“Dungeons II really is the rebirth of the dungeon builder genre.”
Dungeons II is the newest instalment in Realmforge Studios’ strategy and dungeon-simulation series, Dungeons. Published once again by Kalypso media, the series so far has been met with mixed views from gamers who have desperately wanted it to mark the return to greatness for its genre. At first glance, these games have always been instantly comparable in style to the classic Bullfrog greats that were the Dungeon Keeper games, but so far something has always been missing. Dungeons II on the other hand shows a significant stepping up of the game by Realmforge, and looks very exciting indeed…
To briefly answer the burning question of many of you who will be reading this – yes. The game is pretty close in both its style and personality to Dungeon Keeper. It is as close as you are ever likely to get with Bullfrog being dead and a straight-up remake being pretty much out of the question. We will come back to this point later on however. First let us take a look at this game itself.
As previously mentioned, Dungeons II is a dungeon builder. You are in control of the Dungeon Lord; the Ultimate Evil. Your quest is to conquer the Overworld, and destroy the “good” people who dwell within it. You nearly achieve this goal early on, only to be struck down by some of the great heroes of good, and are instead banished to your dark throne at the heart of your dungeon. Naturally this fuels your desire for revenge, but you cannot exact this yourself and you cannot exact this alone. You must create an army of creatures of the underworld; orcs, goblins, naga, trolls, and rally your evil allies if you are to take down the Overworld’s inhabitants once and for all. Your journey is long, and is riddled with silly jokes, puns and nonsensical direction by an omnipresent narrator. Creating, plotting and destroying using the floating Hand of Terror, you must forge a dungeon, muster an army and tackle the forces of good from the throne upon which you are chained. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? And it is!
There are two ways to play the game – a campaign (or story) mode, or a skirmish mode. The story is delightfully fun to play, teaching you each function of the game in slow, easy steps but maintaining a challenging and entertaining set of objectives while it does so. You begin by learning how to control your creatures in the Overworld, which essentially works like a real-time strategy game. Each of your creatures has different strengths and abilities when in the Overworld, for example nagas act as healers as well as archers. There are different types of each creature you can control, and these can have slightly different powers too. You can also obtain titles as you are playing, which give individual creatures useful boosts, such as higher hitpoints or regeneration of health. You then learn about building, maintaining and protecting your dungeon.
This is the part of the game which fans of classic dungeon builders will be able to relate to best, and it is where many of your evil schemes will be born. Using your little snots, tiny green creatures which resemble some sort of goblin-orc-things, you must mine out the walls of the caves in which you begin and build rooms which provide you with the tools you will need in order to bring your plans to life. You begin by building a treasury, which allows you to store the gold found in the cave walls and use it to buy new rooms and creatures, as well as pay wages. You can then build a brewery, intended to keep your orc soldiers from bullying your other creatures out of boredom. A tinkers workshop allows you to recruit goblins, and to research new traps, rooms and doors with which to protect and organise your dungeon. Other rooms such as guard rooms, hospitals and crystal chambers, among various others, come into play as well, each serving a purpose to your evil schemes. As with any strategy game, how you lay out your dungeon is important to defending it, as the Overworld has as much desire to destroy you as you have to destroy it. There are dangers in the darkness as well however, such as nasty spiders which can be hidden in concealed caves. Defence is the biggest concern in the dungeon then, as if the throne room is destroyed the game is over, so you have to be creative in your constructions.
The other element to the game is the various spells which you can use to your benefit as well. If you simply wish to make your creatures work harder, it is as simple of slapping them with the Hand of Terror, but if you want to guarantee your victory in battle, you are going to want to obtain some mana. Your spells vary greatly, some being defensive and some offensive. Your arsenal includes everything from a rally to battle, to a lightning bolt, to a spell to teleport your creatures home to name but a few. These are very useful, and if use correctly and strategically can help you win the game. To truly be successful in your dark and daring plans, you must master the strategy of the Overworld, the Underworld and the magic at your disposal though. Thankfully, the game makes this nice and easy to do.
