Sunday, February 13, 2011

Game Review: Dungeons (2011)

Dungeons, Spiritual Successor to Dungeon Keeper or Flop?

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Realmforge Studios released its new strategy game Dungeons.  First off, the name is horrible.  It is completely un-unique and when you try to search for it, you come up with about 20 years of marketing for Dungeons AND DRAGONS.  For those thinking this is just like Dungeon Keeper, guess again.  It is exactly like Dungeon Keeper only, much much, very very, much much worse.  In fact, unless they are paying royalties to Bullfrog, I don't see how they can't be accused of completely lifting the game from Dungeon Keeper.  They tried their best to make it the spiritual successor to Dungeon Keeper, but it fails miserably.

The Premise

So the silly premise of this game is that you were a Dungeon Lord, in the deepest level of the dungeon pit.  Your girlfriend, a succubus, overthrows  you and exiles you from the lowest level of the dungeon.  Meanwhile your undead overlord boss is completely oblivious to this change of things, and does not assist you whatsoever in getting revenge, but sets about continuously requiring you to do tasks.  It is your duty now to somehow become just as powerful as you once were, 2 seconds ago?  No, I mean it, she literally just kicks you out of the throne room.  She doesn't take your powers or strip you naked.  So in reality, there is no premise.   I don't know, I'm just sayin.  You ask me for a premise, there it is.  Confusing, I know, but that's their story.  And, they stick to it for 20 levels.

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Unlike Dungeon Keeper, you aren't here to "just" attack heroes, you need to extract yet another resource from them, soul energy.  This soul energy is built up in each hero according to how satisfied they are with their experience in your dungeon they are.  You have to meet certain needs of the hero for their soul energy to go up, i.e. finding treasure, finding armor, finding ancient magical scrolls.  Once their bar fills up, you go and kill [knock them out] and imprison them, where you slowly extract the soul energy.  Also, through some weird change of physics, the heroes drop gold, but you have given them the gold and somehow it multiplies.  Gold and soul energy then are used to buy more items to put into your dungeon and none of it transfers over to the next dungeon.

One twist to the story is that your dungeon lord "levels" up.  However, this is done at the start of the level and not through anything that he does while in the dungeon, except for some minor points gained through 1 or two quests.  And, when it is all said and done, your dungeon lord is nowhere near as powerful as the most powerful hero in your dungeon.

So let's get into it: 3.83 / 10
  • Visual: 6 / 10
  • Sound: 5 / 10
  • Gameplay: 5 / 10
  • Mechanics: 3 / 10
  • Fun: 3 / 10
  • Replay: 1 / 10

Visual: 6 / 10

So visually, for a game that is released in 2011 and is based on a game that was released in 1997, the visuals are completely underwhelming.  The graphics aren't terrible, but in a word, they are terrible.  It is bad when the graphics actually help confuse the player more than help him.  Specifically, the color scheme of the entire game sort of blends in together so that, you cannot tell what is going on at a glance.  One of your tasks is to "decorate" your dungeon and the graphics are so horrible that you cannot tell where the decorations are.  Should you, for instance, be decorating in one section and then be suddenly called away to defend your dungeon heart, and then come back to decorating, it would take you a few seconds to understand where you were ... by which time, you'll be called away again.

There is nothing stunning about the graphics, to say the least.  While they may not be dated, they just aren't good.  At this late stage in gaming, it is not too much to hope for that a game, as visually dependent as this, deliver somewhat good graphics.  Also, turning up the graphics adds to major resource issues, for little to no difference in visual change.  Turning the graphics all the way down does not diminish the graphics, while turning them up delivers a CPU churning experience.  when you have decorated a 150 room layout and have about 30 heroes languishing in your prisons, the game starts to sputter and die.

Sound: 5 / 10

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The biggest gripe anyone has with sound on this game is how annoying nearly everything is.  Top of the list has to be the voice acting.  Where Dungeon Keeper had a very deep voiced actor that sounded sinister, complete with stereotypical English accent, Dungeons opted for a high pitched, whiny goblin that is hair pullingly annoying.  I spent no less than 30 minutes trying to figure out how to shut him up.  As if that weren't annoying, the heroes have a tendency to all be females, or have female voices?  I'm all for women's lib, but a skinny girl walking through a dungeon crawling with were-rats?  Unfortunately, I decimated many thousands of chicks in my dungeons, without even being able to extract 1 point of soul energy from them, poor kids.  Finally, if those two things weren't annoying, after about 10 minutes of starting a dungeon and you have your prison section hopping with heroes having their soul energy extracted, the soul energy sound is overwhelming.  It is a tingling sound that will not go away and it happens every single time a point of soul energy is extracted.

