by Ewan Wilson
previewed on PC
Dungeons are generally dank, claustrophobic places – it’s a wonder they make for such popular video game settings. Whilst in the real world dungeons are used for keeping the wrong sort of people locked away, in games they are a place of value and more often than not act as a lure for would-be adventurers. In Realmforge Studio’s Dungeons II, it’s a bit of both. The dungeons are home to the wrong sort, namely you – The Dungeon Lord – who sits incorporeal at the centre, plotting the world’s destruction from a dark, stony lair. As opposed to a prison, the dungeon here is a thriving place, a keep that you control, a household to – if only you could – lay down a rug and make the place feel more comfortable. There is also however both treasure and adventurers.
Having played through two levels of the campaign, it seems typical that you will begin a level with only a handful of goblin workers to exert control over. In true strategy game form, you will be building up from nothing frequently and repeatedly. This is, in part, a dungeon management game, and your minions are your first port of call when transforming your dark under-realm. You will immediately set your goblins off to dig tunnels and chip away at rocks, within which lies gold. You can then use gold either to employ more or larger minions, or to begin designating rooms within the space your workers have hollowed out. Rooms include places of research, workshops that will unlock traps for you to deploy around your dungeon for when those pesky adventurers turn up. Another room is the brewery; as with all healthy beings, your minions need beer.
Traps become extremely important later on, as once inebriated you will want to begin sending minions out into the over-world to wage war, leaving your dungeon vulnerable. A few booby-trapped treasure chests will do the trick; adventurers sure are curious. With your dungeon thoroughly trap-laden, you can afford to send minions out into the sunlight. Suddenly, Dungeon Keeper becomes Warcraft. Perhaps counter-intuitively, instead of exerting a weak control in the form of a floating hand, as you do in your underground lair, in the over-world you can control minions, highlighting and selecting them and sending them wherever at will. Once outside you can do battle, or in the run up, recruit more creatures to amass an army large enough to defeat the human adventurers for good.
Dungeons II seems particularly campaign focussed. The levels I got to play – one of which was an extensive tutorial – all had particular objectives to achieve. The over-world was largely quest-driven, with story-specific events scattered about it. There was a powerful hero unit to defeat in one level. In another, you took control of a roguish goblin in order to sneak into a human prison camp. Hero units all had special abilities, some of which were necessary to overcome an objective. The over-world areas seemed heavily hero-based, with the weaker minions recruited underground acting as a bridge to unlocking stronger units with specific abilities in the realm above.
The campaign missions work hard to keep you engaged. There’s a fair bit of humour, with the thoroughly British narrator from The Stanley Parable returning as the self-aware narrator. Unlike its predecessor, Dungeons II wants to pull a little closer to Bullfrog’s classic Dungeon Keeper – but it also wants to shake things up. The RTS over-world is an interesting addition that looks to change the formulae considerably. How the two worlds inter-relate, and how the land-based excursions feedback into the management of the dungeon is difficult to tell with what little time I had playing. The campaign’s focus on particular objectives and events obscures the fundamentals a little.
How deep will the dungeons be? How extensive or involved is the over-world? Although I’m yet to see anything of the multiplayer, I think the fact it exists is promising (there are four competitive modes, that can be played with up to four players). It means there may well be a core to Dungeons II, that the underground/overground probably works together without being pulled along by a script. Here’s to hoping that Dungeons II manages to keep its Dungeon Keeper whilst eating its Warcraft too *raises beer*.