Before we start, let's make one thing absolutely clear about Dungeons: If you're hoping for another Dungeon Keeper, then you're going to be disappointed. Dungeons is not that game. Oh sure, visually it's got Bullfrog written all over it, and there are more than a few homages to the classic evil-em-up thrown in here. When it comes to gameplay, however, Dungeons is not what you're hoping for.
With that out of the way, we can now celebrate what Dungeonsis - a ruddy brilliant twist on the tower defense genre. Bet you didn't see that coming, huh? When those heroes come charging through the gates and into your hellish dungeons, you actually want them to kill your demons and steal your treasure, albeit in a controlled environment.
Replace wererats' eyes with lightbulbs - check!
The gameplay is fresh and clever, and with the perfect balance of strategy and simplicity. Contest-wise it's screaming for a multiplayer mode, and there are perhaps one too many bugs and glitches during play, but this is still an experience that will feel so oddly familiar, yet wonderfully different at the same time.
So here's a tip - if you're going to be an evil Lord of the Underworld, don't choose a psychotic crazy woman as your lover, no matter how big her boobies may be. This particular Lord is overthrown by his lady friend, and cast out along with his sidekick minion. The duo have nothing left to do besides start from scratch, reclaiming dungeons throughout the land.
Straight away the comparisons to Dungeon Keeper can be made. On each level you must protect your dungeon heart from good heroes; goblins (read: imps) mine away at any walls you highlight, creating rooms and corridors; nasty creatures join your cause, ready to give their lives for you; even the overmap is familiar, with the sinister voice of your sidekick reading the name of the town and the explanation as to why you should hate the inhabitants.
Realmforge Studios knows what it's doing. Gamers have been longing for a proper sequel to Dungeon Keeper for just over ten years now, hence Realmforge has purposely modelled screenshots, videos and pretty much anything it can get away with on the classic game in the hope of snaring a huge audience. Dungeons is not Dungeon Keeper - but it is brilliant, just in a different way.
Heroes begin spawning through various gates around the level, and rather than cut them down quickly, you are tasked with building a dungeon that they will enjoy! Placing down interesting scenery for them, with huge piles of gold to steal from, libraries to enrich their minds and armouries to get kitted out in. You're essentially creating the perfect environment for them.
Not only that, but when you invite evil creatures to live in your dungeon, you're actually using them as bait. Heroes have needs and desires, and you want to make them as happy as possible. Some heroes like to kill things, and so you offer them wererats, skeletons and vampire bats to lash out at. There is no training room for your creatures, or casino, or anything else fancy - they are here to die and nothing more.
Once the heroes have reached their maximum enjoyment levels, that's when you strike. Taking control of your Dungeon Lord - you can't, in fact, ever stop being in control of him - you approach the heroes when they are the happiness, and steal their smiles away in the form of Soul Energy. This is used to expand your dungeon, beefing up the stats and adding even more fancy things for the heroes to enjoy.
Once a hero is completely happy, he may do one of two things - turn around and leave, or attack your dungeon heart. This is where the tower defence element begins to rear its head. By making the route from the hero gates to the dungeon heart as long as possible, with gold and goodies (i.e. towers) all along the way, you control the path the heroes take, and can strategically work out when to cut them down.
A good thing?! Next you'll be telling me you're glad there was no Theme Hospital 2!
It's so simple, yet so entertaining. You've got three values to keep balance over - your 'prestige' (how well known you are), your Soul Energy and your gold, and wringing the necks of those good guys at just the right moment is the key to total victory.
Admittedly, Dungeons feels a little slow-going at first, but gradually you come to realise that the game is implementing the 'learn by doing it' method of teaching. As heroes enter the dungeon, there's such a terrible urge to rush your Lord forward and kill them all instantly, but when you find that the Soul Energy isn't rolling in, it all clicks into place. This is a game about patience and forward-planning, and the rewards for your well-crafted corridors feel well deserved.
There are a number of RPG elements thrown in to keep the stat-lovers happy. Each level has a plethora of challenges to complete - things like 'get 1000 gold' and 'kill 30 heroes' - and whenever you accomplish a milestone, you're rewarded with scrolls or character points, both of which will make the battling much easier. Your hero has Magic Points and a whole row of spells to utilize.
Once you've gotten a little tired with killing heroes over and over, opposing Dungeon Lords are introduced. On these levels, you still need to worry about heroes reaching your heart, but also about expanding out and destroying the enemy demons. Only by taking the opponent's 'Pentagrams' and crushing his heart will the land truly be yours.
Dungeons is not without its faults, mind you. Since you're constantly in control of your Dungeon Lord, it's rather easy to accidentally right click and move him to the exact place you didn't want him. Strategy games have taught us that right-click is used to cancel out of menus - but not in Dungeons. Right-click while in a menu, and the Dungeon Lord will still head over to see what the fuss is about.
The game also begins to run out of content around the mid-way point. After only half a dozen missions, you'll already have seen everything Dungeons has to offer, and from then on it simply repeats the same ideas, structures and missions but with slightly harder difficulties. Still, you'll play for a good six or seven hours before the twinge of repetition will appear.
This could have been diluted with a decent, competitive multiplayer mode... and quite why none is supplied is beyond us. The Lord vs Lord action appears perfect for online romps, and we're keeping our fingers crossed for an update sometime in the near future that will patch it in.
And next on the catwalk we have Mr. Lord, sporting a rather fetching demon thong
Our final and most glaring issue with Dungeons is its general stability. On numerous occasions, we encountered bugs that broke the immersion, and even a couple of instances for which we had to kill the game's process and restart the entire thing. Cutscenes not loading properly; strange problems with the shadowing effects; Character models going through walls and the like. Dungeons is not a pretty game, but then again, you are in the depths of evil.
Don’t let any of this put you off though, as you’ll be seriously missing out on something special. Dungeons is not what we were expecting, and that’s completely fine with us. With clever and enjoyable gameplay that turns the tower defense genre on its head, this one is a real keeper.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Discovering the different creatures that are available.