One of the most common complaints in our Slack VR chat is wondering when Minecraft VR will return to Quest, six years and counting from the Gear VR port. So when Ancient Dungeon VR appeared on App Lab last year, I probably put unreasonable expectations on it to fill that voxel void in my heart.
Surprisingly, it more than lived up to my high hopes. It’s no surprise, then, that Ancient Dungeon VR was one of the first App Lab games to make the jump to the official Quest Store, alongside other indie gems like Deisim.
Visuals aside, this isn’t an exploration sim like Minecraft; instead, it’s a hack-and-slack roguelite where you dive into one underground realm after another, facing increasingly deadly enemies. It’s of the same genre as the excellent Mothergunship: Forge but with a very different atmosphere. And the free beta is still available if you want to test it (or five) before buying it.
Ancient Dungeon VR is not Hades (opens in a new tab), but it’s a useful point of comparison since it’s a major shift in the recent roguelite/roguelike craze. As in Hades, your objective is to escape a labyrinthine basement with a variety of enemies, biomes, and bosses that become more difficult as you progress.
Once you inevitably die, your success in running translates into Insight Points that you can use to unlock new abilities. You’ll respawn in the starting area (aka the Home Base) as a “new” adventurer, chatting with the locals before choosing your weapon and starting over.
Your only two weapon options are sword and knife or crossbow and dagger to unlock, though more weapons will likely be added in the future. The starting combo allows you to sweep enemies and destructible projectiles with your dominant hand or throw a summonable knife with each hand from a safe distance.
Enemies run the gamut from wobbling zombies to bile belching plants and bouncing slimes. You’ll need solid headphones with good surround sound because enemies will really appear from all corners with only ominous noises to warn you that they’re coming for your limited health. And even if they approach from the front, some enemies will rush towards you at full speed, resulting in quite a few unexpected jumpscares!
Along with defeating enemies, you’re on the hunt for scrolls with mysterious lore and, of course, loot. Gold coins will allow you to buy chest keys, consumables, or temporary upgrades that will power up or protect you – often with some kind of inconvenience. After defeating a boss, I got Glass Cannon, which gave me a hit or two against most enemies, but ensured that I would also die after only a few hits. It’s up to you to decide if you want to to get an upgrade or if it will get in the way of your run.
About as much fun as the quest allows
Most roguelites are fast-paced power fantasies. You play as a tormented character who overcomes adversity and slowly gains power, which usually means zooming around at full speed and performing crazy stunts or techniques. First-person VR games obviously don’t lend themselves to this, which is why Mothergunship and bullet-hell roguelite YUKI (opens in a new tab) put yourself in mechs or spaceships that lend themselves.
Ancient Dungeon VR is slower and more methodical, built with players’ natural limitations in mind. You get power-ups that change the way you’ll approach battles with enemies, but ultimately it’s all about increasing your own physical stamina and reaction times when swiping at enemies or aiming and properly launch projectiles, rather than improving your button combos. .
Ancient Dungeon VR is a challenging and frustrating experience. Death is always only a few errors away. I’ll carefully navigate through waves of enemies only to lose precious health to a random blast of slime or AOE hitting me from outside of my line of sight. You’ll get good at throwing weapons at the right angle from afar – or just accept missing your target over and over again – to try and stay alive a bit longer.
Most roguelites with bullet attacks share these traits, but they are third person. The lack of visual removal in VR makes invisible damage more unfair.
The claustrophobic and repetitive dungeon environments are a natural byproduct of it being a procedurally generated indie game on a mobile headset like the Quest 2. In addition to exploring secret passages, you risk to find it repetitive and difficult to navigate without the mini-map on your wrist.
Despite all this, it’s still one of the best Quest 2 games for action and adventure, due to the wide variety of enemies and modifiers and the depth of experience produced by just one person. .
I usually do two or three dungeon rounds per game session, both because I get really sick from motion sickness after a few hours and because I don’t want to wear myself out from repetition. But you’ll still end up playing dozens of hours before improving your own skills enough to reach the final boss, not even considering hard mode and new game+. You’re sacrificing visuals for content, and that’s a good trade-off.
Infinite expansion potential
Ancient Dungeon has an official version from Quest Store, but it is still in Early Access ea0.1.3.1. We can expect a ton of new content to arrive, from new weapons to new enemies and upgrades. And I already have a dream wishlist of new features, from 2 player dungeons to new weapons. I could see a spear, shield, or bow-arrow combo working just fine (yes, I’m just naming the weapons of Hades, sue me).
It won’t become a fully realized Minecraft world with outdoor environments and crafting. You can try other experiences like Zenith or A Township Tale if you want something more colorful or role-playing focused. But for pure gaming fun, Ancient Dungeon VR won’t let you down.