Have You Played… Dungeon Keeper 2?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I’d all but fallen out of PC gaming by the time Dungeon Keeper 2 arrived, but a combination of my student house increasingly preferring electronic entertainment (primarily Tekken) over nightclubs and the news that one of my most beloved games was getting a sequel prompted me to request a graphics card for my birthday. And lo, I got to play DK2 with rudimentary 3D acceleration. I believed it to be beautiful.

In fact it now looks, if anything, worse than DK1, as early 3D tends to age more than 2D does, while some of the character art decisions were highly unwise and seem problematic today. It didn’t have the same personality either, perhaps because the murkier outlines of DK1 let more imagination flow to emphasise the lonely mining of the imps or the terrified Wilhelm screams of a Warlock dropped from a great height.

Most of all, it lacks the freshness that we’d come to expect of Bullfrog at that time, feeling like a straight retread rather than attempting anything wild. But I still feel so very warm towards it. It was comforting to go back to something I knew, with technological improvements and new levels to ‘solve’. And, at the end of it all, the My Pet Dungeon mode – a true sandbox, wherein I could build to my heart’s content, trigger fights only when I felt appropriately sadistic, and best of all burn away hours simply tinkering. A fine way to avoid work or loneliness.

It’s not the sequel Dungeon Keeper deserved, but I could never hate it.

43 Comments

  1. Didden says:

    This game was pure torture.

    • SomeDuder says:

      The only way to attract the Mistress, so it got that right.

  2. Haborym says:

    True, while it was more refined than the first game, it didn’t have quite as much charm as the first. I miss my dragons and demon spawn. Salamanders aren’t even close to as cool as those.

  3. Brosepholis says:

    ‘Problematic’ character designs: Mind explaining this one? Is the bile demon an example of fat-shaming or something?

    • blainestereo says:

      As a horned reaper-kin, I find Hornie’s reduced toothiness triggering.

    • ADamnYankee says:

      The problem with DK2 characters were they were boring compared to DK1. You lose varied units like spiders, beetles, hellhounds (so cute!) and dragons for more typical human-based units. Dark knights, thiefs, even dark angels, all looking same-y. One of the reasons DK2 didn’t have the same charm as the first.

      That said, I did play a skirmish game of DK2 last night because it’s still fun.

    • stringerdell says:

      I think he just means they were a bit shit compared to DK1 characters. I hope so anyway.

    • Turkey says:

      They were really hard to animate.

    • Archangel says:

      “Problematic” is RPS-speak for what is sometimes called “politically incorrect”. So he’s probably referring to sexist/racist/other-ist overtones. The sexy dominatrix on the cover art comes to mind.

      • stringerdell says:

        If youre really looking hard for stuff to get offended at, camp pc games from the late 90s are an ok place to start I guess.

        • The Laughing Owl says:

          Look pal, women will never stop being opressed until we devote all of humanity resources to make a time machine in order to go back to the past and prevent all those sexist games from being released. Spending money on health and education is part of the patriarchy, the most important goal of humanity is stopping sexist art from being released, and if you don’t agree, you are a MRA republican shitlord!

      • WarderDragon says:

        The Dark Mistress in game was suggestive but pretty tame. However, I distinctly remember that the ads for the game were really really crass and highly exploitative, if such a term can be used for a video game character. But, eh. The industry has come a long way since then, and the game itself is fantastic. I think I enjoyed it more than the original.

    • dskzero says:

      Came here to ask this. It’s a pretty irritating statement considering the tone of the game.

    • Distec says:

      It’s an empty, hollow criticism that doesn’t mean anything unless the author using it follows it up with an explanation of the actual problems. I’m a little irritated by the frequency in which it pops up at RPS without any further expounding.

  4. Jumpyshark says:

    I still dream of My Pet Dungeon mode in DK1 (and/or a bug-free, shiny remake!). DK2 disappointed me so much with the lack of Dragons and the step back with regard to how the Dark Mistresses were represented*, but the game still had it’s charms for sure. While it still had some personality and humour, it crucially lacked the inventive level design of DK1 in my opinion; the campaign and the Deeper Dungeons expansion had some fantastic ideas.

    *I still have a 1600 word essay I wrote exploring how Dark Mistresses were not only fantastic fighters (very overpowered, really, and they were underpaid!) but excellent researchers, workshoppers (traditionally masculine roles) and were easy to keep happy. Most importantly, they were never overly sexualised as their sexuality was presented on their terms, though the seemingly genderless torturers and lack of gratuitousness were probably due to graphics limitations rather than an enlightened attitude towards sexuality, but at least their DK1 costumes were no more sexualised than some superhero costumes.

  5. MadTinkerer says:

    DK2 was a worthy successor to DK1. Yeah, it had it’s odd omissions (I miss the dragons and adorable demon spawn as well), but the interface was better, the graphics were clearer, and it simply played (mostly) like a more polished version of DK1.

