When Caves of Qud calls itself neutron-star-level dense I assure you, it’s uncompromisingly serious. An apparent decade in the making, three-odd years in Early Access, still in very active development, and I feel I may have bitten off more Qud than I can chew by attempting to process its scope without playing.
I’ll try anyway. The game rides the current roguelike wave but it’s also a science fantasy RPG unlike anything you may have been exposed to off late; simply put, it has you play mutant cast into a retro futuristic world with the goal of unfurling a thousand-year old history at your own pace.
Not so simply put, it’s weaving a massive handwritten narrative into deeply simulated physical, social and historical structures of society. If that doesn’t make any sense, I doubt the trailer will.
Yet what she does, the voice in the trailer at least, is expound a fraction of the absurdities you’ll be up to during your escapades. Players seem to start out with a character maker that lets you assemble yours with any of 100-odd mutations, castes, kits along the lines of quadruple heads, robotic wings, tank treaded feet and paranormal abilities, to name a few.
Once you’ve had your share of fun here you’re invited into a procedurally generated world, ‘1 million maps large’, beginning with the town of Joppa and its handcrafted assortment of quests, cultures and NPCs who think greeting strangers with a Live and Drink! is hip.
Then comes the central plotline of an old sentient bear who intends to restore Qud to its lost technological prowess, but you’re soon distracted by the sheer enormity of procedurally generated monsters, factions, side quests, diseases, artifacts and history books that altogether sustains a lore currently estimated at 50-100 hours of gameplay.
In between doing lots of in-game reading, chatting up NPCs/enemies/talkative plants that claim to be simulated at par with the player, trading, crafting, decision-making and what not, you’ll be dying a lot. But I doubt you’d notice with the sheer limitless quantity of interactions that are said to be possible.
I mean, being able to turn doors into spiders that you can lay eggs as, melt obstacles off your path with, and feed clones of yourself to? What?
Caves of Qud has been in Early Access across Steam, GOG, Itch and Humble, with Freehold Games religiously tinkering at it all these years. The main plot is yet to be wrapped up, the UI polished, bugs tarnished, and new content added before its fully release ready.
Also because the creators are not likely to play through all of Qud’s possible variations in this lifetime – and the fact that it’s touted as exceedingly hard – detailed tutorials, documentations and accessibility improvements are coming. Yeah, I’ll take those please.