When Dungeons was first announced everybody in the world shouted “Hey that looks like Dungeon Keeper!” Dungeon Keeper of course is a classic series created by the defunct studio, Bullfrog Productions. Well Realmforge Studios played up on this nostalgia; even going so far as to remake the opening cinematic of the original Dungeon Keeper with their own characters and using that as the opening cinematic for this game. Ultimately though this has done more harm than good because Dungeons isn’t a great game, and the last thing you want to do when you’re creating a poor game is; remind people that better games exist.
Dungeons opens with the player’s character, the Dungeon Lord Deimos, firmly in charge of hell. Shortly later your mistress Calypso ousts the Sauron want-a-be forcing the player to run to the highest level of the dungeon and the lowest position in the hierarchy. With the help of your trusty sidekick Gnarl, no that’s not right sorry, “Mr Sidekick” the player must regain his seat of power and take sweet, sweet vengeance on the usurping demon. To get there you’ll have to claw your way down the three ranks of the underworld because apparently Hell has a lot of bureaucracy going on in the background.
The bulk of the game revolves around creating your own dungeon. You have a group of goblins that go around digging out tunnels, rooms and gold seams but who are completely useless in a fight. Each level has a number of spawning pits which are needed to create summoning pentagrams for new monsters. This is the only way you can control your monsters; placing a pentagram down effectively creates a sentry post which is where a set number of monsters will spawn and just hang about for the whole level. In order to use the spawning pits they have to be within your influence circle. You increase the size of your influence circle by creating more pentagrams or by pimping out your dungeon. To pimp out your dungeon you can build “gimmicks” that add prestige points to the place. The most basic would be a pile of skulls or a torch on a wall (1 prestige point each), while more impressive gimmicks are things like altars and wall murals (35 prestige points each).
Now the reason why this game isn’t really like Dungeon Keeper is because the goals have been flipped. In Dungeon Keeper you had to build a dungeon for your monsters, keep them fed, trained and happy. In Dungeons you have to build a dungeon for heroes to enjoy, it’s a bit odd I know. See heroes bring in one of the game’s currencies “soul energy” and the happier a hero is the more soul energy you’ll get when you kill him and soul energy is needed to build gimmicks and to upgrade your monsters. To make a hero happy you’ve got to provide some easy fights to keep them entertained and leave gold piles lying around, because everybody loves gold. You also have two types of rooms to keep them interested; the library is a room filled with something called “books” and wizards love them, while the armoury is filled with armour and knights can’t get enough. So the trick of the game is to keep them happy before knocking them out and throwing them in the third type of room; the prison. If you don’t keep them happy (or don’t kill them soon enough) they’ll rush straight to your dungeon heart, which once destroyed will cause a game over.
Also unlike Dungeon Keeper is that you have a physical presence on the map. Deimos isn’t the strongest creature in the universe and you would do wise to avoid fighting more than a couple of heroes at a time; but he’s necessary for completing many of the puzzles and challenges on the map. See with no direct control over the monsters this is the only way you can make sure things get done properly. Deimos is upgradeable too, allowing the player to unlock spells and health points after completing levels or challenges. Also his stats are directly linked to your prestige points, so the better looking your dungeon is the more badass he will become.
Frankly the game is extremely simple and boring. There are only three types of rooms, and while traps and torture devices do unlock later in the game, it’s hardly enough to make you feel like you’re creating a massive impressive dungeon. You can’t directly control anything other than the Dungeon Lord; meaning you’ll just be staring at the screen for long periods of time. And you will be doing that a lot, the start of each level is a bit hit and miss but after you’ve built up your dungeon all you can do is really wait for your gold and soul energy to rise. You need a lot of soul energy and heroes take ages to build up their soul energy and then drain it from them. The last third of the game has prestige gimmicks that require 1500 soul energy but only provide 35 prestige points and I had to get 800 prestige points before I could carry on.
What’s more annoying is that levels often have hidden objectives that if failed means game over. One mission I was tasked with stopping gold shipments from passing through, stop eight from passing through win the game. Only thing is the game neglected to tell me that if four shipments made it through, instant game over. Maybe if I had been informed of this information I would have focused more on stopping them, rather than building up my dungeon. The game also loves to throw in escort missions with units that are designed to attack any enemy they see. One mission saw me have to build up prestige points, fight my way to the heart of an enemy stronghold and defeat four wizards all while my ally “helped” me fight them, only he doesn’t have regenerative health and insists on accompanying me to the fight.
The game has some high notes; the general premise is interesting enough and the humour of the game is… well it tries to be funny I’ll give it that. But when you get down to it, the game is two parts uninspired dungeon management and one part hack and slash, or rather click and watch your Dungeon Lord hack and slash. It’s just dull, tedious and frustrating. Go to Good Old Games and relive (or discover) a classic; download the original two Dungeon Keeper games instead of playing this not cheap imitation knockoff.