TIGSource hasn’t covered Crawl since 2007, back with Linley’s Dungeon Crawl, and it’s changed a lot since then. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is the living branch of Linley’s Dungeon Crawl (the original branch hasn’t been updated since 2003). Most fans of roguelikes have played it or at least know about it, but for those seeking to get into roguelikes this is a good place to start. Ortoslon got me into this particular game, and it became the first roguelike I ever finished (albeit as a Minotaur berserker, one of the easiest combinations to beat the game with).
The new update added (among many new features) a new species, octopodes, which can wear eight rings, but can’t wear armor except hats. In Crawl, species matters a lot more than starting class, class just determines which skills and items you start with, but is non-binding because you can always learn other skills and find other items: so you can begin as an elven fighter but then find a spellbook and decide to focus on magic anyway. Your species determines how fast you can increase different skills (varying from -5 to +5 learning rates), your movement speed, body size, metabolism, whether you have horns or claws or other features, and so on. If you get into the game you’ll probably try out all the species at least once, but then stick with a few favorites.
What I like about roguelikes is, through freeing themselves from the requirement of a lot of graphical resources, how many tiny little detailed rules they can have. They don’t need to draw dodge animations when they want to add the ability to dodge, they don’t need to animate the octopode’s tentacles encircling the enemy when they want to give the octopode that ability, they don’t need to animate lightning bouncing off of walls when they add that feature in. It sort of makes those of us who do have those constraints a bit jealous; e.g. when I want to add a new type of creature to a game, it’s not as easy as just coding it in, I also need to get an actual sprite for it.
That said this game does have a “tiled” version of the game, which I do recommend playing; you don’t have to play in pure ASCII unless you really want to, the two versions of the game are identical except for graphics. But even the tiled version is still very limited graphically of course (no walk animations, etc.), and has no sound effects or music at all (which I do hope they add one day, since music helps with immersion).
My main criticism of the game (although this can be a good thing for many people) is that a lot of information about it has to be either taught to you by someone (as in my case with Ortoslon) or looked up through forums, wikis, or other databases of information. The game’s manual is good and almost required reading if you don’t have someone guiding you through the game, but even that doesn’t include everything you would want to know about the game. Even several weeks into playing the game I was still learning about the game’s mechanics, because there are just so many of them. Its formulas have a lot of variables: dodging, for instance, is based on the enemy’s accuracy, your body size, your equipment’s evasion penalties and bonuses, your dodging skill, whether you are paralyzed or not, whether you are standing in water and are a Merfolk, whether you are flying and a Tengu, whether your opponent is invisible (and you can’t see invisible) or not, if you are “delayed” (busy carrying out a multi-turn action), etc. — and even after all that you still have a set 2.5% chance that an attack will miss regardless of any of the above factors, or hit regardless of any of the above factors. It’s probably not a coincidence that I learned about this game from a math major. Ortoslon also tells me that very late game (trying to get all the runes) is more boring than just completing the standard game, because the optional difficult dungeons don’t have much variety or don’t require as much strategy as the main part of the game, but I have not tried them yet to verify this.
Despite those problems it’s still by far the best and most approachable roguelike I’ve played (although I’ve only played like two of them — NetHack was the other). It also annually gets either first or second in “best roguelike” voting contests in the roguelike community (DoomRL is its main competitor there). So if you’ve been meaning to give roguelikes a try, enjoy a challenge, don’t mind losing a few hours of work repeatedly (this game has permadeath), and have a few weeks of spare time to engross yourself into this game’s rules, it can be very rewarding to do that. There’s a lot of great parts to this game; this review hasn’t even touched on many of the most interesting parts of this game, like “uniques” (one of a kind enemies), the game’s religion system, the mutations system, the food system (some species require just meat or just plants, or have a preference for one or the other), or fighting ghosts of your previous dungeon attempts (which are just as strong as you were when you died).