Publisher: Driftwood Audio Entertainment
Year Published: 2010
Number of Players: 1
Play Time: Dozens of hours or more
System Requirements: Windows PC with Microsoft .NET 3.5 installed or Mac if it’s virtualized through VMWare Fusion or a similar program
Driftwood Audio Entertainment’s Entombed is a Roguelike (Wikipedia entry) game developed specifically for blind and visually impaired gamers. The game is designed entirely around the use of audio cues and keyboard commands, making it easily accessible for anyone with a visual impairment, but it is entertaining enough to play even if you’re sighted.
The term “Roguelike” refers to a subgenre of text-based adventure/roleplaying games similar to the game Rogue, which essentially kicked off the genre. These games are often set in a high fantasy setting and include typical fantasy races, such as elves, dwarves, ogres, and faeries, and often include typical fantasy roleplaying character classes such as fighters, barbarians, wizards, and thieves. Entombed, in particular, has a very large variety of races and classes to choose from. Better still is that each character can have two different classes, meaning the combinations and options for character building are enormous. Certain races are restricted from using certain classes though, so you won’t see any Ogre Fortune Teller/Wanderers, but for the most part your options are wide open.
When you begin a game of Entombed, you will first be asked to create a character. Enter a first name, last name, and gender, then select a race and starting class (you’ll get to choose your secondary class once you reach level 2). The game gives a very brief and often comical description of why you have been thrown in to the world’s enormous dungeon (perhaps you “elbowed the queen in the ear” or “failed to embellish the king’s exploits enough”) and then you’re on your way. Luckily, even though you’re pitched in to a dungeon which is essentially a life sentence in jail, you’re not completely alone; you have a pet dog which will fight by your side and, assuming you’re of a race large enough to wield it, come equipped with a decent quality tree branch with which to bludgeon any foes you may encounter during your eternal stay.
The game’s premise is as simple as its set-up: fight your way through 25 increasingly difficult dungeon levels and try to find a way to escape the dungeon in which you’ve been cast. You will encounter hordes of monsters and critters along the way, befriend up to two more (randomly generated) adventurers, and even find the make-shift town inhabited by other citizens of the dungeon. The town serves as sort of a go-to place in the game; it is sparse, and there isn’t much you can do there, but it serves its purpose. When in the town you can go to its shop, where you can buy, sell, and identify items, or you can visit the town’s tavern where you can pick up quests to complete during your stay (which are always“kill X monster and his goons” quests). If you have purchased the game, you can also enter the town Bazaar, where you can buy and sell equipment listed by other players worldwide. This is, however, the only interaction you will have with other players; there is no chat system or multiplayer support for Entombed.
I say “if you purchase the game” because Entombed does have a shareware (free-to-play, but limited) version. This is especially great for people who aren’t sure whether or not they will like this sort of game. In the shareware version of the game you will have a limited number of race and class options to choose from and you will only get the first 7 dungeon levels to play through. This should be more than enough to provide many hours of entertainment, but it likely won’t be long before you make the decision to pony up the $39.99 asking price to unlock the rest of the game’s content. The additional dungeon levels and, more importantly, race and class options are well worth the price. When you compare how many hours of enjoyment you will get out of this game to the cost of other forms of entertainment, $40 doesn’t really seem like much.
Once more it’s worth pointing out that all of this is accomplished by the game’s audio qualities and a built-in text-to-speech engine that uses Microsoft SAPI by default, but is also capable of handling other text-to-speech synthesizers you might have installed on your computer. For example, if you already use JAWS or ZoomText, you likely will have TruVoice or NeoSpeech text-to-speech synthesizers installed on your machine, and you will be able to select them as options while playing Entombed. This is especially nice because it lets you pick a familiar voice to read the game’s text to you, and there is a lot of text to be read. In fact, since Entombed is based on other text-based Roguelike games, everything from combat descriptions to menu options are designed purely around the use of text and speech. The game actually has no User Interface (UI) to speak of; playing the game is nearly identical for people who are completely blind or totally sighted, since even the game’s text is not displayed anywhere on screen. The only exception to this is in the game’s single town, where a menu interface with buttons is visible. The rest of the game leaves you completely in the dark.
Thankfully, the game’s audio is superb. All of the music and sound effects are well-crafted. When you move throughout the dungeon you will hear your character’s footsteps, as well as a variety of other sounds which provide hints as to where you are and where you can move next. There are 4 different sound effects for wind, each one representing a direction in which you can move (North, South, East or West), so if you run in to a wall (which has its own sound effect) you can stop and listen for the direction of the wind to tell you how you can move next. You can also hear the creak of doors that you approach, items that you walk over (and can then pick up), and so forth.
Even with all of these audio cues it can be easy to get lost. Once again though, Driftwood shows forethought in its game’s design. Since there is no visual map to show you where you are, you can press the “L” key on your keyboard to have the game tell you your current location (using a numbered grid system). Better still, there are hotkeys designated to telling you the direction and exact number of steps you need to take to find the “nearest unexplored space” as well as the “stairs down” and the “stairs up”. assuming you have found them. These useful options make navigating the game’s dungeons a breeze, even though you can’t see where you are.
Entombed is not without its share of flaws, however. The game is buggy and behaves unexpectedly in many areas, and the game’s Google Grouphas frequent reports of bugs and errors. Additionally, some of the classes simply aren’t very well balance; the Wanderer class, for example, has a special ability to learn the unique abilities of monsters (similar to a “Blue Mage” in Final Fantasy games), but there are painfully few monsters in the game which have unique abilities to learn, and the Wanderer gets no other specialized class abilities. Thieves, likewise, get a Pick Lock ability, but unless you’re paired with an Adventurer who can find secrets containing treasure chests, you will never find a locked chest (or anything else) with which to employ your skill.
The game’s bugs and imbalances generally cause little more than minor annoyance, though. You may play a couple of very unsuccessful games while learning the intricacies of Entombed, but once you’ve developed a good strategy, learned how to avoid some of the more glaring bugs, and shunned any class or item that may be essentially worthless, what you’ll have is a game that provides dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of entertainment. The game’s addictive gameplay, superb audio, and definite replayability make Entombed well worth the $39.99 price tag. I highly recommend it not just to the blind and visually impaired, but to all people who enjoy a fun, challenging, dungeon romp.
You can download Entombed from the developer’s web site at: http://www.blind-games.com/