If you are a person who demands graphics in your games, you can move along, because there’s nothing for you in A Dark Room. But if you can put that little issue aside, you just might fall in love with this town-building-sim-meets-RPG that has been stripped down to its bare essentials. Who needs graphics anyway?
A Dark Room started its life as a browser game, and you can still play it in its entirety for free online right here. That’s a fine way to play the game, but if you prefer your entertainment to be a little more portable, the universal version for iOS is well worth the price of admission.
The game is purely text-based, so as you build up your village and start producing massive quantities of wood, fur, leather, iron, and the like, all you see on iPad are three columns of text. On the left is a running tally of what’s going on in your game’s world. Every time you gather wood or clear your traps, it registers there— as do elliptical phrases that hint that this game is darker than most other city-building games it somewhat resembles.
The middle column is where you interact with your world, assigning tasks for your residents, purchasing supplies, and venturing out into the over world. The visual representation of the over world, by the way, is comprised of letters and punctuation marks that take some getting used to before you’ll realize exactly what you’re looking at.
Without graphics of any kind, A Dark Room is a little hard to get into for gamers who grew up on most of the games released in the last 30 years. But once you start tapping around and building huts and collecting resources and fashioning swords, it’s easy enough to fall into the game’s rhythms. There’s always something new to do or build, and whatever resource the game requires to do it, you can get if you assign your villagers’ tasks correctly.
On the other hand, the game can feel very slow paced at times. It takes a while before you can venture out into the world, and even then you can only go a few spaces before running out of water or food. Gathering more food and buying carts and water containers takes time, and without graphics or much to do between adventures other than reshuffling tasks, some players may lose interest.
But if you stick with it, you’ll uncover a game that blossoms out in interesting ways you probably never expected. A Dark Room isn’t for everyone. But if you can appreciate an adventure that shifts and expands as you play, you’ll find a lot to love here. If you’re still on the fence, you can play the game here in a browser window. I never played text-based adventures in my youth, but I got sucked up in the world of A Dark Room, and that’s more than I can say for most games.