The new game Dungeons from Kalypso Media starts in a pretty intriguing way — you are an all powerful Dungeon Lord named Deimos and have a powerful demoness, Calypso, as your girlfriend. Of course, demons being demons, she betrays you, takes over your dungeon, and you lose the vast majority of your powers. With this betrayal fresh in your mind, you ruthlessly decide to claw your way up the ranks and topple your former mistress, regaining your throne of evil. It sounds interesting and would be if the game actually gave your Dungeon Lord any character at all.
Dungeons never lets your character have any voice or personality, from the start your henchman, Mr. Sidekick, does all the talking. He encourages you to escape, he encourages you to start your journey, and he coaches you in how to proceed through levels. I truly believe that the henchman is the true power in this world. Mr. Sidekick is invaluable, though, in Dungeons because the game, while relatively simple, has overly complex mechanics to achieve these simple goals.
Unlike the classic Dungeon Keeper, which of course this game is inspired by, you don’t really build your dungeons. Every level has you in a pre-built dungeon area that you can expand by having your goblins dig out areas. You also don’t make rooms per se, instead you add theme items and they become a type of room. Make sense? Actually it doesn’t really, the tutorial does its best, but Dungeons tries to differentiate itself from Dungeon Keeper and in doing so makes a game that is frustrating to play at times. A run through of how things work would probably help explain the gameplay.
- First you need to establish key choke points of monsters around doors that heroes enter from. You do this by installing pentagrams that are associated with a monster type. These monsters cannot be controlled and patrol a short distance from the pentagram.
- Next you need to place piles of gold near the hero doors. The heroes enter your dungeon like other games of this type, but here you need to let the heroes indulge themselves before they are killed. This lets them increase their soul points which you gain after killing them. Soul Points are currency in this game.
- You need to add theme items, which are essentially decorations, to give the heroes more things to look at. All heroes have things they like to do and you need to create a string of scenarios for them to achieve maximum soul energy so killing them is worthwhile. Some heroes like loot and causing damage, some are mages and like loot and reading, so you create a library by adding library items to an area. Others funnily enough like loot and getting hurt, so you need to position pentagrams near the gold piles so they can be attacked. The theme items also add prestige do your dungeon which is also important.
- Next, you unlock the hero doors and watch as they enter your dungeon. As they look at the library, take gold, and attack monsters their soul energy grows and you can then defeat them to harvest it. This requires jail cells to place them in once they’re knocked out. There they are tortured and their soul energy gradually enters your pool.
This is basically the sum of what you will be doing most of the game. Sure there are different layouts and objectives/challenges you can work towards in each level, but ultimately this is what keeps you on your toes. The game is fast paced, not because of constantly evolving gameplay, but because your minions are so useless. You cannot directly control anyone but Deimos and even assigning goblins to dig gives you no control over which tunnels are a priority. The monsters you summon are never a challenge for the heroes, so you are constantly bipping around the dungeon killing the heroes before they reach your dungeon heart. There is an RPG element to Deimos, he levels up as you progress and you can equip skills and spells to aid with your hero killing, but it doesn’t add a whole lot to the fun of the game.
The focus of the story in Dungeons revolves around you gaining notoriety, expanding your territory, and first pleasing then destroying the three bosses who are now ahead of you on the path to the top spot. These bosses issue challenges during your levels and eventually you battle them, these battles steeply range from interesting to dull and repetitive.
Graphically Dungeons is a mixed bag, viewed from the higher perspectives it looks pretty good, but zoomed in close, the models are not very attractive and the framerate takes a huge hit. The overall look and feel is pretty good though and the audio is actually excellent. The voice acting is surprisingly competent and the music is atmospheric enough to actually help the feel of the game.
Dungeons isn’t a terrible game, it is just one that isn’t sure what to do. The dungeon simulation is very vanilla with little actual control in your hands and there are far too many steps to get everything in motion. The combat is basic but workable and never seems like a chore, except for the constant running around you need to do. There are many scenario specific challenges and once you get into the swing of things it is kind of nice to see your dungeon alive with activity. It is just a shame that Dungeons doesn’t deliver a more cohesive experience which could have made it surpass the great Dungeon Keeper.
Dungeons is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Violence.