“Dungeons II is just fantastic.”
Recently you may have read my preview for Dungeons II – the new dungeon simulation game from the developers at Realmforge Studios and published by the ladies and gentlemen at Kalypso Media. If you did read it, you will no doubt be as excited as I am that the game has now been fully released, and thus I have returned to my notepad to review the final product. In my preview I could find little wrong with the game at all, and called it “the rebirth of the dungeon builder genre”, describing it as almost being a natural progression to the classic Dungeon Keeper games from the old Bullfrog days. To cut a long story short, I stand by what I said!
For those who did not see the preview and are as yet unfamiliar with the game, allow me to provide you with a little background before we delve into the details of its pros and cons. In Dungeons II you take on the role of the Dungeon Lord, The Ultimate Evil, or whichever other name from the game that you want to go with. Chained to your throne by the powers of the heroes of the Overworld, your mission is to exact your revenge on those who have imprisoned you in your fortress. Taking control of the Underworld and its wretched inhabitants using the Hand of Terror, the game follows a story which sees you muster your evil allies and seek to take control of the Overworld, and consequently regain your full powers. A little bit of a clichéd storyline perhaps but still a fun and worthy one to follow, the game offers this alongside unrelenting comedy and a pretty well thought out plot to keep you entertained whilst you play, and it does so successfully. This of course is supported by its gameplay too, which we shall come onto next.
You can choose to play Dungeons II with either just your mouse or with keyboard shortcuts alongside it if you find that easier. In either case, the game is really easy to handle, even if you have never played one like it before. You also get a fun and handy tutorial which you can play through at the start of the story in order to learn the ropes, and the game teaches you how to use its more advanced features at a steady pace which is easy for any type of gamer to learn at. What is there to control in Dungeons II? First of all there are your creatures. Each creature has unique talents and capabilities which you will need to utilise in order to beat each level in the game. You will have to tell them where to be and what to be doing as you play in order to complete your objectives. Then there is your dungeon itself, which you will have to dig out and construct various rooms and defences within in order to progress and stay safe from the attacks of your Overworld enemies. Thirdly there are your spells. While you may not have your full strength to harness as the Dungeon Lord, you can still use some magical abilities in order to aid your mission. The fact that each of your creatures, your dungeon and your magical powers are all very easy to learn to use and control in Dungeons II makes it a great game to get hands on with and get straight down to playing.
So we have covered good story and nice controls, but let’s take a closer look at the actual content and substance of Dungeons II. First off, the creatures in the game. We have already established that each has its own unique skills, and in fact each type of creature has its own unique sub-classes too. For example, your Little Snots are your builders. They will dig out your dungeon walls and construct new rooms for you, as well as gathering your gold to pay your creatures with. Then you have Orcs which are your soldiers, Goblins who will tinker in your workshops building new traps and researching new rooms for you, Naga who will heal your other creatures and allow you to utilise mana for magic, and Trolls, who very much speak for themselves; they are your tanks. Dungeons II is a little more limited on the creatures front than some of the games which have inspired it, but it makes up for this in different ways. As you play, you can come across titles which will give individual creatures unique skills. You must choose wisely how best to apply these for maximum effect. Sometimes you will also gain a different class of a creature, such as a more powerful Naga with slightly enhanced abilities. And naturally, your magic and the way you use creatures together will also vary their effectiveness as well. So a somewhat limited creature roster is in part aided by these other elements of the game.
The other important part of the game to look at is the level design, which is very good if not an improvement upon the way that games such as Dungeon Keeper used to play. In the Underworld, it is very much your standard dungeon sim setup; you dig out walls and fill the space in with rooms, each of which provides a bonus and in some cases a new type of creature. Occasionally however you may come across some other creature’s lair, such as a spider queen and her children. This forces you to think and act quickly to defend an area which you might not have expected to need to, and can change up the game in an instant. Dungeons II’s most unique new part of the levels however is the transition to the Overworld. You play the game in both the Overworld and the Underworld simultaneously, sending your creatures through gates in much the same way as the forces of good have always traditionally invaded your dungeons in other games. This adds a whole new dimension to this dungeon sim, and it works incredibly well. Where many dungeon sims have tended to be about defence on the whole, this one incorporates offence using traditional strategy game mechanics and offers something more, and something exciting.
So the story is good, the controls are good, the substance of the game is good and the level design is good – that’s a lot of good. There are a couple more good things too, such as the great variety of magic on offer in the game. You have a good mix of offensive, defensive and strategic spells which you can use in order to help complete your objectives, and they are as easy to get to grips with as the game is as a whole. You can teleport troops, have them rally, electrocute enemies or heal your creatures as you need to, provided your mana stores stay filled. The game also looks really good, with a quirky art style and fantastic use of lighting and colour choices to illustrate the war between good and evil. The animations of creatures and in particular of the transition of the world from good to evil as you invade it are particularly good too. The wit of the game deserves great credit as well, and with a narrator and narration style comparable to that of The Stanley Parable, there is never a slow or boring moment whilst you play. Aside from a couple of bugs which occasionally pop up, such as creatures getting stuck in walls and such, the only real negative to speak of is the Hand of Terror itself. Controlling the game in general is easy, but this element which is essentially an oversized cursor can be a little difficult to navigate and direct accurately at times, which can be a bit frustrating. This has improved a little since I mentioned it in my preview, but not significantly enough to have resolved the issue entirely…
Dungeons II is just fantastic. That is simply the best summary I can give in five words for this game. It has so many strong elements and so few negative ones that it feels like a genuine rebirth for dungeon simulator games the likes of which we probably haven’t seen since Dungeon Keeper II. This makes me incredibly happy, and will certainly elate many other gamers who once loved this genre too. With a thumbs up on pretty much every side of the dice – from story, to controls, to gameplay, to substance, to level design, to comedy, to graphics – the game only falls short in some minor areas and does not therefore leave you disappointed. Even outside of the bulk of the game and its story, there is plenty of replayability in the skirmish mode if you simply want to have a mess around as well. Perhaps a more fine tuned Hand of Terror, a few bug fixes and a few more creatures can now go on the developers’ updates list. Or maybe they can go on the ideas list for Dungeons III, because after this game, if there isn’t a follow up, I would be bitterly disappointed.
- A typical good vs evil story is twisted into one which succeeds in being fun, humorous and entertaining to play through.
- Controlling the game is intuitively tutored and easy to get to grips with.
- The limited creatures in the game are variable in unique ways which make their numbers less important and gameplay more varied as a result.
- The level design is fantastic, and its opening up or traditional dungeon sim gameplay style is a great achievement by the developers.
- A great mix of magical abilities allows you to mix up gameplay even more.
- The look of the game is very nicely drawn and designed, as is its animation.
- Hilarious narration and narrative style keeps you entertained even in the slower moments of play.
- Plenty of replaybability in the game’s skirmishes outside of the main story.
- The perfect game for nostalgic Dungeon Keeper fans!
- A few more creatures in the mix might have been a nice touch.
- The Hand of Terror’s size makes it awkward to accurately control at times.
- A few minor bugs occur on occasions, such as creatures stuck in walls.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.