Dwarf Fortress' missing best mode is tantalisingly close to release, just as soon as they nail down how to 'target toes with your crab pincers'

 A lineup of different sprites created for Dwarf Fortress' Adventure Mode.
A lineup of different sprites created for Dwarf Fortress' Adventure Mode.

In the cavernous recesses of my heart I nurture the belief that Dwarf Fortress is the greatest game ever made. And ever since it got its shiny Kitfox-branded new version in 2022—now with graphics!—I've been convinced that's the best way to play it.

But that version isn't quite feature complete. It's still missing original Dwarf Fortress' Adventure Mode, a kind of roguelike approach to the game where you control a single character or party as they venture through one of your procgen worlds. That's in stark contrast to Dwarf Fortress' main mode, which sees you play god, admin and overseer for a whole colony of miners. It's due out in April, but the devs still have a fair bit of work to do.

Adventure Mode is a fun way to generate stories within the context of the game's wide, wide world and a good way to get your feet wet with its systems before jumping in at the deep end. But cramming the mode into Dwarf Fortress' paid version presents problems. In a post on Steam, devs Tarn and Zach Adams described a few of the issues Adventure Mode has run into, and outlined what remains to be done before the mode can release.

Those challenges mostly pertain to making the game's procgen worlds feel alive and reactive to your decisions, as well as condensing down the reams of information the game gives to you in such a way that it can fit into a GUI parseable by humans. There are challenges with the game's new graphics, too: Somebody has to draw the graphics for "[targeting] toes with your crab pincers," and the addition of graphics to the formerly ASCII game means all its myriad combat moves need animations. On top of all that, the Adamses (Adami?) say "Before any Adventure Mode update, we need to:

  • do some basic cleanup in the human towns, with how shops and other buildings handle items and furniture

  • clean up how property is recognized

  • generally tighten up the city side of the experience to give the new player some grounding

  • old adventure menus must also be fully converted for mouse + keyboard

  • the graphics and audio must be complete"

All before April, which seems like a heck of a lot of work to me, and even with all that, there are still bits and bobs that will probably have to wait for a post-April update, like cabin building. Tarn and Zach also say that "Siege improvements, investigations of villains, the ability to lead criminal networks, and other features that were in the air before we made the transition to the Premium version are not forgotten either."

It is a lot, which is understandable: Adventure Mode is a complex thing. That's probably why Tarn, Zach, and Kitfox are trying to iron out the new player experience before release, too, adding a new-player-friendly tutorial to the mode's "Demigod" difficulty that holds your hand as you strike out to make your fortune.

I can't wait, frankly. I'll take Dwarf Fortress any way I can get it, but I often feel like the best stories the game generates stem from its Adventure Mode. It gives you a personal connection to a character and their world in a way the traditional management sim style doesn't, making it all the more devastating when you meet a sticky end at the hands of some inevitable but incalculable conflux of systems.

We'll see how Adventure Mode manages the transition to these so-called "graphics" when it hits—Lord willing—this April.