    Overall, I do think DK2 is the very slightly better game, but I am also super-glad that I don’t have to choose between them.

  6. wraithgr says:

    Definitely not the sequel DK1 deserved. I still have vivid memories of reading magazine articles about DK1, let alone about playing the actual game… One of my all-time favourites, for sure.
    I bounced off DK2 so hard. The graphics were at exactly that point where 3d was a step down from 2d in every respect. The game had no soul, or at least that is what it felt like. Just an uglier, less funny DK. Instead, I replayed DK1… Even now, I’ve never finished it. Need to get back to it again…

    • Orful Biggun says:

      Never?! Egad. You must rectify this at once! Classic games like this don’t come along often. If ever again, because I agree with those here who found DK2 “better” in some interface and other small graphical ways … more often than not, DK2 just didn’t have the same soul that DK did.

      Dat DK intro, tho! Probably one of the best PC Game intros of all time. I’d vote for it.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Meh DK2 is a slightly better game honestly if you just ignore the graphics age.

    • El_Emmental says:

      Exactly! DK1 was a gloomy dungeon filled with mysterious creatures making all kind of sounds, grunts and moans, corridors made of dancing shadows cast on the walls by torches and all kind of magical spells. Dark humour was all over the place, while combat was a real feast of chaos made of explosions, roars and precious bodily fluids flying everywhere.

      DK2 was… a typical “video game” interpretation of DK1. Oh it had better UI. But the art style of DK1 wasn’t there: having more humour than darkness, it was a “game”. Rather than digging deeper into “evil”, it went the funny way out by focusing on lesser evils (gambling & all).

      Combats in DK1 were a combination of training the right monsters, setting up traps & arena rooms, controlling a creature to lead the others (using a specific room for that), but also mainly about violently throwing your creatures into a battle and trying to heal them (or rescue them) in the middle of this mayhem. Rather than playing out like a typical TPS RPG, with healers, tanks and damage dealers, it was pretty much like a joyful medieval melee made of confusion and panic. Low morale or lack of loyalty could keep a monster away from the front line (only timidly contributing, or plain leaving the combats), so you also had to manually bring food (and bloody gold for these unfaithful dragons!) to keep your troops up and fighting.

      DK2 was more… typical. Creatures were more specialized, slow (both in terms of movement and attacks) and had a cooldown when dropped (so you had to carefully select a specific order to protect weaker creatures while they get back up). Morale was less chaotic and instead was more relying on giving them specific stuff (pretty much like The Sims) – again, DK2 was much more a “game” than an experience on its own. Combats were much clearer to read, both in terms of visibility and speed, and required more careful use of the creatures and spell abilities.

      Since DK1, I’ve yet to see a management game (or any game) that actually captures the original spirit of the game and grow from that.

  7. RichSG says:

    My favourite part of this game was when a creature would win in the casino and ‘Disco Inferno’ would break out. Party time! Who said dungeons are all doom and gloom?

  8. Sin Vega says:

    Interesting to read the comparisons. I played the second one first, and honestly struggled to play the original after. It was fuzzy and murky and I felt a lot more detached from it due to the UI. It also didn’t have the legendary voice of the assistant, who smoothed over so many of DK2’s shortcomings with sheer loveable charm. Incredible how far a healthy injection of personality can take a game.

    It really deserved a sequel, the closest we’ve had was Evil Genius, which had far too many flaws to really measure up. Really fun trap system though – even better than DK2’s.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I feel EG’s trap system would have worked a little better if other mechanics didn’t fight it quite so much. It’s best to not build lethal traps, but instead lots of ones like the amensia-causing bees and gasses that make agents forget they ever saw anything suspicious, and mazes of useless locked doors that go nowhere to keep them busy. Then they go report home that your island really is a harmless tropical resort and leave you alone.

      If you build an elaborate mincer, you’re going to have problems with overflowing freezers and armed soldiers showing up looking for missing spies, or the one who inevitably legged it when he saw his partner being ping-ponged between a set of fans, narrowly missing huge sawblades, before being dunked into a pirahnah tank.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Added to that, the rest of the game just wasn’t half as fun or interesting as creating elaborate intruder tormenting systems, so it ran out of steam a lot earlier than it should have.

        Also of note is a trick Scott Sharkey discovered in his brilliant piece on EG years ago (link to 1up.com) – instead of an elaborate system of traps, just put down 12 doors in a row.

    • TheAntking says:

      Luckily, it seems there has been a surge in Dungeon-keeper inspired games recently. Dungeons II is coming out soon and looking to be much more faithful to DK then the first, Dwelvers is an indie in-development dungeon management game with a number of interesting ideas (multiple dungeon levels), and War for the Overworld is shaping up to be a great spiritual successor to DK.

    • Mr Coot says:

      Sin Vega>”It really deserved a sequel, the closest we’ve had was Evil Genius, which had far too many flaws to really measure up. Really fun trap system though – even better than DK2’s.”

