by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”
If you started playing Realmforge Studios’ Dungeons thinking that you would be playing an unofficial sequel to Dungeon Keeper, there is a good chance you ended up disappointed. Dungeons obviously drew inspiration from Bullfrog’s masterpiece but offered a very different and entertaining experience to those willing to judge the game on its own merit.
Benjamin Rauscher, Realmforge’s managing director, and creative director Christian Wolfertstetter, showed us the standalone add-on to Dungeons which - once again - draws inspiration from a very beloved franchise. Dungeons: The Dark Lord’s campaign draws heavily upon the storyline of The Lord of the Rings, using the rich story as a base for some of the funniest geek humor to ever grace a game. When asked if they felt Dungeons was largely ‘misunderstood’ by gamers, they readily agreed but also admitted to having called that upon themselves by making the game look so much like Dungeon Keeper. We also asked if they worried incurring the wrath of fans using The Lord of the Rings franchise for the storyline. Their answer? “We know it’s a risk, but it also draws attention to the game and it opens up a treasure trove of potential humor that was just too good to pass up on.”
During the campaign, you switch between three different lords, each attempting to turn the underground into a paradise uniquely suited to their individual tastes. Besides the familiar Dungeon Keeper-like setting, Realmforge has added a new Temple setting, as well as an Ice-cave setting. As your influence grows, the area you control expands along with it and slowly you will see the map you are playing on change to suit the setting related to the lord you control. While the Temple setting is as dark as the standard setting, the Ice-cave setting is a real stunner to look at. You can almost feel the cold take over the surrounding area, brightening up the underworld as it eats away at the dark catacombs of the opposition.
The story itself is told in between campaign missions and it is during these interludes that Realmforge dishes up one humorous act after another. As in books and films, the characters in The Dark Lord are on a quest. If you have watched the movies, you will recognize many of the iconic sequences but all with a humorous twist which will cause many a laugh. One such sequence takes the player into the ‘Grottos of Gloria’ where - after a short bout of banter – the dungeon lords are off on a mad dash trying to escape from the Mighty Bullfrog.
Dungeons: The Dark Lord brings a lot more to the table than your average add-on and this is perhaps most clear from its graphics, which have been scaled up considerably. Dungeons wasn’t an ugly game but the graphical upgrade that The Dark Lord has received is usually reserved for a sequel instead of an add-on. Similarly, a lot of work has been done to enhance the game’s AI and now heroes will flee when they’re getting too weak to fight and use potions to buff themselves up during combat.
The game also sports new multiplayer modes for up to four players. In King of the Hill, each player has control of a separate dungeon in which he needs to amass enough power to combat the others over a neutral area accessible to all players. In Soul Survivor, soul power slowly ticks away as time progresses. Gathering new soul power is key to your survival but it’s also hard to come by. The last player to have any soul power left wins the game.
And there’s more
I think that any fan of the original game would be happy with – just – the features described above, but it really doesn’t stop there. There are ninety new 'gimmicks' in the game that can be used to liven up your gameplay and these include a number of unique objects that can be built only once. Whereas multiple instances of the same room type would feel pretty much the same, these unique objects will give every room something special. The prestige system has been changed as well. Prestige objects now start losing their ‘charge’ when they are no longer receiving any attention from incoming heroes, making managing these objects a higher priority than ever before.
Dungeons: The Dark Lords adds a ton of new features and expands upon the original in a way almost befitting a sequel. The game is due out on September 22nd and we can’t wait to be thrown back into the dungeons for some more mad fun.