Dungeons. PC Game Review. Publisher: Kalypso Media Group. Developer: Realmforge Studio.$34.99
Passed Inspection: More than enough strategy and humor to be enjoyable. Very good graphics and sound.
Failed Basic: Pacing is often rough. Some annoying elements break into gameplay.
The work of a dungeon master is often a painstaking affair. It’s no easy task to entice heroes into your dungeons with the promise of adventure, fame, and fortune, when what you really want to do is kill them in the most bloody, gruesome ways you can think of.
No, I’m not talking about any Dungeons & Dragons game here. I’m instead referring to the Dungeons PC game, which involves many of the same gameplay aspects well known to D&D dungeon masters, with the possible exception of having an ex-girlfriend.
Dungeons puts gamers in the role of Dungeon Lord, who has recently been de-throned by his now ex-girlfriend Calypso. If you played the excellent Dungeon Keeper series of the late 1990s, then you’re familiar with how Dungeons plays. However, Dungeons doesn’t want you to simply kill, maim, and torture the heroes in your dungeon. Rather, you are forced to sugar coat your work to create a dungeon that will play to the wants and desires of each hero. The longer a hero stays in your dungeon, the more soul energy they build up. Once they have reached their capacity of soul energy, it’s time to strike them down and throw them into prison, where their soul energy is slowly drained for your use.
Dungeons has a plenty of tools (called gimmicks) available for stocking your dungeons to the satisfaction of heroes, everything from a pile of skulls to heaps of gold, sinister wall hangings to cases filled with books of lore. As heroes wander through a dungeon, their attention is drawn to these gimmicks depending on their own interests, thereby increasing their soul energy.
Harvesting this soul energy is used in part to keep your dungeon stocked with the best trinkets, treasures, and traps, which in turn keeps building your dungeons’ prestige score. A high prestige score will attract a higher quality of hero, who desires more and better satisfaction, and the cycle continues.
Of course, no dungeon would be complete without a host of vile creatures to keep heroes on their toes. As Dungeon Lord, you have plenty of minions to command, almost twenty monster types in all, who can level up to stay on par with the tougher heroes. Monsters also hold a strategic element, in that their summoning pentagrams help expand your area of control over the surrounding lair.
As Dungeon Lord, thankfully you get to do more than just sit on your throne while your minions get to have all the fun. Dungeons throws in some nice RPG elements by way of improvable attributes (strength, dexterity, etc), and through earning skill points to spend on learning and improving active and passive skills. Many of these skills come in the form of spells that increase your attack power, improve your defense, or allow you to blast heroes with magic missiles, flame, and poison. Such abilities allow you to move about your dungeon with relative ease, but really come in handy for protecting your dungeon’s heart from attacking heroes. If it gets destroyed, you lose.
Alas, not everything is perfect in the deep, dark places of Dungeons. The Zombie King has it in for you, and he often drops in demanding a portion of your hard-earned gold or soul energy at the worst times, and these cut-scenes bring gameplay to a screeching, and often long, halt. During one mission, his presence stops play with a cut-scene every few minutes with a demand for gold, and when you pay your tribute, another cut-scene halts play. This happens over and over throughout the mission. Hitting the space bar stops the cut-scenes, but they are a nuisance nonetheless.
Another contentious item involves the pacing of gameplay, which I found to be rather jerky at times. At the start, some missions do a good job of tutoring you in the ways of being a dungeon lord, but also have instances where the gameplay seems to instantly shift into expert mode, when you’ve not had near enough practice with a new element to get it as perfect as required to succeed in the mission. Just remember to quick save often.
Placing gimmicks does get to be somewhat dull in later missions despite the total number available. For my own part, I would love to see Dungeons make themes available, as in grouping certain gimmicks together to form an all undead lair, or blood and guts, or all traps, and getting bonus points for doing so.
Much like the Dungeon Keeper series did, Dungeons turns the tired dungeon crawl on its head and throws in a good bit of humor to make it even more fun. If you’re also a D&D Dungeon Master, Dungeons makes for a very good training game for helping with understanding on how to build a more enticing dungeon. And on its own, Dungeons is simply a very good way to connect you with your diabolical alter-ego and give those heroes a taste of their own medicine.
Armchair General Rating: 85%
About the Author
Jim H. Moreno dropped his first quarter into a video game back in 1977, and has been avidly gaming ever since. He joined up with Armchair General just before the website went live as a game reviewer, and remains a regular contributor of war, combat, and strategy articles. He’s also written for PC Gamer, The Wargamer, The WarCry Network, The Instance Podcast blog, Epinions, Demand Studios, and Examiner.com. When he’s not writing or gaming, he’s usually catching some sci fi shows, or just being zen with family, friends, or his cat, Spritzer.