Peter Molyneux’s Dungeon Keeper was one of the most popular “Tycoon”-style games in which you were basically building a theme park for evil creatures. The tagline was “Evil is Good”, and you spent your time digging rooms, attracting monsters, and defending your dungeon against heroes who wanted to kill your dungeon heart. Dungeon Keeper II is still selling on store shelves, in fact, despite having been released in 1999.
Publisher Kalypso and developer Realmform Studios have introduced Dungeons, which on first blush looks like a spiritual successor to the famed series. You play a Dungeon Lord who builds deathtrap dungeons to spread his influence on the land above, and must protect his dungeon heart from invaders, all while trying to keep the denizens happy.
However, Dungeons turns out to be its own game. You build a dungeon, yes, but unlike Dungeon Keeper, you build pentagrams that summon various creatures like bats and skeletons. These increase the range of your sphere of influence, which allows you to build more. Heroes don’t stream in at some point to attack your dungeon heart. Rather, they enter at regular intervals as your typical Dungeons & Dragons adventurer looking for gold and experience points.
It is here where the game wildly veers from Dungeon Keeper. Your job is to treat these heroes like pigs: fatten them up on “soul energy”, then slaughter them when they get nice and “fat”. Soul energy is one of the building tools of the dungeon. It allows you to cast spells, build “prestige” items that make you more powerful, and so on. So, like visitors at a theme park, you have to keep them interested and happy by giving them what they want. Some want gold, some just want to kill monsters, some want both, and so on.
Unfortunately, unlike Dungeon Keeper, your Keeper is a character you physically control and run around the dungeon. When it times to kill the hero, you must direct your Lord to kill the hero or heroes himself. As mentioned before, your Keeper is as powerful as the dungeon he is standing in, thanks to the pentagrams and prestige items littered throughout his realm. He becomes significantly weaker outside the dungeon. The game shares a lot in common with Overlord in this respect, and even World of Warcraft in that he gains experience, learns abilities and buffs his abilities in exactly the same way as one does in WoW.
The real problem arises from the fact that you have to have your Lord running around like an errand boy; why can’t the Lord take credit for the creatures killing a hero? That, and the fact your digging goblins must run to you to hand off a single gold piece after digging each single square brings much of the action to a screeching halt. For a game in which you’re an evil Dungeon Lord slaughtered unsuspecting heroes, the game can get quite dull. There’s too much physical micromanagement and really, not enough planning until late in the game.
The game itself is beautiful, and Realmforge put lighting effects to excellent use, but the game simply tries to be too many things. While it was sometimes oversimplified, part of Dungeon Keeper’s magic came from that detachment and simplicity. You have your minions dig, build items that attempt to attract monsters, and when your dungeon is powerful enough, it gets tested. One of the only things in Dungeons that gets tested will be your patience. For example, the in-game tutorial – it’s poor and won’t communicate some of the key aspects of the game without going to an online FAQ. There’s a lot to do in Dungeons, sometimes too much, but the reward for the work doesn’t seem to be enough.
The game is an interesting experiment, but one hopes that if a Dungeons II is developed, they make it simpler and cleverer, rather than trying to fit several games into one. Dungeons is still an interesting game, and there is major potential there. Hopefully, it’ll be realized sometime.
Jonah Falcon is a blogger for TMRzoo and GameStooge.com and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Jonah provides his readers with reviews, previews and up to date gaming industry news and rumors.