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Dungeons review

Mediocre
AT A GLANCE
  • Cutting down happy heroes
  • Having fun decorating
  • Unique gameplay ideas
  • Bland graphics
  • Inadequate controls
  • Bad camera

There once was a time when geeks like us got all giggly and hot-and-bothered by the idea of being the villain instead of the hero. Dungeon Keeper accomplished that effect. Then we got Overlord, and most recently Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! offered some fun with a unique sense of humor. All of which carry the same basic innovation: the cliché story is reversed, and now you're placed in the shoes of the bad guys you've been fighting in videogames all these years.

However, nowadays this concept is about as fresh and innovative as the “Not Another Teen Movie” series. In the case of Dungeons, some of the gameplay mechanics are fresh, but the jokes are all stale and it's impossible to escape that been-there-done-that feeling.

Dungeons isn't just a paint-by-numbers dungeon building game though. In fact, the priorities are almost a complete 180 degree flip from other entries in the genre. Rather than fighting to kill your do-gooder enemies as quickly as possible, Dungeons tasks you with keeping them alive. By keeping them alive, the pencil-necked heroes will get all giddy about their achievements and accrue “soul energy.”

The idea is that the heroes that enter your dungeon get super excited about the renown they'll receive from coming back alive. So anything you can do to enhance that will make the heroes more valuable. You want to get them as excited as possible, then kill them and milk their souls for the precious energy within. Soul energy is the main currency you'll use to manage your dungeon and creatures.

To that end, you'll be able to build treasure rooms and spooky hallways, among hundreds of other things. Decorating your dungeon is actually quite a bit like decorating a house in The Sims or building a theme park in a Tycoon game. You place spooky objects like cauldrons, skeletons, and other evil oddities around your underground lair to get the biggest rise out of your opponents.

This is the one legitimately awesome part of the game. Your goal is to keep the heroes from destroying your Dungeon Heart, but they'll only attack if they get bored in your dungeon. So as long as you're designing awesome thrills for them to fight through then you're good.  They even meet up with other heroes in the depths of your dungeon. If it's boring, they'll share that information and decide to go attack your heart together.

However, it’s unfortunate that Dungeons is great on paper but lacking in execution. For starters, even on the highest possible settings the game looks drab. That's pretty much a given considering it takes place in a dungeon, but it gets to the point where it's hard to tell things apart. We routinely had trouble finding our main character in the maze of lookalike objects. You can say that it's a budget game at just $39.99, but games like Torchlight have proven that you don't need a huge budget to make an attractive game. You just need to be crafty when deciding on your art style.

To complicate things, the camera doesn't work very well. It never zooms out far enough to give you a decent view of your surroundings. Even if you do manage to get a decent view, the dark interiors will obscure just about everything you're not standing right next to.

The biggest problem though is that the game simply doesn't give you the tools you need to succeed. As previously mentioned, even the small maps are hard to navigate. The user interface doesn't do you any favors when it comes to keeping track of how many adventurers are in your dungeon (or what they need to stay happy).

The game means for you to establish an ecosystem of sorts. Adventurers come in, get fat off excitement, then are slain. This in turn fuels bigger, badder monsters and a more exciting dungeon. In theory. The truth is that it rarely works out as well as all that, and the game is much harder because of it.

For instance, adventurers can end up bunching together in annoying ways. Those bursting with soul energy (and about to leave) can mingle with other adventurers (that just arrived) with next to no soul energy. It doesn't seem like a huge problem, but in order to prevent the first adventurer from escaping you'll be forced to sprint across the dungeon - wasting valuable time - to go engage both of them. You're not getting much gold or soul energy out of this while more and more adventurers are streaming in. Plus, all of your attention (and your main character) is focused on the fighting when you should be developing the dungeon to prepare for the next wave. This is how the game tends to snowball. The small problems get bigger and bigger until they become unmanageable. There's very little margin for error.

If you judged Dungeons based on the concept alone it would be a really amazing idea. However, just about everything that came after the conceptual phase didn't work out. There are some good bits to Dungeons, but they're better to read about than they are to experience. As a pure idea the game is very interesting, but poor execution held this one back.

Feb 22, 2011

More Info

Release date: Feb 10 2011 - PC (US)
Feb 10 2011 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Strategy
Published by: Kalypso Media
Developed by: Kalypso Media
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Violence
PEGI Rating:
12+

5 comments

  • yonderTheGreat - February 23, 2011 5:36 a.m.

    I never had problems with the camera. It seems to me that someone needs to learn how to use the minimap. As for snowballing, it *CAN* be a problem, but I actually had fun learning how to prevent that from happening. Thanks for not stupidly counting the fact that this isn't DK3 against it. It's a management sim. It's certainly not for everyone, but this is a pretty decent (tho overly harsh) review of it. It takes a while to learn. Not a while to get fun, a while to learn. If you never learn, it'll never be fun. You probably had too few kill rooms in your dungeon. Too few rooms leads to too much bunching up. Btw... why would you have to kill both the soul-full (heh) adventurer as well as the newbie one? Just kill the soul-full one then run or teleport away. No need to waste the newbie (tho I often did just to prevent from being overwhelmed when there's, say, 15 adventurers on the map!!!). Half of the gameplay problems here can be fixed by someone who knows the game well. Of course, the lack of anything resembling a decent tutorial (I don't care what people claim, that wasn't a tutorial) is a huge part of them problem. You have to tread through the rough game and teach yourself how to play before you are able to have actual fun with it.
  • HumorTumor - February 23, 2011 3:58 a.m.

    Wow, maybe I'll just figure out a way to get my copy of Dungeon Keeper to run on my laptop.
  • VoodooPanda - February 23, 2011 1:50 a.m.

    Bought this game on steam first day, instantly regretted it.
  • kingdom - February 23, 2011 12:12 a.m.

    Maybe I am the only one and I don't intend to say the game is flawless but I have played probably half the campaign so far and really enjoyed it. The camera has not caused any issues for me yet and the graphics, while not spectacular, really suited the mood of the game to me. I have had a couple times where I had to scurry to fix something but it was because I made a mistake rather than the difficulty or controls being at fault. Perhaps I just haven't played enough yet to have the issues but for me its still been a really fun game.
  • Hecticvoodu - February 22, 2011 11:57 p.m.

    Damn... i was looking forward to this game...

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