Indiewatch: Moonlighter, for those who like a good dungeon crawl

What do you get when you cross Stardew Valley, Zelda and a part-time retail job? You get Moonlighter, the newest indie hit to blow up on Steam. Moonlighter asks the question “how do those shops in RPGs get all their loot?” Turns out the shopkeep has to dive into dungeons himself just to keep his store shelves stacked.

A World of Dungeons and Shops

You take control of Will, the owner of the titular Moonlighter item shop. Will lives in a village built around five strange portals to mystical ever-changing dungeons. His entire society is built around these dungeons, with heroes plumbing their depths and defeating the beasts that live inside and merchants scouring them for loot to sell to these heroes. Four of the dungeons are routinely ventured into, with more difficult dungeons being accessible to heroes only. However, the fifth door has never been opened, and it’s Will’s dream to open it, hoping to unravel the mysteries inside.

Moonlighter is the lightest of roguelites. While every dungeon is randomized, you can’t permadie. When you die, the only thing you lose are the fat stacks of loot that you’ve shoved in your backpack. However, loot is the name of the game in Moonlighter, and losing it all can feel worse than death at points.

The Daily Grind

The core gameplay loop is simple. You dive into a dungeon, killing enemies and stuffing the loot they drop into your backpack. You then put that loot up for sale in your shop, pricing it however you like, and gauging the reactions of consumers to try and make the most profit. The money you make can then be spent on improving your shop or inviting new merchants into your town, which makes the town grow. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This might seem dull, but there are so many small quirks that it stays fresh for hours. For example, you can only run your shop in the daytime since that’s when customers are up and about. However, dungeons are also easier during the day, giving you a better chance to hit lower levels with better loot. Then again, all loot gets upgraded in nighttime dungeons, so that might be the better time to go. Maybe you’ll just hire an employee to run the shop while you are out in dungeons, but that cuts into your profits, makes you vulnerable to thieves, and means you can’t micromanage your prices.

All items have small quirks that make the simple act of putting them in your bag into a puzzle. Some can only be put in certain locations. Others are dangerous and actually destroy other items they touch. Still others will transform items they are adjacent too. There are tons of these “curses” which create a geometric mindbender that you are constantly engaged with. Succeeding in this puzzle will let you bring better loot back to town, re-emphasizing the core gameplay loop. However, ignoring this puzzle will let you bring a larger quantity of items to town, which might net you better profits but might cause you to flood the market.

The Worth of a Dollar

When you think of selling loot you usually think of selling useless garbage items who have no worth other than to earn you cash. That’s not the case in Moonlighter. Every item has a use. Some can be used to craft new weapons. Others can enchant said weapons. Still others can be used to brew potions and so on. There’s nothing that’s “safe” to sell.

Deciding what to do with every piece of loot is a major decision. Rare loot can sell for a fortune, but since it’s so rare you have nothing to compare it to. Your price is just a shot in the dark and you might vastly undersell it, robbing you of profits. Conversely you can just keep your epic loot and hope to use it for yourself. However, then you aren’t selling the best stock in your store, which cuts into profits and makes dungeon roaming a little harder. There’s a constant push and pull between greed and practicality in everything you do.

This is why losing all your loot can feel worse than death. If you have a full backpack, you will have invested time in it. You’ve already managed all your item curses in the best possible way. You crafted the best weapon you possibly could right before jumping into the dungeon. You closed your shop, hoping that the loot you bring back will make up for taking a day off. You literally planned everything around this one dungeon run.

If you come back empty-handed, all of it will be for nothing. Better use your escape talisman… which costs money. Maybe you can survive for just one more room.

An Deal You Have to Buy

It’s astounding how Moonlighter can pack so much depth into such a simple concept. The roguelite genre has been done to death in the indiesphere, but Moonlighter proves that it still has a few new tricks up its sleeves. If anything, Moonlighter leaves you wanting more: more dungeons, more loot, more mechanics and more content in general.

If Digital Sun and 11 bit Studios continue to support Moonlighter with DLC, patches and expansions, this could be the next game that you dump a hundred hours of your life into. It’s especially addicting on the Switch which allows you to take your dungeon roaming escapades with you on the go.

If you are the type of gamer who likes a good dungeon crawl, then Moonlighter is the game for you. It’s the type of game that is easy to binge, a perfect selection for keeping summer boredom at bay, and a nice little indie treat before E3. It’s sure to keep you playing for hours and at a budget price, it’s an amazing value. Honestly, 11 bit probably could have charged us more for Moonlighter but they might have died on their next dungeon run if they tried.