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Impressions: Dungeons

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So I guess I’ve written that this is a Dungeon Keeper clone in a whole bunch of places over the last few months.

Whoops.

Quite clearly, Dungeons is so heavily inspired by my beloved monster management sim as to essentially be wearing an “I Heart DK” cap and matching t-shirt at all times. But instead of slavishly recreating it, what it’s done is take the concept and apply whole new mechanics. That, in itself, is remarkable. Why don’t more game tributes/remakes/sequels do that? All of the fan lure, less of the cynicism, more self-pride in the act of creation. Dungeons does this while still remaining a Dungeon Keeper game – as opposed to (oh dear) XCOM reducing concepts to abstracts and thus pissing off a whole mess of people, regardless of how good it might turn out to be. Dungeons is still building and strategy in a beast-filled fantasy underworld, but it’s the other side of the mirror.

Creatures aren’t attracted and raised, so much as bought and installed – camping out in key locations like respawning turrets. There’s a tower defence undertone to Dungeons, which is essentially all about allocating resources as efficiently as possible. Put your good stuff here, place diversions and blockades there. Monsters aren’t directly controllable for the most part, and are designed to be regularly-murdered fodder.

The difference from both Dungeon Keeper and tower defence tradition is that the invaders (‘Heroes’) are not fodder. They’re your key resource. They’ll enter your dungeon at regular intervals from fixed gates, and your task boils down to directing them around your lair, ensuring they encounter very specific obstacles and temptations. Killing a hero is useless; you have to satisfy them first, because only then will they release the ‘soul energy’ resource that’s absolutely vital to blingifying your underkingdom.

Some heroes want gold. Some heroes want to cram their heads with knowledge from your library. Some heroes want to get the living shit kicked out of them by monsters. Weak-minded fools, the lot of ’em, but you need to cater for all manner of freaks.

I’m only about six levels in so far, and to be honest it can get quite tough at times. It’s exceptionally clever once you get past the oft-cumbersome interface, but it’s also incredibly exacting as the threat level rises. I’ve not been able to indulge myself by creating the dungeon I want to create, but instead must create a near-mathematical trap network. It’s not square peg/square hole, but a break in the supply chain can lead to devastation. Again, it’s that tower defence construct- the invaders gradually increasing in strength and numbers, and if you haven’t spent your money wisely they’ll breakthrough your major chokepoints to lay waste to the exposed base/Dungeon Heart beyond. My Pet Dungeon this really isn’t.

What you’re juggling, at all times, is Prestige (earned by decorating your dungeon with incidental items such as chairs made of bone and creepy candlesticks), the aforementioned Soul Energy, and good old Gold. This latter’s obtained in the age-old DK fashion of sending imps mining, though it’s obtained a little more ambiently and tends to be the least essential resource. With this trio of stats, you buy spells, upgrades, rooms, and portals – the monster-spawning turrets. All of these work in tandem to lure heroes around the place in a manner of your strategising, and to then dispatch these heroes at the right moment. It’s meticulously thought out, but man oh man it’s hard work at times.

I’m impressed by its depth and complexity on an intellectual level, but so far it’s not entirely worked on an emotional level – I’m uncharmed by the listlessly fussy character design, I don’t feel attached to the sprawling lairs I’ve made and I definitely don’t like the poorly-translated humour. I’d almost rather Dungeons was pulled away from its pantomime-dark Dungeon Keeperiness and put into something more like a bright, 2D tower defence game that pushes its clever mechanics front and centre instead of subsuming them into this strange tribute.

But I shall push on, because I know full well greater layers of complexity, of monsters and heroes and spells and rooms await me. For now, I will carefully suggest you should take a look at what’s a hugely ambitious and oh-so-PC game, not make the mistake I did – writing it off as some cheap rip-off. Granted, they haven’t exactly gone out their way to discourage people from presuming that, so discovering just how profoundly different it is a satisfying surprise.

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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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