The only area in which you have a wide array of options is the Prestige-increasing Gimmicks. Higher Prestige gives you more building options, and supposedly makes your Dungeon Lord tougher. While it does make him taller (a very nice touch), your Sauron-worshipping overlord can still be killed by any bog-standard hero in any level.
This brings us back to difficulty. While it’s an original idea for your enemy to be your resource, in practice it also means that there always has to be a large amount of heroes wandering your dungeon. When heroes inevitably prove more than your Lord can handle, and monsters are being struck down as soon as they spawn, what are you supposed to do when the near-unstoppable Champions are thrown into the mix?
We found the only way we could finish any level was to knock it down to Easy and limp along with the tables permanently weighted in our favour. Surprisingly, Dungeons then became a lot more fun, despite the icon hovering on the UI mocking us for my difficulty setting. It was still a challenge, just a doable one.
As Dungeons progresses and you gain the ability to build traps, as well as enlist more powerful monsters and devise energy-sucking torture chambers, it becomes a little easier even on Normal and consequently more enjoyable. Nowhere is this more evident than the Custom Game sandbox mode, which dispenses with the distracting objectives and focuses just on dungeon building. Even with all the flaws still present, we still lost the better part of a day just to this sandbox.
This does not excuse the utterly unbalanced Campaign, though. Spamming you with unbeatable heroes and occasionally impossible timed objectives with hideous failure penalties is not good game design. Furthermore, unlike the colourful Dungeon Keeper, Dungeons is bland to behold, with a simple ‘realistic’ look which basically means 'brown.'
That can't be comfortable
Might we just air a little gripe about one particular monster too? Now I’m not a D&D fan, but even I know what a Beholder looks like – one big eye, floating, slavering jaws, loads of little eyes on tentacles. It really winds us up that Dungeons calls a creature as a Beholder, despite the fact that it’s clearly just a ghost, with no real similarity to the namesake.
Once it gets going and actually gives you the abilities you need, Dungeons can be addictive and even fun, but you’ll most likely experience it best in the sandbox mode or on Easy difficulty. That a campaign can get so utterly unfair so quickly, combined with a variety of poor design decisions and a lack of aspects to actually manage (in a management game!) equals only one thing: Dungeons is no Dungeon Keeper. It’s also not as funny, despite the developer’s ‘best’ efforts.
There’s fun to be had in torturing and beating up good guys, but it often feels too much like pulling your own teeth to be worth the effort.