One of the most common complaints in our Slack VR chat is wondering when Minecraft VR will come back to Quest, six years and counting from the Gear VR port. So when Ancient Dungeon VR showed up on App Lab last year, I probably put some unreasonable expectations on it filling that voxel gap in my heart.
Amazingly, it more than lived up to my high hopes. So it's not a surprise that Ancient Dungeon VR was one of the first App Lab games to make the leap to the official Quest Store, alongside other indie gems like Deisim.
Visuals aside, it's not an exploration sim like Minecraft; instead, it's a hack-and-slack roguelite where you dive into one underground realm after another, faced up against increasingly deadly foes. It's the same genre as the excellent Mothergunship: Forge but with a very different ambiance. And the free Beta version is still available if you want to give it a test run (or five) before you buy.
Our Oculus Quest Game of the Week column highlights recent Meta Quest titles, indie gems, App Lab up-and-comers, or cool sideloaded mods. Games that we didn't have time to review, but deserve recognition.
Ancient Dungeon VR is no Hades, but it's a useful point of comparison since it was a major turning point for the recent roguelite/roguelike craze. As in Hades, your goal is to escape a labyrinthian underground with a variety of foes, biomes, and bosses that gets more challenging the further you progress.
Once you inevitably die, your run's success translates into Insight points that you can use to unlock new abilities. You'll reappear at the starting area (aka the Home Base) as a "new" adventurer, chatting with the locals before choosing your weapon and starting again.
Your only two weapon options are Sword and Knife or the unlockable Crossbow and Dagger, though more weapons will likely be added in the future. The starting combo has you swiping away at foes and destructible projectiles with your dominant hand or throwing a summonable knife from either hand at a safe distance.
Enemies run the gamut from lurching zombies to bile-belching plants and bouncing slimes. You'll want some solid headphones with good surround sound, since enemies will truly 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 lurch towards you at top speed, which led to quite a few unexpected jumpscares!
Aside from defeating foes, you're on the hunt for scrolls with mysterious lore and, of course, loot. Gold coins will let you buy chest keys, consumables, or temporary upgrades that'll power you up or protect you — often with some kind of drawback. After defeating a boss, I got Glass Cannon, which made me one- or two-shot most enemies but ensured I also would die after just a couple of hits. It's up to you to decide whether you want to pick up an upgrade or if it'll just get in the way of your run.
About as fun as the Quest allows
Most roguelites are frantic-paced power fantasies. You play a tormented character who overcomes adversity and slowly gains power, which usually means zooming around at top speed and pulling off crazy acrobatics or techniques. First-person VR games obviously don't lend themselves to that, which is why Mothergunship and bullet-hell roguelite YUKI put you in mechs or spaceships that lend themselves .
Ancient Dungeon VR is more slow-paced and methodical, built with players' natural limitations in mind. You get power-ups that change how you'll approach battles with enemies, but in the end, it's about leveling up your own physical endurance and reaction times as you swipe at foes or properly aim and fling projectiles, rather than improving your button combos.
Ancient Dungeon VR is a challenging, frustrating experience. Death is always just a few mistakes away. I'll navigate carefully through waves of foes only to lose precious health to a random splitting slime or AOE explosion hitting me from outside my range of vision. You'll get good at hurling weapons at just the right angle from afar — or just accept missing your target over and over — to try and stay alive a bit longer.
Most roguelites with bullet-hell attacks share these traits, but they're in third-person. The lack of visual remove in VR makes unseen damage feel more unfair.
The claustrophobic, repeating dungeon environments are a natural by-product of it being an indie, procedurally generated game on a mobile headset like the Quest 2. Aside from exploring secret passages, you're liable to find it repetitious and hard to navigate without the mini-map on your wrist.
Despite all that, it's still one of the best Quest 2 games for action and adventure, due to the sheer variety of enemies and modifiers and the depth of the experience produced by just one person.
I typically do two or three dungeon runs per game session, both because I get really motion sick after a couple of hours and because I don't want to burn out due to the repetition. But you'll still end up playing dozens of hours before you level up your own skills enough to reach the final boss, not even taking into account Hard mode and New Game+. You sacrifice visuals for the sake of content, and it's a worthy trade-off.
Endless potential to expand
Ancient Dungeon has an official Quest Store release, but it's still in Early Access version ea0.1.3.1. We can expect a ton of new content to arrive, from new weapons to new foes and upgrades. And I already have a dream wishlist of new features, from 2-player dungeoneering to new weapons. I could see a spear, shield, or bow-arrow combo working really well (yes, I'm just naming Hades' weapons, sue me).
It's not going to 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 roleplay-focused. But for sheer gameplay fun, Ancient Dungeon VR won't steer you wrong.
Enter "a place of malice and danger" to find "legendary fortunes and objects of immense power," but be warned: "few return." The procedurally generated Ancient Dungeon will kill you again and again while you slowly improve your skills, discover lore, and reach the mystery at its center.
Buy at: Oculus
Try free beta at: Oculus
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Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.