      War for the Overworld is almost ready to go on Steam. It is very faithful to the spirit of DK. Subterranean Games are hawking previews around at the moment according to their website.

      • Mr Coot says:

        [Ed. By ‘ready to go’ I mean ‘ready for full release’ – it is already avail as early access.

    • Nomaki says:

      Have you seen War for the Overworld? (a spiritual successor named after DK3’s working title before it was cancelled)
      link to wftogame.com

      I tried it at EGX and it played exactly like a shiny modern version of DK2 with some decent additions.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      EG was so close to being amazing. Still cannot believe no one has finished off that concept. Could even make it Archer themed or something.

  9. skorpeyon says:

    It’s all opinion, in that no one can definitively state whether 1 or 2 is better. I honestly believe that, for the differences, they were both good games that had the same theme and basic construction. It seems to depend on which one you played first as to which one you favor because of how different they are in certain respects. I’ve still never played the original game because DK2 was my first foray into the series and I loved it in so many ways. What I’d love to see is someone take the characters from the original game, the voiceovers and 3D from the second, all of the heart, and make a proper sequel for modern PCs. I doubt it’ll happen, but with the revival of Homeworld maybe we could get some people looking into traditional RTS gams again? Would love to see a revival in that area.

  10. SomeDuder says:

    For those who have yet to play this charmer – check link to dungeonkeeper.wikia.com for a bit more workable Dungeon Keeper 1 experience in the year 2015. Adds support for modern operating systems, puts a bit more pixels into the models so it doesn’t look like you booted a dark version of Minecraft and adds all the bonus content.

    You do need the original installation disc, but as a member of the glorious PC master race, you’ll have this game in your collection. That, or you know how to get it via other ways (Don’t worry, Molyneux isn’t reading RPS anymore, so he won’t get mad).

  11. sonson says:

    Very different games, the Dungeon Keepers, but both excellent in their own way.

    DK2’s lore was more generic and weaker on the Keeper’s side (although somewhat stronger for the Heroes than in the original) but it’s sense of personality and story telling in the round was far greater, helped by a genuinely excellent campaign which offered unique puzzles and scenarios pretty much every level. The one where you have to colonise a monastery and convert its inhabitants to kill the vampire castle of one of your rivals is one of my favourite video game levels of all time.

    I also think that the simulation element was much more enjoyable, the characters all had their quirks and interactions which made just watching them do their thing was a lot of fun. The Jack Pot winner scene in the Casino stands out as one of the most fun and silly gaming vignettes for me.

    I assume the reference to troublesome character design is around the Mistress, which I don’t really follow. The concept-a masochistic sexual woman who enjoys fighting and dominating people-was fully realised in DK1, and just fleshed out as were all the other characters in DK2. She’s an adult concept sure, but she is an overtly sexual fetishised concept. Basically Bayonetta but delivered in the overtly forbidden and sinful semantics of the rest of the game.

    I would also add that the rest of the female characters in both games are basically not remotely sexualised, nor is there an abundance of flattering male character representation either. Many of the male charaters, like the troll with his visible penis (gasp), are cowards, or slobbish, or fat, or ugly, or lanky. All the cast are fantastic stereotypes and grotesques. That’s the obvious over riding theme.

    • Mr Coot says:

      I don’t recall The Mistress being in DK1, but I didn’t find her problematic either. She was a dominatrix, and if anything I would’ve assessed her as sexually strong and a positive character. She was the only mob whose happiness increased when placed on the various devices, but I didn’t really see that as an element of weakness, and not even of masochism – just overweaning delight and commitment to her toys. She is on the front of my DK2 box, back to back with Horny in an in charge pose, and that to me was sending a message that she was as equally strong, awesome and desirable a mob as Horny.

  12. Werthead says:

    The two games are very similar: 1 has a few more memorable creatures but 2 has better graphics and better controls (just being able to drag-build rooms or tunnel out areas is a glorious improvement). There’s not much in them. DK2 is slightly easier, but for me that was better as DK1 was got crazy hard towards the end.

    I think the problem is that they couldn’t do too much more with the concept without destroying it. Completely changing around rooms would be change for change’s sake. DK3’s idea of taking the fight out into the countryside and surface world, which presumably would have required different mechanics, would have been more radical and maybe could have worked but might have not, taking too much away from the original concept. DK1 was so brilliant because it was so simple, and DK2 didn’t do too much to mess with that. A more radical DK2 might have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

    • El_Emmental says:

      I don’t know, taking the fight outside could have been great, with villages to pillage, castles to burn, peasants to capture and enroll.

      Organizing raids, with a ragtag army of various monsters, more or less obeying to orders, finding the right balance between looting & destroying as much as you can, and making it back to your dungeon before the cavalry shows up. Then feasting, preparing traps and welcoming the counter-attack party trying to rescue the villagers, nobles and riches.

  13. Zekiel says:

    “Your dungeon is full of yogurt.”

    • Daemoroth says:

      “Your dungeon floor is lumpy, order your minions to jump up and down.”