Publisher:Kalypso Platform:PC exclusive UK Price (as reviewed):£23.99 US Price (as reviewed):$39.99
Dungeons is a spiritual sequel to Bullfrog’s 90s PC classic Dungeon Keeper, so we can just say 'if you’re a fan of that, play this' and end the review here, right? Fortunately not, if only because that would make a very boring review. Instead, Dungeons is a testament to the rule that Activision never seems to understand: it’s the developer that makes a game great, not how it looks or what it’s called.
Realmforge has tried hard to recreate Dungeon Keeper with its own spin, which is admirable as EA clearly isn't interested in continuing or even re-releasing the series, but Realmforge is definitely no Bullfrog (pre- or post-Molyneux).
Let’s go for the jugular on the worst part about Dungeons: it gets extremely hard very quickly, while the player’s still getting used to the game. This isn’t Super Meat Boy hard, where you know exactly what to do and it’s just a matter of doing it. We have absolutely no idea how to do the third level of Dungeons on Normal, let alone Hard. The difficulty curve is like driving down a pleasant road before crashing headlong into a wall that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Kill heroes, but make sure they die happy
Like Dungeon Keeper, Dungeons is a sim/management game in which the player is an evil overlord in a D&D-style fantasy environment. You’re tasked with creating a perfect underground base while fending off good hero types and the forces of opposing dungeon masters. While similarities to Keeper are plentiful – for example you lose if your Dungeon Heart, which Realmforge didn’t even bother to rename, is destroyed, – the big difference is that heroes are actually the main resource.
Well, technically speaking there are two resources, gold and soul energy, but both are obtained primarily from inviting, satisfying and finally killing or capturing heroes. Heroes enjoy different aspects of dungeon crawling. Some like looting, while others thrive on avoiding traps or beating up baddies. Your goal is to attract the heroes, make them happy by satisfying these criteria, then killing them at their peak to extract their soul energy. There are various objectives in each level, but this is what you’ll primarily be doing.
Disappointingly, there are only three room-types to build: libraries and armouries to satisfy heroes, and prisons to wring the energy out of them. That’s it, which compared to the vast amount present in basically every management game is pretty pathetic. That’s not simple, it’s just boring.
Yeah, we played on Easy, but we had to!
There are only a few varieties of monster to command per stage too, and most have to be unlocked by finding their living areas somewhere on the map. Once you've found them, you can build pentagrams that act as spawn points for specific monsters, and then they just stand by and wait for heroes to come along. There’s no way to command your minions, barring the non-combative builder/collector goblins that can only be ordered to dig somewhere. Your Dungeon Lord avatar is the only one you can control directly, which means he ends up having to do everything.
This is a slightly odd decision, especially combined with the similarly ridiculous way you can only expand your area of influence by building monster pentagrams. This means that pentagrams, which are finite, usually just get built on the very edges of your territory rather than where monsters might actually be needed. Considering how few things you actually get to build in Dungeons this is a real annoyance.