your character even through death. Stat boosts can also be purchased with gold, so even though you’ll die a lot, you die a little richer each time.

Dungelot: Shattered Lands is an easy recommendation for roguelike fans, and one I’ll certainly keep playing long after I’ve finished writing this review. Anyone looking for a challenging mobile game will certainly get their money’s worth.