Caves of Qud is a classic roguelike with a very creative and evocative world to explore. Some structural problems don't really stop the character customization and world building from carrying this game to a really incredible experience that I will be following for a long time.

The world-building here is amazing, especially considering it is very procedural, stringing together a Gamma World sort of environment with generated factions and communities for you to explore and discover. The consistent themes of self modification (through mutation or technology), discovery (from ancient technology to the local recipe for soup), and collaboration makes the world of Qud an amazing and evocative one to explore. This also leads to Praetorian death squads warping into the map and killing you instantly on occasion, which can feel bad. The unpredictable, dangerous, and weird bend of everything around you does serve to keep you on your toes despite some structural monotony you can run into.

Structurally it is similar in a lot of ways to Tales of Maj'eyal. There is an overworld that is static from seed to seed but a higher level of fidelity than ToME makes every piece of this world generated and explorable. This ends up giving you a specific goal that is always the same while the individual places you explore, creatures you meet, and items you find are different.
I found this static structure to be the biggest weakness of the game. Creating unique builds and characters is fun but the actual experience run to run ends up feeling very linear and samey. You will always progress to Grit Gate, Golgotha, and Bethesda Susa and the experience of each will be largely the same. Like ToME, the level-based danger of these areas means you will probably go through the same steps to surmount them as well making the beginning of the game feel like rote preparation for these challenges.

Creating your character in Qud is in-depth but made simpler by a bunch of premades that give varied experiences and work well. Broadly you are choosing between a mutant or a 'true-kin' (full human able to install cybernetics), and then specializing in a number of abilities, weapons, or attack types. It feels as cool to put together a 4-armed freak with a turtle shell who zaps people with super-charged static electricity as it does to roll around the world cobbling yourself into a cyborg death machine from discarded ancient technology. There are a few things that feel like traps or vestigial remnants of old development explorations, but the constant rate of updates to this game sees many things get phased out and replaced with interesting new toys.

Qud is a beautiful game, going a step beyond ascii to a character set that is evocative, expressive, and interesting. The color palette works especially well here. I love the muted colors that are still varied and used expertly to delineate different areas, creatures, and dangers.
Some size wonkiness and wildly swinging threat levels can make things play a bit badly on occasion. It is weird to see a crystalline structure the size of a mountain that takes up the same amount of space as a snapping turtle. It can be a bad experience when a guy that looks basically like most other wasteland guys you see kills you from across the map with a high-powered laser rifle.

The sometimes weird balance aside, playing Qud is an experience that isn't replicated in any other game. This is the Dwarf Fortress of classic roguelikes and has as much depth, interest, and fun as you would expect from that description. Freehold Games has created a classic here and I expect it to only get better as they continue to expand and refine it.

Reviewed on Feb 26, 2024