Shopkeeping Dungeon Crawler, Moonlighter Review
Work a day job and pursue your passions by night? Will knows how you feel. Wishing you could run and tumble in dungeons, fighting foes and facing challenges, but you’re forced to mind the shop and attend to customers? Will knows how you feel.
Moonlighter is a game about juggling the pursuit of your dreams with the monotonous reality of the real world. Or at least that’s how it starts, with the game’s silent protagonist, Will, doggedly tackling the mysterious and ever-changing dungeons with nothing but a broom. But soon the rough and tumble bootstrapping to achieve your dream becomes an opulent money-making sim with maybe a message about inflationary economics? I don’t know.
Moonlighter is a rogue-lite action-RPG that manages to comfortably depart from some of the more brutal mechanics known to the rogue genre in its dodge-hack n’ slash combat. As Will, you get to manage your shop for the opportunity to make absurd amounts of money. And boy does it feel good to rake in the dough. Overall you get a fun and enjoyable 15-20-hour experience that is, in my opinion, worth the money spent.
As mentioned before, you play as Will, a merchant tasked with reviving his shop, the Moonlighter, in an endeavor to save a failing town called Rynoka. Rynoka once got by on a mysterious attraction- the ever-changing dungeons, filled to the brim with loot and danger. The narrative of the world is barebones and ultimately inconsequential to your looting and money-making schemes, but nonetheless, it manages to be endearing and compelling. There is only a handful of characters, none of which are important to the story except for old, cane-carrying Zenon, who constantly warns Will about the danger of his ambitions. Because you don’t want to end up like Crazy Pete. He’s dead.
Your ultimate objective is to delve into the dungeons, make money, and be the first to open the mysterious Fifth Gate. You do this by scuttling room to room across dungeons, killing monsters and packing loot into your 4×5 backpack. Inventory management also acts as a unique puzzle-like experience, having to prioritize certain items while juggling artifacts cursed with special placement requirements or caveats. Then you return to sell your loot and upgrade your gear. Rinse, repeat, and dive deeper until you can take on the dungeon’s Guardian on the final level. The delivery of this system is fairly straightforward, alternating day and night cycles between managing the shop and attempting the dungeons.
With a rogue game, you normally expect the experience to be painfully rewarding. The game will be punishingly brutal until you either hoard enough resources to upgrade your way past the challenge or utilize your hard-earned skills in a nuanced combat system. Moonlighter doesn’t really seem to require either. Maybe that was just my experience, but even though I started on the recommended difficulty of hard, I didn’t feel that the game was punishing in its experience. And to me, that was a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong; there is a nuance to the combat. Each room of any given dungeon felt like a puzzle with pitfalls and enemies. The enemies are fun to fight with dozens of different types that attack in different ways. Some would launch AOE attacks that could slow or poison you, while others would try to bounce around like crazy pinballs, keeping you away from ranged attackers. These suckers coordinate and can turn the level design against you.
You fight back with over five different weapon types, slotting two of them at any given time for a variety of play styles. My favorite weapon combo was the gauntlets and the great sword (probably an influence of my early gaming days; all those MC’s with big swords). I felt like a brawler, using the gauntlets for their mobility and a quick succession of attacks to get in and out of range, while charging up the great sword’s power spin to deal with a closing swarm of enemies. Throughout my playthrough, I never felt the need to switch it up.
Managing the shop is essential to progressing your gear, dialing back what normally would be a grueling grind into a vehicle for making massive amounts of cheddar. Seriously. By the second dungeon, I was worried I was going to bankrupt the town, I was making that much gold. And by the time I unlocked the banker I thought I had unleashed a financial apocalypse. You make absurd amounts of money off the casual shoppers that come to purchase artifacts for ridiculous sums and do god knows what with them. Will basically turns into Bruce Wayne without the corporation or fancy costumes.
But managing the shop is fun, pricing items through the emoji reactions of your customers to hit that sweet spot price point. If they’re sad that you just tried to swindle them on an energy crystal for a thousand gold, run over there and adjust the price. See gold gleam in their eyes, and you know you’ve just woefully undersold your merchandise. Your shop will encounter different types of customers too. Some want weapons and armor, others want the rare and high dollar artifacts, while most are your casual consumer. You’ll also encounter desperate low-lives looking to steal what you worked so hard to earn. Tackle those guys as quick as possible, or else they’ll get away with your goods. But wait too long for a customer ready to purchase, and they’ll just walk out with your goods anyway (we’ll just pretend that’s not theft). Running around a shop and dealing with customers can feel more stressful than fighting in a dungeon.
This combination of a shopkeeping sim and the rogue dungeon crawler doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable, just less challenging.