Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Realmforge Studios
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 2.0 GHz Dual Core CPU, 2 GB RAM, 256 MB DirectX 9.0c-compatible graphics card, DirectX 9.0c, 2 GB disk space.
Genre: Strategy RPG
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
Dungeon Keeper 2 is one of my favorite games. Yes, I know I am supposed to be reviewing a game called Dungeons; just bear with me, will you? As I was saying, DK2 was a great game. In it you assumed the role of a malevolent being who designs, creates, populates and defends a dungeon. That’s the sort of dungeon where adventuring heroes go, not the other kind. It was a welcome change of pace from every other game out there in which you had to be the hero. There was also the original Dungeon Keeper (designed by Peter Molyneux), but trust me, DK2 was the one you really wanted to play. There was going to be a DK3, but it was cancelled, and then Bullfrog Productions, the developer of the series, closed its doors forever.
Fast-forward 11 years. A game called Dungeons is announced, and to the delight of numerous fans of the DK series, it appears to be a direct sequel. A lot of the iconic imagery of DK is shown, and although the developers said to anyone who would listen that it’s not a sequel, nobody listened. Fast-forward another six months. The game is out and I, blinded by the memory of Dungeon Keeper 2, have used my considerable clout to pass up a bunch of more deserving reviewers and get my greedy hands on this game. For a brief moment I was happy. It was all downhill from there.
The premise of Dungeons is deceptively familiar. You are an evil dungeon lord who lost his power after being betrayed by his demon girlfriend. With the help of your sidekick, Mr. Sidekick, you set out to reclaim your former glory. Mission after mission you build a new dungeon, populate it with monsters, abuse incoming heroes and expand your territory. That’s about it as far as similarities go. Whereas DK was about making your dungeon a nice place for your monsters and defending it from adventurers, Dungeons is about catering to the invading humans. Your job is to make sure their needs for treasure, gear, knowledge and violence are satisfied. A happy hero produces soul energy, which you need, and destroying him or her before this resource can be harvested is ill advised.
The types of monsters you can produce depend on lairs, which are found, not built. The path your “guests” take depends on prestige gimmicks, which you place around the dungeon. You are not an invisible entity, but instead a man running around Diablo-style, hitting things and casting spells. You even have statistics (which you raise), and talent trees (which you build up). Aside from leveling your guy, different new options become available as you progress. These include bigger treasure hoards, new monster types, new prestige gimmicks, bigger prison cells and so forth. The game also offers a ton of secondary goals and achievements for each mission, although I found that they’re hard to keep track of (or care for) because there are so many of them.
My experience with Dungeons was largely an unpleasant one. During installation, a bunch of extra stuff was installed on my computer without my consent. Then my computer was restarted (again, I had no say in this). If I had unsaved work, it would be lost. After that, the idiotic DRM forced me to create an account (in addition to Steam,) then verify it, then log into it every time I wanted to play the single-player campaign. The gameplay is tedious and unbalanced. The missions last too long, they’re repetitive in the extreme, overly difficult in the beginning and too easy by the end. Aside from the bigger piles of gold and the new monster types, there’s nothing at all different from level to level. The learning curve might seem a bit steep, but once you figure the game out, it gets very boring. Controls are not particularly responsive, and sometimes you have to click more than once to move or attack. Oh, and there’s also the issue of ugly. The textures, for example, are so low-rez that they look like something out of 1997.
Dungeons tries to make a lot of jokes, but most of them fall flat, despite getting an occasional smirk out of me. The sidekick looks just like the main gremlin from Overlord and sounds like he was voiced by the same actor. Your own character lacks any individuality and might as well be a guy from Overlord or Overlord 2, or in other words, another clone of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings movies. Maybe all of that is a clever homage, but it certainly felt like a giant cliché. I guess the developers were right: this game is not at all a remake of Dungeon Keeper. The mechanics are not the same, which is OK, but the fun is not there either, which is not OK at all. It’s a game that I really wanted to love, but ended up hating. Those who skip Dungeons won’t lose anything at all.