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Dungeons preview - a humorous exercise in interior decorating and hero slaughter

Dungeons is coming out next week, and we bet you aren't even paying attention to it, but with such a interesting concept you should . When you’re the blood spilling, war mongering overlord of a dark dungeon domain, girl trouble should be the furthest thing from your mind. After all, there are pesky heroes to squash, unholy minions to summon, and dank corridors to spruce up with nefarious accoutrements. But you know what they say about a woman spurned. Dungeons’ humorous tongue-in-cheek campaign kicks off with your scantily-clad winged demon babe girlfriend leaving the gates to your abode wide open, letting heroes swarm right in.

It’s a passive-aggressive power grab that immediately kills the odd relationship and sends you packing back to square one. As a mewling level one dungeon lord, life is tough. But building your way back to the top of the heap one dungeon at a time makes for a bloody and madcap trek through the depths of the underworld.

Anyone who’s spent time with the now-deceased Dungeon Keeper series will find Dungeons’ gameplay and presentation covers some very familiar territory. We couldn’t shake the initial feelings of déjà vu that flooded in during our hands-on time with the first few stages of the campaign. You’re tasked with maintaining and expanding your dungeon territory in hopes of growing powerful enough to regain control of your dark throne. To that nefarious end, you’ll direct goblins to carve out 3D corridors, gather resources to spend on dungeon upgrades, and seek out new ways to beef up your might and improve the malevolent, twisting hallways of your dungeon. Which, admittedly, is pretty familiar to fans of this particular niche. But instead of completely aping its precursor’s formula, Dungeons also adds some new elements that we truly appreciated.

Most evil overlords aim to discourage meddlesome heroes from gallivanting around their demonic inner sanctum and laying waste to all their hard work. That’s not how things go in this neck of the woods. Not only do you want to attract heavily armed do-gooders deep into your lair, you’re actually meant to pretty up the place with piles of gold, new equipment and armor, dusty tomes full of arcane secrets, and other shiny goodies for them to swipe and interact with. That’s where the awesomely wicked twist comes in.

Heroes who spend lots of time soaking up the numerous delights strewn about your caverns amass soul points. Different heroes are into different things – taking gold, finding new weapons, reading books, healing others, battling monsters, whatever – but you can fill those needs by placing the right kind of rooms and letting them romp until they’re satisfied. Then, by waiting to imprison or torture these goody-goodies when they’re plump with mojo, you’ll harvest more valuable resources for your own evil aims. In other words, you want to lure ‘em in and fatten them up before you slaughter them.

This fiendish mechanic is integral to the gameplay, and you can unlock and pick from a wide selection of decorations for your dungeon that titillates heroes’ and fulfill their various disgustingly noble desires. So half of the time you’re playing the role of a satanic interior decorator. That’s pretty awesome.

The other half of the time, you’re free to dive into the fray to take a more hands-on role in slaying heroes. Dungeons has a Diablo-esque element that adds another layer of depth beyond the absorbing act of managing your dungeon’s growth and resources. Rather than playing as a disembodied overseer, you have a physical presence in your abode in the form of a heavily armored demonic overlord that can be directed to hack up heroes, pick up treasure, and interact with the dungeon realm. Experience gained helps you learn new spells, improve your strength, and boost your abilities in three different stat trees. There’s a lot to juggle between expanding your domain and directing your evil avatar’s killing might while pursuing various stage-specific missions, but we didn’t find it overwhelming.

A few serious bugs and visual glitches popped up regularly during our playtime, and some of the in-game elements were placeholder in our preview build – but that’s par for the course with preview code. Developer Realmforge Studios still time to do some polishing before its game hits the streets. And the many nods to Dungeon Keeper and Diablo blend well to scratch the many year itch left behind by these excellent PC titles. We’re still learning the best way to attract an armored knight, but Dungeon clearly knows how to attract nostalgic, slightly demented gaming writers.

Feb 3, 2011