Plenty of games offer players multiple solutions to problems. Fight or talk. Stick to the beaten path or explore. Stealth or charge in like a conspicuously bullet-resistant idiot. A game that lets you do anything, though? That’s harder to come by.
Released yesterday, AI Dungeon 2 purports to be one such game, and for the most part, I’ve found it to be true. Like its name implies, it’s an AI-driven text adventure that gives you a brief starting prompt based on your choice of setting and then lets you run wild. Any verb-based command or line of dialogue you can think of, it will accept. I can’t claim to understand the impressive AI tech underlying it, but I can say that, in my experience, it does a surprisingly excellent job of remembering your previous decisions and following nuanced contours of context. It also does its best to inject dramatic turns of events when it seems like your story is hitting a dead end. However, it’s still far from perfect and has a tendency to break catastrophically sometimes.
Let us use my fantasy adventure as an example. The first time that I donned the robes of my custom-named wizard, Voldalf Gandermort, I tried to stick to the script. The game informed me that I’d just completed a journey to some ruins that remained unchanged since the last time I’d visited them, except that there were more skeletons present. So I asked the skeletons what the heck they were doing there. They told me they’d come to find a book to help their king, Dokt, defeat an evil necromancer. This, already, struck me as pretty juicy stuff. After all, a kingdom of living skeletons, you’d figure, would have to be the product of some necromancer or another. Were they rebelling against their creator?
So I decided to go with them back to their king. He thanked me heartily for my help, at which point I asked him how we’d use the book to defeat the necromancer. His response – “I suppose we could ask him” – was less than helpful. “But aw, heck,” I thought, “I’ll go along with it!” So I asked around town about where I could find the necromancer. People – who I think were technically skeletons; it’s unclear at this point – pointed me to a massive tower. I climbed it and found the necromancer. I asked him how to defeat himself. This caused the game to get very confused, and the necromancer volunteered to join my party to help me defeat the necromancer. Then the game stopped working, and I had to restart.
Voldalf Gandermort II, unlike his necromancer-fighting/befriending forebear, had ambitions of his own. By this, I mean that I decided I wanted to see if it would be possible to form a band of reanimated skeletons and play sold-out shows across the countryside. However, while Voldalf Gandermort II also began his journey at some ruins, no skeletons approached him. Fortunately, I remembered that I was a wizard in some ruins – a location famously littered with relatively intact bony boys – and decided to make my own. This led to one of the most surprising interactions I’ve had in a video game all year.
Finding a skeleton was cake. I just entered “find skeleton”, and sure enough, I found a skeleton. Then I tried to resurrect her. That was a bad idea.
I brought the skeleton’s soul back from the beyond, thinking that I perhaps had the next teen pop sensation on my hands. She came back to life. She smiled and nodded in response to my greeting. This was gonna be great, I thought. Then she screamed in agony because being brought back to life is apparently a fate more painful than death. My eyes went wide in shock as I read that my character released her spirit and, after her bones had fallen back into a state of eternal slumber, quietly apologised. With just a few actions that I’d dreamed up on a whim, AI Dungeon 2 created a micro-drama for the ages. I was astounded.
However, shaken and heartbroken as I was, I would not be dissuaded. I found another skeleton. I resurrected her, too. She tried to speak but could not utter a sound, which solved the screaming problem. So I asked her, a skeleton apparently incapable of making sound, to sing in my band. She proceeded to produce an ancient melody that sounded “like it was made by the gods themselves”. Suddenly, there was a crowd. We were playing a show. People were losing their dang minds over our music. I had my character play a rip-roaring guitar solo. The game told me that the crowd liked it. “What even is this game?” I asked, out loud, in response to this.
But then the game got confused again. After shows, my character developed the habit of passing out and waking up naked in various locations, which actually, in hindsight, owns, but it meant that the game forgot about my skeleton bandmate. So, again, I decided to make do with what I had on hand. I approached a crowd of people and entered the command “cast a spell to turn them into skeletons”, which I thought would be classier and potentially less murderous than “immolate them all” followed by “resurrect them”. It definitely still killed them all, though; the game informed me that my hands were covered in blood.
Then I asked if the resulting skeletons wanted to join my band, and they were well into it. We played a show, I passed out – all that good stuff. When I came to, I told the skeletons that we clearly had rocking band chemistry, and we should take our show on the road. We proceeded to embark on a multi-city tour, with the game generating location names and informing me that crowds went wild for our bony jams. Incredibly, we even formed a supergroup with a guy, J’Arel, who had his own band. Initially, he tried to poach me from mine, but I told him that the skeletons and I were a package deal, and he had a change of heart. He then named our newly formed band – I kid you not – “Skeletonwitch”. Hell yes. (Skeletonwitch, by the way, is the name of a real band; I’m not sure if this makes AI Dungeon 2’s name choice here more or less impressive.)
I did eventually push this story to its breaking point. I tried to get romantically involved with one of my bandmates and break up the band – the natural next step in any good band arc – but the game couldn’t figure out my “flirt with skeleton” command, and after some successful flirting with J’Arel, the game broke and began sputtering out nonsense phrases. Still, when it worked, it really worked, and already, I’ve seen other people share even wilder stories than mine. AI Dungeon 2 can be fiddly, but it’s also free and highly amusing. I highly recommend you give it a try.