Caves of Qud Review
South Wagner ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly Treasurer
Caves of Qud is a bizarre game, a retro roguelike set in a post-apocalyptic world. And yes, those are just the buzzwords that flood Early Access, but bear with me. This game’s world has been through a plethora of apocalypses, ranging from nuclear warfare to evil math (for real), which have left it full of anomalies, a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Rather than spells, this game gives your characters mutations, allowing abilities such as taking over people’s bodies, teleportation, and a psychic lighter. Characters can also have cybernetic implants, allowing abilities such as taking over robot bodies, teleportation, and a literal lighter. The best way to describe it, frankly, is to take you on a journey with my latest character, Cogastus Aguppina. He was a True Kin, the Karens of the wastes. They believe mutation is below them and can accost robots into obedience.
We open in a village in the vast salt deserts that once were oceans, where sand krakens loom in the distance, and whose villagers worship bread and drink blood. I am sent to a nearby ruin to acquire a holy bottle, which I assume is for the blood. Before I leave, I give the village elder water in a sacred ritual, and it must’ve been tasty because he is now willing to die for me.
Recovering the bottle is uneventful, and I am given a quest to raid a nearby fort. On the way there, I become lost, and I quickly run out of ammo. Luckily, the townsfolk kindly reward my previous efforts with grenades, and there happen to be a roving band of desert dwellers who are… happy to exchange the two. This business transaction is a net loss, of the grenades, ammo, and my traveling partner. Retreating, I come across a ruin full of turrets guarding a single treasure chest. My last grenade pops open into a turret of my own, and I leave with a thousand rounds of ammunition.
After this, I decide to head north to the great market of the Six Day Stilt, but on the way there I stumble upon a historical site from the age of the Sultans, gods who ruled long ago. It’s inhabited by a cult of archers, but they’re no match for my gun. Inside, I get a magical sword that will make my ego bigger, but that’s what an audience is for, so I sell it.
I am promptly killed by a much larger gun. A chaingun, to be precise, a fate that has befallen many a soul before this one, and possibly revenge for my earlier escapade. I opened a door, saw the chaingun, and my hubris got me killed.
I awaken in the body of Kashra-d, a Warden; a warrior of sword, shield, and rifle. They have a beak, night vision, pyrokinesis, telepathy, teleportation, and psionic migraines, preventing them from wearing helmets. I am sent to seek out a legendary gemcutter, with only their relation to the location of a caravan. I only manage to purchase a crummy one-shot musket, but it will have to do.
As I leave, I definitely don’t steal an artifact known as a Schrodinger page from a house. Schrodinger pages are used to write deeds into the fabric of reality, like that one episode of Regular Show where they write in the park records. Except, of course, instead of doing hard work, I convince the universe that I killed the enemies of a faction so they’d like me. Quantum entanglement and the like, completely risk-free.
On my way to this gemcutter, I get lost in a desert fungus forest. There, I drink some sweet sweet fungal puddle cider to quench my thirst, eventually making my way to the trade caravan. I am nearly killed by a weird dragon creature known as a dawnglider, but manage to teleport away. While seeking out the gemcutter, I encounter some cybernetics terminals, which I can not use, as I am a mutant. However, lacking arms, they can not stop me from stealing their implants to resell.
There is one last hurdle between me and this gemcutter – a legendary snapjaw, which is a dog person who desires only death and dried meats. My pyrokinesis takes out his followers, and my corrosive gas takes out the rest. Finding the gemcutter, I level up, gaining enough points to purchase a new mutation. I end up with Force Bubble, allowing me to create a force field around myself, which I completely forget about, so I am killed by a plant that shoots its own seeds at terminal velocity.
These two experiences exemplify both Qud’s strengths and weaknesses. Every run is a ballad, the tale of a hero on a series of grand quests – often met by a tragic and sudden end. Said end is usually your own fault, especially when you first start playing and don’t know the patterns of the game’s random generation, which encompasses nearly the entirety of the game. Everything but certain locations and quests and the topography of the overworld is randomly generated each run. The game also has permadeath, but if these short blaze-of-glory stories aren’t your cup of tea, it can be disabled. You can also mod the game to change almost any aspect you like. Tilesets, difficulty adjustments, sound effects, anything you could imagine is available in the game’s robust modding community.
Just don’t expect these mods to function for long, as the game is updated every Friday – as it has been since 2010 when the beta was released. This game has been given passionate updates for longer than the Confederacy existed. Even after logging over 600 hours into this game, there are still new items to discover. Although it’s technically still in early access, its constant evolution is what makes it great. Caves of Qud is $15 on Steam, and worth it.