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A Day In The Dungeons Of Mount Paradox

Totally Underground

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Recently, Paradox descended upon San Francisco with fire and sword, and – in the process – trapped me inside an honest-to-goodness dungeon. Admittedly, it looked a lot like a quaint yet upscale bar/music venue, but I knew the score: each and every journalist there was tethered to a row of diabolical calculation machines, and the loudspeakers crushed our spirits by first blaring Iron Maiden – the music of revolution – and then quickly giving way to Bon Jovi. Eventually, with patience and planning, I escaped. But by then, six hours had passed, and I was a different man. While there, however, I composed a series of letters, unsure if I’d ever see the light of day again.

07/28/12, 11:25 AM. “A bit like Dungeon Keeper meets Dwarf Fortress.”

Hello, everyone. I write to you on an especially frail and tattered piece of Internet parchment, cold and running low on complimentary coffee. I must admit, things are looking pretty dire. Happily, however – after eons of painstaking labor – I’ve made my way up the dungeon’s pecking order. I’m now in management! More specifically, I’m on dwarf duty, which folks around here call “A Game of Dwarves”. It is, however, no laughing matter – even if all of the item descriptions are hilarious and my vertically challenged minions pull out tiny tiny picket signs and go on strike whenever I haven’t fed them enough.

In truth, though, I’m not sure if this gig is for me. I mean, there’s plenty to do – rooms to expand, food supplies to manage, research to sift through, upgrades to unlock – but I’m having tremendous trouble figuring out how any of it, well, works. Item descriptions aren’t clear enough (Wait, so a fertilization stone doesn’t make fertile soil? Instead, they regrow my crops?), and I’m not entirely sure what exactly makes my dwarves’ happy/sad meter tick. Also, selecting dwarves and objects feels really clunky and slow – even if the actual menu system underlying it all is fairly simple.

I’m crossing my soil-and-luxurious-beard-hair-encrusted fingers, though, that things start looking up. For one, I came across a (currently empty) quest log that seems to suggest some objectives might be able to better show me the ropes in the future. Also, both tunneling deeper or heading topside will apparently yield a pleasant mix of murderous beasties and intrigue, so I’m looking forward to delving deeper (or upward – whichever) into Game of Dwarves’ military aspect. Unfortunately, my Paradox overlords are whisking me away now – uttering something about “imps” from what I can understand of the dark and mysterious tongues in which they speak – so I guess I’ll have to cut this one short.

07/28/12, 11:45 AM. “A bit like Dungeon Keeper meets Overlord.”

I got promoted! Apparently, I did such an adequate job with the dungeon dwarves that they’ve decided to bump me up to Impirical Imp Ire Imperfection Impressions Impcorporated – or “Impire” for short. I manage imps now, I guess, is what I’m saying. And I have to say, this is much more my speed. My overseer wizard references heavy metal songs every other sentence for no apparent reason, and – aside from, er, that – everything just sort of makes sense. A contextual radial menu makes sure all the proper imp classes (workers, berserkers, priests, rogues, etc) end up in their proper places.

Also, while dwarves are content to take their time and eat rocks and throw axes or throw rocks and eat axes or whatever it is they do underground, imps take impnitiative don’t keep to their dungeons for long. After some brief hand-holding – during which I learned how to tunnel, build mushroom farms, spawning pits, etc, and call down lightning on my enemies – I rounded up a small squad and set out to exact vengeance on one of my overseer’s rival wizards. At the head of my merry band of murderous non-men was an upgradeable demon trapped in the body of an imp. His fire spells certainly packed a punch, but adding wings buffed his stats. Apparently, it’ll only be a matter of time before he evolves into a hulking monstrosity more than capable of dwarfing an imp. Or a dwarf. Or The Hulk.

Unfortunately, squad commands are still in pretty rough shape, with organization and formation requiring a clunky menu of their own, while more complex maneuvers and techniques are currently out of the question altogether. Time, however, will almost certainly see this area improve, as my Paradox overlords hissed and spat out approximations of words like “pre-pre-alpha,” “inspired by Dawn of War,” and “Yes, we’ll have hotkeys.” And that’s good to hear, because I also got to go raid someone’s barn on the surface and defend my own dungeon against a pesky hero who didn’t immediately succumb to my stampeding army of grinning death. In other words, I’ll probably need more tools in the future.

Also encouraging: the prospect of dungeon vs dungeon multiplayer face-offs – and even friendly games of king of the hill. Because really, dungeons don’t have to be all doom and gloom. There’s room for fun, too! But only if you make space for it by casting off your precious few worldly possessions. Like pictures of your family. And food.

07/28/12, 1:30 PM. “A bit like Dungeon Keeper meets a theme park meets mwahahahaha poison clouds everywherrrrrrrre.”

Well, I’m sold. Subjugation’s the greatest – at least, when you’re at the top of the heap. I’ve now been put in charge of a theme park called “Dungeonland”, which is ostensibly Paradox’s attempt at showing families the lighter side of indefinite servitude. As the Dungeon Master, it’s my job to rain hordes of monsters, bosses, exploding treasure chests, spells, and landmines on on three human-controlled heroes’ parades. I can also take control of monsters and do some of the dirty work myself. The end result? Good, good, yessssssssss. Ahem.

It is pretty great, though. At one point, I managed to corner all three heroes at the back of one of Dungeonland’s candy-coated attractions. Low on health and overwhelmed by my minion army’s sheer size, they clearly didn’t have much left in them. They just needed one more itsy-bitsy push. So, of course, I emptied my super meter to summon an army twice the size of anything they’d seen yet and – when they tried to run – possessed a ninja rat creature to block their only exit with a highly damaging poison cloud. In other words, it struck the perfect balance between absurd power and strategic deviousness. The warrior-rogue-mage party didn’t even have a chance to test its meager mettle against my giant cow boss that could heal orcs with spritzes of milk [Note: some Dungeonland content not suitable for the aforementioned families. Or anyone, probably].

I must say, though, that being on the receiving end of it all isn’t so wonderful – and not just because it’s really, really hard to win. Mainly, heroes’ options seemed far more limited than the Dungeon Master’s, best resembling a stripped-down Diablo clone with a focus on ranged attacks. As a rogue, I could throw one knife, throw a bunch of knives, or – yep – throw a bomb. I was, however, assured that heroes will grow, level up, and gain more diverse arsenals with time, so that’s reassuring.

For now, though, I’m pretty sure being Dungeonland’s Dungeon Master is my calling. So I suppose dungeon life is for me after all. Looks like this is goodbye, then – forever.

07/28/12, 4:30 PM. “A bit like Dungeon Keeper meets an overwrought article concept.”

Oh hey, I’m free. Turns out, the door was open the entire time. Huh. I wonder if I can turn this harrowing experience into an article about videogames.

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Nathan Grayson

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