Let me pause for a second to point something out about the goblin "helper" in the game.  I cannot stand this about games like this.  And, developers need to take note.  When you have an NPC in a game that is supposedly trying to help you, but instead just insults you, the developers need to get it through their thick head that programming these sprites to dish out insults every time a task is NOT met, means a lot of times, the NPC is sitting there berating the player, non-stop for 4 hours.  This game is even worse, the criteria can spawn multiple streams of dialogue all at the same time.  Literally the goblin can say 3 things at once.  As the game progresses, the level of insults deepen.

I'm sure this all stemmed from some game in the 90s.  If I'm remembering correctly, it was a sim type game.  I can't place my finger on the name of it.  But, if I recall correctly, the insulting NPC in that one was actually funny, while still being reverent to your character.  Developers picked up on the insulting part but did not balance it out with the reverence nor funny part.  Quite a few developers now setup these sprites to cast bitter insults out, but don't realize it just comes off as nagging.  NOONE wants to be nagged while playing a game.  Husbands divorce wives for little more than nagging these days.  Do you think someone will pay for the bad experience?

The soundtrack is unremarkable and the sound effects for items is nothing to write home about.  In Dungeon Keeper, when you placed items in your dungeon, there was a very dramatic thud and the screen shook, as if you were some Titan reshaping the world, here there's a weird chime click.

Gameplay: 5 / 10

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As mentioned before, you're rebuilding your power base so that you might recapture your former glory as a dungeon lord.  You decorate your dungeon to both attract heroes and build up their satisfaction level, so that their soul energy fills up.  You then extract the soul energy and steal their gold.  And, as mentioned before, you actually give them gold, as part of your plan to attract and satisfy them, however somehow it is multiplied when you steal it back from the hero.

That would be great if it were that simple.  However, heroes are nearly never satisfied and get angry and go attack your dungeon heart.  To make matters worse, one hero who is unsatisfied can somehow convince 5 others that are satisfied, to become unsatisfied and go attack the dungeon heart with him.  These numbers of heroes is always completely overwhelming for your dungeon lord and it ends up in lots of death and frustration.

Leveling up your dungeon lord is nearly pointless, because there is some invisible scale that the heroes are on, that your dungeon lord is not on, i.e. his leveling up does not equal their leveling up.

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As if the above listed annoyances were not enough, one pet peeve I have and I feel it should be deleted from all games, is camera control.  While you are trying to build this dungeon to satisfy these heroes, camera control is arrested from you nearly every other minute.  The game takes the camera and travels to some other spot on the map and zooms in on some unremarkable item, or your undead overlord boss.  I think camera control is the worst possible thing you can do to a player.  In a game like the old MMO Everquest, when someone cast a spell on your character,  the camera control being taken away from you was specifically designed to make sure you were properly annoyed at them enough to kill them in retaliation, here no such satisfaction is available, because it's the damn developer and not some npc creature.

One big no no in a sim game, like this, is that you have premade dungeons, and yet, Dungeons sets 50% of the dungeon layout already, when you start each level.  While you may make a fantastic maze that the heroes could walk through before they got to your dungeon heart, Realforge Studios has made a door that opens up and is staring right at your dungeon heart at the beginning of the level.  All design freedom is completely taken away from you.  And, there is no way to undig  a tunnel.

Finally, tedium!  The game has many "tasks" that it interjects while you're accomplishing your main goal, or secondary goal for a level.  These tasks always are an annoyance, rarely convenient and nearly always potentially lethal, since if you don't do them they send out super heroes after you.

Mechanics: 3 / 10

For the most part the mechanics of the game are point and click.  You can pop into your dungeon lord via first person, and walk around in WASD form, but you have an entire dungeon to decorate, so it's pointless.  As mentioned before, decoration is done with mouse but the sound for decorating does not help, nor give the player any sort of satisfaction that he's doing a good job.

Fun: 3 / 10

Not to beat a dead horse, but as you can see by the many nit picking I've done so far, I do not consider this game to be fun to play.  It is annoying as hell, and very frustrating, and I don't mean frustrating as in "oh good one, you got me that time".  I mean frustrating in the sense of, I'm a 4 year old running for a senate seat, how am i even expected to win exactly.

Replay: 1 / 10

There should be zero replay on this game, but noone gets a zero.  The story is linear.  Once you have played a level, nothing will change about it.   And, as I pointed out in gameplay, the developers have pre-designed 50% of the dungeon at the start of each level.  So while you might thing you have the freedom to make a cool design, differently on a level, the level is already pre-designed.

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