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Dungeons Preview

Dungeons Preview

Publisher: Kalypso Media
Platform: PC Exclusive
Release Date: Q1 2011

"You know Dungeon Keeper, right?" one of the developers says to me as I sit down and dredge out my notebook, behind him a computer running Dungeons. I nod, tell him I thought it was a great game, admit that I never finished it and try to find a blank page to scribble on.

"Ok," he says, "Well, this is nothing like that." Somehow, I think that he's lying, since the game in front of me looks almost exactly like Bullfrog's seminal evil-sim. It's got the same viewpoint, the same colour scheme and the sounds hint at the same sense of humour. You are a dungeon lord, who's goal it is to defeat Heroes and amass an army of monsters. I ask my guide if the cursor is the same floating hand as seen in Dungeon Keeper and if you can slap your minions. He blushes and gives a quiet no, but I can tell the idea might have crossed their minds.

As time goes on and you start to understand Dungeons more though, it becomes obvious that it's not actually all that close to Dungeon Keeper in anything but setting and tone. Functionally it's actually closer to Theme Park in many ways, odd though that may sound.

Dungeons Preview Dungeons Preview
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The key difference is that the Heroes who come stomping into your eponymous dungeons aren't actually your enemies, not really. They're much closer to customers; each of them having a series of needs which is represented by icons above their heads. Each type of hero has different priorities and standards – Wizards want to raid your library for arcane knowledge, novice Adventurers want to bop a few kobolds, Thieves want to plunder your treasury and so on. Satisfying these wants by building the right dungeon and army will make the heroes happy.

It's at that point that you come along, slap them silly and feast off their happiness – their Soul Energy. Defeating them in combat only nets you a small portion of their joy though, because naturally defeating a foe is only a fleeting joy to a mighty dungeon lord. To get any real reward out of the fallen heroes you need to build a prison and torture chamber; then you can really rip the twinkle out of their ice-blue eyes, with barbed wire and hot coals.

Dungeons manages to take this simple twist and turn it into a brilliant balancing act, where you end up needing heroes to invade your territory and plunder your dungeon in order to progress – though at the same time you want to stop them from getting too far. Disgruntled or unmonitored goodies will head straight for your Dungeon Heart, collapsing your reign like a weetabix house in a thunderstorm.

Dungeons Preview Dungeons Preview
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Thankfully, you can engage in combat directly – one of the biggest differences between Dungeons and Dungeon Keeper is that you have a body of your own, instead of having to possess others. Your avatar is a mighty, scythe-wielding beastie with a host of upgradable abilities and special powers that make him ideally suited to battling heroes and rival evil-doers. To improve your skills you'll need to earn Prestige, which is mainly achieved through customising your dungeon and doing Evil Things.

Despite all the promise though, it's already clear that Dungeons doesn't measure up to the standards of the games it's compared to. This may be a spiritual successor to the likes of Dungeon Keeper and Theme Park, but it doesn't look like it'll better either. It feels just a bit too ropey and low-budget, without any of that crucial humour or character that Bullfrog was so good at mixing in.

Then again though, Bullfrog has long since been extinct and Kalypso's few subtle twists on the bones they left behind could still amount to something really interesting. It's an underdog, sure – but one we'll be rooting for in the months to come.

Dungeons is being developed by Realmforge and will be published by Kalypso. It is set for a Q1 2011 release date.

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