That brings us on to gameplay, and gameplay is easy to get to grips with and still pretty open for you to play as you like. Everything is controllable with the mouse, which is used to manoeuvre the Hand of Terror and control your creatures and rooms. You can if you wish use hotkeys on the keyboard as well however, which can make it quicker and easier to operate some of the game’s functions. It is up to you which way you are most comfortable playing, but this openness in the style of play will mean any gamer should be comfortable with the control system. The only issue with gameplay, ignoring a few obvious preview build bugs, is that following what the hand of terror is trying to select and sometimes actually trying to select things can be tricky. The hand as a cursor is big, and it is not always clear what it is hovering over. It can be particularly difficult for example to try and pick up an individual creature from a group, and then to put that creature down in some of the smaller spaces of your cave. Occasionally I would accidentally drop creatures into walls as a result of this combined with a bug, and if you did not notice they would stay here until you pulled them out again. Making sure the functionality of the Hand of Terror is perfect is an important consideration for the developers ahead of final release then.
To make a quick mention of preview bugs in this build for the benefit of the developers then, these include being able to drop creatures into walls, mining symbols remaining on floors when creatures have finished the task, the creature counter not always updating correctly – which sadly limited my creatures significantly in one of the campaign missions, and creatures getting stuck or not following orders properly in the Overworld. Other than this selection which I noticed while playing, the only really obvious one was that some of the textual elements of the game are still in German, even on the English language setting. Fortunately, I know a bit of German, but presumably this is already high up the fix list.
In terms of design, the game looks great. A fantastic use of colour showing the contrast between good and evil is a real standout feature. A fun art style has also been used which exaggerates the features of the various rooms, objects and of course creatures of the game to give them a quirky if not weird style which works very well and is in fitting with the comedic style of the game as a whole. The narrator is also a genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud guy, which only pushes the fun factor of the game even more. He sounds a lot like the chap who narrated The Stanley Parable, to give you an idea. As a package then, the game screams FUN, and plays in the same way as well.
All that is left then is to come back briefly to the point about Dungeons II being almost a natural progression to the old Dungeon Keeper games. It holds true a lot of the elements which made them fantastic games to play, but adds so much of its own content that it would be absolutely false to call it a copycat. The game is not identical, and any fans of the classics who are expecting that should know this. It is very clearly influenced however, and had we ever been set up for a Dungeon Keeper III, this is probably along the lines of what it would have been like. If you are a fan then, as I am too, then I would definitely recommend picking Dungeons II up. If anything, the only thing I feel it is missing is a few more creatures for you to manipulate. Otherwise it is a great addition to the dungeon builder genre.
To summarise then, Dungeons II really is the rebirth of the dungeon builder genre. It is both fun and funny, which whilst it may sound silly is a combination which many modern games don’t manage to strike the balance between. This game does so perfectly, almost as if it is with ease. It also offers a challenge, an open style of play, and perhaps most importantly it is giving many gamers exactly what they have wanted for a very long time. It has brought back to life a long dormant genre, and has not simply copied an old format but rebuilt it from the ground up. The best of what once was has been combined with quite a lot of extra icing on top to give those who give it the chance one hell of a metaphoric cake to dig their teeth into. There are only a few issues, the only one of which that stands out as more than simply a preview build bug being the difficulties in operating the Hand of Terror correctly and precisely. Should this be fixed however, Dungeons II will be a fantastic all-round package that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun game to play. And for dungeon builder fanatics, Dungeons II is really a must – it’s simply a no brainer. I can’t wait to do the review for this one when it’s finished!
- – The rebirth of the dungeon builder genre, and a natural progression of the genre from Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper series which once made it great.
- – Plenty of new, original features alongside its classic dungeon builder style.
- – Both fun and funny to play, as well as being challenging and open to play.
- – An entertaining story for those who want it and a skirmish mode for those who just want to get down and dirty with the action offer something for all.
- – The game’s appearance and hilarious narration enhance its overall fun factor.
- – It is difficult to precisely control the Hand of Terror, partly due to its size.
- – Various preview build bugs (as mentioned in the preview).