I am a Mage, Ex-PC Zone writer and current Continue magazine editor Paul Presley is a Warrior, and Paul Dean of Sit Down & Shut Up is another Mage. He should have selected the Rogue: despite Dungeonland‘s cute set-up, a theme-park set, co-operative action RPG, it’s a harsh game that needs the three corners of the set-up to work, but an errant button press launched our ill-formed group before he could rectify it. We stand shoulder to shoulder, a group of brave standy adventurers until a PR lady comes along and organises seating, and then we sit down to face the giant worms, the not so menacing but explosive frogs, and rest of the dungeon master’s menagerie. It doesn’t go well.
Dungeonland is designed to be hard in the way that Left 4 Dead is: you have to play with a talkative team of well-balanced players that stick together, or you’ll be swamped by the randomly spawned AI. It plays like a simplified Magicka in some respects: we have powers that the other players can combine theirs with, so my defensive firewall can be used by the Rouge to boost his ranged weapon, but the attack customisations are done by swapping out powers in the load-out screen, not on the fly. It was the team balance issue that undermined our first playthrough: the Mage is the healer, and we had two and a Warrior.
Our Warrior was rampaging through the arena, a brightly coloured entrance to a theme park, with two Mages healing him. Even as he pushed on ahead of us, it wasn’t enough to keep the rest of the enemies from swarming us. So we died first: our offensive spamming, throwing a weak bolt of magic from our wands means we’re unable to deal a lot of damage. We were killed by tiny wizards and watched the Warrior bravely attempt to revive is us before some sort of purple dinosaur thing killed him
Tiny Wizards. The embarrassment was enough for us to determinedly return to the fight. With the knowledge that the game is balanced for three classes, that the developers consider each of us working together as a whole player, we swapped Paul the Mage over to the Rogue and tried again.
It definitely works better that way. Each class has a special power: the Rogue has a one-hit kill, the Warrior can lay down a protective wall, and the Mage has a ‘Ray of Awesome’ that makes the nearest player invulnerable. With more time to see what’s going on, we crash into the level and notice that the purple worm sticking out the ground is actually spawning enemies: I dropped a firewall down and Rogue Paul tosses his blades through it to score some extra damage on the worm. Warrior Paul barrells through the group of tiny wizards, beating them away and launching into the worm’s body.
This is better. It’s not easy, but the teamwork helps. The levels aren’t static: there are pick-ups, including actual barrels you can grab and toss at the enemies, health can be grabbed from sheep, so whenever we see one there’s a dash to see who can get to it first, but that’s just for show: health pick-ups are shared between the players.
The level is set out like the entrance to a theme park, a brightly coloured road leading us on. Because the spawns are randomly generated, we’re reacting to things like giant chickens blorping towards us. The strongest unit is me healing Warrior Paul with Rogue Paul dancing around close by, picking off anything that the Warrior has missed in his meaty fist swings. Those brief moments of synergy reveal the fun in Dungeonland: it’s not a game about individual acts of heroism, in fact there’s a lot of running away if you get split from the group. Even together, there’s a chance that the spawning will run rampage, dropping a Mind Flayer, a Cthulhu-ish mini-boss that can take control of a player, just as you’re about to trip a checkpoint and forcing you back through the level.
That should be hateful, and that or something similar left us trying to stay alive to resuscitate each other on more than one occasion, but more often than not it was just funny. A sort of gallows humour pervades: you know you’ll die, you know you’ll be a liability, but everyone has it tough and you’ll drop multiple times no matter what. It’s only hateful if someone’s died stupidly walking into a boss without any backup.
Which I now regret doing.
The nature of the game, and the time constraints, meant we only spent a short time marauding through the opening two sections of one level. We never made it to the promised ending on a ride, fighting the rain of frogs. It was all about the journey in that case. It’s a fun game, although it’s a bit throwaway. I don’t think it’ll make the mark that Magicka did, if you have friends looking for a co-operative action game, for four people (we weren’t shown it, but the fourth person can take the role of the dungeon master, playing a tower defense style game), there’s definitely some value in it.