The Good: More maps, more monsters, more gimmicks. Some limited multiplayer. The Bad: But still the same lifeless gameplay The Ugly: Repetitious, grinding gameplay
Right after reviewing Dungeons I deleted the game off my hard drive. That’s actually a pretty rare event, believe it or not. Many games, after reviewing them, after playing through the whole single player campaign, there remains sandbox or multiplayer modes that still interest me, or DLCs enhance the gameplay later and give me something new to do. Unless I’m running low on hard drive space, it’s the rare, entirely awful game that actually hits the recycling bin. So it should tell you something that I deleted Dungeons after the review was handed in. Every so often after I deleted it the Steam homepage would try and entice me back in with notices of new maps or gameplay elements (and somewhat inexplicably notices about how I could buy Dungeons on sale this weekend for only $10, or 50% off, or some other deal – and how hard would it be for Steam to keep track of what games I own and keep offers to buy it again off my news page?), but even for free extra gameplay Dungeons wasn’t worth my time. The game was too repetitious and there was too much grind, not enough fun. So now I have in front of me a standalone expansion pack to Dungeon called Dungeon: The Dark Lord (D:TDL), and has anyone over at Kalypso/Realmforge Studios read my review of Dungeons or learned from their past mistakes? The answer is for the most part no. In fact, so much of Dungeons remains the same in D:TDL that I can easily get away with plagiarizing large pieces of my own previous review for this one, and so I am:
“Dungeons (The Dark Lord) is about making a dungeon that the heroes will enjoy. They have different things they want in your dungeon – some want gold, some want to fight creatures, some want books, etc – and you can see that from icons that hover over their heads or you can click on them and read about their needs in a popup window. When they enjoy your dungeon their soul energy increases, your goal being to capture them when their soul is at, um, its souliest, and harvest it. Soul energy (together with gold, which can be mined or is dropped by captured heroes) is used to improve your dungeon with “gimmicks” (awful name) or traps or room improvements. The first major problem is that, beyond the sort of Sims-like activity of gimmicking out your dungeon just so (if that even appeals to you and you don’t just fill your dungeon with two hundred creepy candelabras like I did), once you find an architecture of a dungeon that works and you stick with it, making the dungeon construction activity very redundant. Secondly, the heroes don’t always, or even usually, seem to follow their own desires. A guy standing in a roomful of gold, with a desire for gold, will kind of wander off. And this wandering off wouldn’t be a big problem if heroes who were unhappy didn’t take it out on your dungeon’s heart, which, as in Dungeon Keeper, is the key to your survival. Oh, oh, and here’s another problem – everything seems to take a very long time, from getting your imps to dig out the rooms to waiting for heroes to come through the gate – the whole game is stuck on slow, though when things go to hell you suddenly find that you can’t click fast enough.”
The game has undergone minor (and I stress MINOR) improvements. The tutorials are more useful now, so if you somehow found yourself enticed by the stellar reviews for Dungeon (metacritic says they’re at net 67%) and decided to dive in with the expansion pack instead of the original, you’re no longer going to have to resort to youtube to figure out the gameplay as I did. Also, they’ve given you what essentially amounts to a spreadsheet button to organize and keep track of heroes in your dungeon which used to be an affair involving a lot of scanning around the screen to locate them and get a reading on their status. There are also a couple of multiplayer modes (multiplayer was absent from the original game), but they’re not all that much fun, the gameplay has a peculiar plodding feeling to it, and I tired of them pretty quickly. I also had a devil of a time finding other people to play them with.
There must be a great deal of creativity at Realmforge Studios (as well as some absolutely obsessive fans of LOTR). The plotline of the first game in which you play a guy thrown out of his dungeon by his girlfriend and you have to fight your way back to your throne, is now followed naturally by this one in which you play as the girlfriend who is trying to control your evil egomaniacal ex-boyfriend. It’s funny, and well written, and the dialog inspires a number of chuckles, and you get the opportunity to revisit and recruit other dungeon lords from the first campaign and some of those were pretty interesting characters. On the other hand I remain baffled by a game that just isn’t fun to play. Surely someone at Realmforge must be sitting at a machine playing Dungeons and going “I’m winning, and I’m doing all the things that the game allows me to do, but I’m not really enjoying it.” The game is a sham, an activity involving some bizarre combination of The Sims and a rudimentary strategy game mixed into a brew that makes D:TDL feel more like organizing your grandmother’s spoon collection (and who among us hasn’t done that?) than playing a videogame.
D:TDL is, by an itsy bitsy margin, better than Dungeons (perhaps if that trend continues in six or seven sequels it will approach marginal), but the gameplay which was the biggest weakness of Dungeons remains essentially unchanged. The underlying mechanics of the game are too pat; as a strategy game it fails because once you have found an effective approach to winning the game become a step by step affair, and not a very enjoyable one, and it shamelessly plays on memories of the entirely more enjoyable Dungeon Keeper while living up to none of that heritage. If Kalypso still has some room on the box front and are looking for a quote from me, they can feel free to put the word “Drudgery” on there in big red letters. Ouch.