For those of us who gamed in the 90s, Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper is a title that is fondly remembered. The concept of building an intricate dungeon consisting of multiple rooms that cater to and therefore attract different creatures to live within it, all the while laying traps for heroes who ventured in, was a wonderfully compelling take on the management genre. Over the years some developers have tried to revive the dungeon building sub-genre but haven’t quite struck gold. Realmforge Studios, with their third dungeon building title, just did.
Indeed, Dungeons 3 takes many of the key features of Dungeon Keeper and injects enough fresh ideas. It’s a game that taps into the same compelling dungeon building and management as Bullfrog’s much loved title, while introducing a gripping new story and some RTS elements to set it apart. Add to that precisely the kind of modern day visuals you’d expect and we have a title posed to impress.
Dungeons 3 carries on the story from the previous two titles in the series, recapping you at the very beginning of the lengthy campaign. Its light-hearted, funny story full of fourth wall breaking moments and pop culture references. It can be a bit hit and miss as to whether the jokes land with you, but for the most part they’re witty and genre appropriate to satisfy the intended audience, with nods towards things like Supernatural, Buffy, Warcraft and Lord of the Rings but to name a few. The story pits you, the Ultimate Evil, against a nation of good citizens, their leaders and heroes, with you possessing and corrupting one of their own to lead your invasion. This results in some excellent, comedic moments between the corrupted dark elf Thalya and her paladin father figure.
Dungeons 3 is split between two levels: the underworld and the overworld. In the underworld you build you dungeon, mining veins of mana and gold, building rooms to house your creatures and meet their needs, and recruiting creatures. In the overworld you can control your creatures to invade the region, destroying settlements to prevent so many heroes invading your dungeon, and securing special points of interest to generate evil points, which can then be used to further upgrade your dungeon and creatures. The upgrade web allows you to spend gold and evil points to unlock new rooms, new creatures, and enhance what you already own, including increasing the amount of creatures you can have at any one time. It’s a complex system made palatable by its gradual introduction throughout the campaign.
Managing it all between these two levels is an enjoyable challenge. Initially there’s a lot of digging for your so called ‘little snots’ to do, building rooms, mining veins and exploring in the dark, but soon you’ll have no choice but to send some creatures top side to secure evil points or it’ll all come to a halt. Balancing your invasion of the overworld and expansion in the underworld against invading heroes means planning your creature’s movements and preparing your dungeon, it can really keep you on your toes, especially in the later campaign missions, and despite this ultimately being a repetitive set of tasks that change very little each mission, it rarely feels like it due to how much fun it is.
The campaign balances the difficulty brilliantly and dishes out new features at a nice pace. You’re never overwhelmed with new things to figure out and mastering the basics comes naturally as you re-build your dungeon, manage the upgrade web, and fight heroes each mission. In fact the repetition helps to reinforce good tactics and building strategies. It all feels very intuitive.
Unfortunately, there are a few issues that can ruin the fun a bit. The occasional bug when using menus can result in those menus not popping up. Meanwhile, path finding is often terrible, especially in the overworld with large groups of creatures. Finally, the framerate takes a pretty big hit when dealing with a lot of creatures and heroes at once. However, these issues are only minor nuisances to an otherwise excellent game.
With its 20 mission campaign, and with each mission taking 30 minutes to an hour to complete on average, there’s a huge amount of playtime here. And with skirmish and multiplayer options to satisfy your dungeon building needs even further, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied once the story has wrapped. The technical issues are a blemish but ones that can be easily forgiven thanks to how much fun it is and how delightful it is to play a dungeon management game that takes the best of Dungeon Keeper and injects some fresh ideas into the mix.
Thanks to Xbox and Kalypso Media for supporting TiX