This spiritual heir of the Dungeon Keeper series has all of its ancestors, but not in the right order it seems, while adding extraneous features that weren't missing from the originals. Can anyone who played Dungeon Keeper can enjoy Dungeons?
During my last Steam Roulette session, it landed on Dungeons. While I was launching it, a Steam friend came to talk to me about the game. He told me that he enjoyed the game despite the lukewarm press reactions and negative player reviews. He then added that he never played Dungeon Keeper, which may explain his positive reception of the game.
This last remark actually drove me to compare Dungeons to Dungeon Keeper more than I would probably have if he didn't mention it. Therefore, the following will be a merciless comparison between the revered ancester and its spiritual offspring. I even went as far as playing the first few tutorial levels of Dungeon Keeper Gold again, in order to base myself on facts, not just on the embellished memories I had of the oldie.
At first glance, Dungeons tried its hardest to honor its legacy. Dark basements divided in cubes that industrious goblins can dig to create rooms. Dungeon heart to protect, creatures, cupid and aggressive heroes, traps and treasures are scattering your disreputable depths. The comparison ends here, Dungeons taking on itself to completely reverse the main gameplay of Dungeon Keeper. Let's go back in time.
The year is 1997. Among the then popular video games could you find Diablo, which went on to set an example for all subsequent hack'n'slash, and The Elder Scroll II: Daggerfall, which was buggy as hell but offered a nonlinear roleplaying experience that no other game could then match. On the tabletops, the modular game boards of HeroQuest allowed people to discover the classic heroic fantastic dungeon crawling experience without having to read through the whole [urlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Editions_of_Dungeons_&_Dragons#Advanced_Dungeons_.26_Dragons_2nd_edition]Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2.5[/url] player handbook.
Dungeon Keeper was released the same year, with a radically different approach. Instead of leading invicinble do-goodie adventurers through mazes, traps and monsters in quest for glory and riches, this game would put you in the shoes of a dungeon keeper having to protect his treasures and minions against waves of loyal good heroes parties when it's not from other keepers.
Mixing building management, close combat tactics and tower defense with the traps and doors, Dungeon Keeper allowed an unprecedent level of cruelty (Carmageddon excepted). Bloody slaps, torture, lethal traps, merciless monsters fighting each other, underground life is not fair. Nevertheless, under a heavy coat of seriousness exemplified by the abyssal voice informing you of the ups and down of your dungon, the irony of the reversed classic trope was automatically hilarious even without cheesy wordplays. Moreover, the powerful feeling stemming from an optimal dungeon layout allowing to crush to smitherens the usually victorious heroes was without peer.
On the graphics side, the blend of 3D for the corridors and sprites for animated objects allowed zooms and rotations that few games of the time could provide, while a first person view from your creatures perspective with a real tactical advantage allowed you to tour your premises. The whole made quickly Dungeon Keeper a legend of the video game history. Back to 2011.
By adding the soul energy resource that heroes accrue by killing your creatures, stealing your treasures and tripping your traps, Dungeons game dynamic is the exact opposite of Dungeon Keeper's. Your creatures are now cannon fodder, whereas each one had a given name. Treasures become visible points of interest whereas they were in a secure safe deep in your dungeon. And the traps that were your first line of defense against the army of Good are now engineering rarities.
Your heart of dungeon still needs to be protected by the rare heroes bored by your amusement park for adventurers, et since your creatures are only there to pull a poor fighting act, the last resort is you, the dungeon lord personified. With a character sheet, a spellbook and a skilltree. On top of the rare task of defending your dungeon (which was the main goal in Dungeon Keeper), your main job is akin to a club bouncer. Spotting heroes drunk on soul energy, arraign them and sober them of in your jail cells.
While in Dungeon Keeper your main resource was your army of minions that you had to attract in your dungeon, cherish and train to exploit their full potential, here the main resource is the herd of heroes that the swift dispatching won't do you any good nor pleasure. The mighty lords in shining armor whose death marked your triumph are gone, along with the climatic end battles. In Dungeons, the end of the maps are purely numbers, often amass X Gold or Prestige, another useless resource added in the game that is a buff for your avatar and unlocks the different building tiers.
By switching the focus back to the heroes and adding a dungeon lord avatar, Dungeons betrays completely the original spirit of Dungeon Keeper that was really disruptive in its time of heroic fantastic fad used in hack'n'slash and dungeon crawler games. Stuck in between a pale theme park simulator where you would prevent happy visitors from leaving, an upsetting puzzle game to direct heroes in your dungeon and an irritating third person action roleplay game where you would have to hide to avoid easy but uninteresting fights for the game progression, Dungeons fails to spark any interest. Not even by providing decoration gimmicks that you would senselessly pile up in a separate room to accumulate dumb Prestige points.
Even with severely outdated graphics, better (re)play Dungeon Keeper than to suffer this utter disgrace of a dungeon game that is Dungeons.
Note: Dungeons 2 is supposed to be released in April 2015. This new installment seems to get rid of all the extraneous features from the first Dungeons to go back to the basics, but the little given to see in the following promotional video isn't fully encouraging either.
(Banner image is "Dungeon Keeper team 1" by DarkTod used without permission)