Dome Keeper Overview
Dome Keeper takes several common game mechanisms to form something that feels fresh and familiar in equal measure. Nothing about it is particularly innovative. It’s simply a rogue-lite where you mine resources and defend your dome from waves of attacking creatures. But it’s how Dome Keeper executes those mechanisms that give it a unique flavor.
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It’s a tower defense game with no towers. Instead, you utilize the built-in weapons of your dome to defend it manually. In-between waves you dig beneath the surface to uncover resources that can be spent on various upgrades. Yet no hazards or monsters are lurking in the underground. The enemy is instead time itself, and the challenge is your own efficiency. At the same time, there is no true countdown. The game ends when you end it or succumb to the attacking monsters.
To top it off, it’s also a rogue-lite. But one where a given run may take hours depending on your choice of map and difficulty. It manages to feel both cozy and frantic. You are completely safe as you mine, yet the time until the next wave constantly ticks away. Your precious dome is defenseless until you make it top side.
Once there, defending the dome is less about twitch reflexes and more about prioritizing targets and abilities alongside the prep work you have done with your choice of upgrades. Different upgrades work better for different types of enemies. Mistakes will be felt over time and can impact your mining strategy.
Dome Keeper is a pretty compact experience with a lot of charm. Its gameplay is as equally minimalistic as the visuals, yet each knob and dial has a purpose that fits within the framework of what the game is attempting to do.
|Gideon’s Bias||Dome Keeper Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Raw Fury|
|Hours Played: 10+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed on: PC||Platforms: PC|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Rogue-lite|
|Mode Played: Hard, Brutal and You Asked For It||Price: $17.99|
The main mode of Dome Keeper has you hunting a relic buried deep underground, and finding it is the only way to win. Meanwhile, hordes of shadow monsters throw themselves at you in waves, leaving you just enough breathing room to dig deeper in your search. The catch is, without you, your dome is defenseless. You have to use your free time carefully and be sure to return in time to defend it.
The Relic isn’t the only thing that can be found beneath the surface. Iron, Cobalt, and Water can be carried back to your Dome to purchase upgrades. You may even find an artifact, such as the precisely adorable Drillbert that can help you mine, or an elevator that can help ferry resources back to the dome.
Your starting dome has a laser weapon, but you can also unlock a dome that uses a sword. The playstyles between both differ greatly. They both offer separate and unique upgrade paths. Other aspects can also be unlocked. For example, you start with a shield, but you can also unlock monster repellant or an orchard that grows fruit that can buff you while also using vines to impede the monsters.
You have to strike a balance between upgrading your dome, gadgets, and yourself. A more powerful weapon is needed for stronger hordes, but without a stronger drill, mining will take forever. Without increased carry weight it can take too many trips to bring home the goods. I was delighted to find that every artifact, such as Drillbert also has its own upgrade tree. Each one has a pretty big impact on the game.
The core of Dome Keeper is a matter of balancing priorities, both when mining and in combat. It’s nearly impossible to stop the entire horde from reaching your dome, so it pays to know which ones to prioritize first.
For example, the Laser Dome can be upgraded so that melee attacks deal significantly less damage. That leaves you some wiggle room to take out the pesky flyers and range attackers first. If you also happen to have the electrostatic upgrade, that’s doubly true.
At the same time, if you have a sword dome and a reflector shield, it might make more sense to handle the monsters in your face first. Several different environments can be unlocked, and they all differ slightly when it comes to enemy types, so different configurations can fare better or worse. To some degree, the initial challenge is simply piecing together your priorities for each one.
I found the visuals in Dome Keeper to be quite striking. The shadow monsters have very fluid animations. They remind me of a game that scared the pants off me as a kid called Heart of Darkness, a game that probably shouldn’t have been rated “E for everyone”. The shadow creatures in Dome Keeper invoke that same type of disturbing fluidity that gives off an incredibly eerie otherworldly vibe. One that feels familiar and alien at the same time.
The cracking glass of the dome, the zap of the laser, and the pop of exploding enemies look and feel equally as strong. It just goes to show that 2d pixel art games can look and feel as great as any other game, just in different ways.
Every upgrade in Dome Keeper feels impactful, with the effects being very apparent. From faster drilling, higher carry weight, or a small laser that helps stun enemies. Each purchase feels significant, and that’s great. There are quite a few gadgets and other neat things that can be unlocked by completing runs, and the game features multiple difficulty settings, which is always a plus.
I quite like how the game twisted the expectations I would typically have for this type of game. The combat is simple but methodical. It looks fast-paced, but it really isn’t.
Sure, you can’t be a slow poke, but it really matters more about how you use your defenses than aiming fast. Mining the underground is strangely peaceful, bordering on meditative, as you’re completely safe while you dig. But the tension always hangs in the background as you have to be able to make it back to your Dome in time to defend it. The deeper you dig, the more difficult that becomes.
A bit of dirt
While Dome Keeper is a very tight-knit and cohesive game, its compact nature sometimes works against it. The way the upgrades are structured can unintentionally take away your agency. For example, your first three upgrades are almost always going to be to upgrade your drill, jet pack and carrying capacity. You won’t get far without them. It’s also hard to argue against upgrading your Domes health early on.
Beyond that, rather than extend your choice, the artifacts feel like they do the opposite. If I find Drillbert, I know I don’t need to upgrade my drill as much. If I find the elevator, I don’t need to upgrade my carrying capacity as much, and if I find the teleporter, the same rings true for jet pack speed.
There definitely feels like there are optimal paths based on what you find. Not only that, but even choosing between the two domes somewhat sets you on a straightforward path. The Laser dome features the melee reduction upgrade, for example, simply choosing that dome means you’re probably going to follow a path that focuses less on melee attackers, and there are only two domes to choose from.
By the same token, there are two characters to choose from, however one was listed as coming soon. That’s a bummer and not the type of thing you want to see in a game outside of early access.
No matter what difficulty you play, your victory is mostly decided by how efficiently you mine and return resources. The thing is, the most efficient way to mine is fairly simple to figure out. Once you do, every run is spent systematically excavating in that way, while adapting your upgrades based on what you find.
Once that happens Dome Keeper can feel somewhat one note, and its replay value falls off quicker than with most rogue-lite games. That said, there is a prestige mode that alleviates it somewhat. Instead of searching out a relic, you have to balance using resources and sending them back home. It’s interesting, but the core gameplay is the same, so it can still fall victim to the same repetition.
Dome Keeper is an enjoyable game with an intriguing duality that feels equally cozy and chaotic. The repetition sets in faster than I would like. However, the fact that new domes, gadgets, and modes are unlocked one at a time after each run means there is a steady drip feed of new toys to try over time.
Its compact nature makes for a graceful game that isn’t bloated, but it also steps on its own toes. The number of upgrades, and even how you mine out resources feels like an illusion of choice as the optimal way to play becomes obvious fairly quickly.
Up until that point, and even for a while afterward, it’s fun to play. It just doesn’t stand its ground for nearly as long as other rogue-lite games, and replayability is an important defining feature of the genre.
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Pick Up Dome Keeper from These Stores
- Fluid animations and great sound design make the experience more enjoyable
- The two types of domes have completely different playstyles
- Difficulty Settings Present
- An interesting combo of cozy mining and frantic wave defense
- An optimal way to mine is fairly obvious and can feel repetitive
- You can feel pigeon-holed into certain upgrade paths based on which artifacts you find
- It lacks the longevity that usually defines the rogue-lite genre