Dungeons – Preview

Kalypso Media, fresh from their recent strategy management title, Patrician IV, have teamed up with developer Realmforge Studios to spice up the early 2011 line-up with a very familiar sounding game.  Dungeons is a strategy management title with a twist.  Before you get your hopes up, no, you aren’t playing as a whip-wielding dominatrix with a penchant for ribbon tailed floggers but, rather, as a despicable Dungeon Lord who presides over and manages an underground dominion.

Stop me if any of this sounds remotely familiar.  No, despite my near obsession with Bullfrog’s original 1997 title, Dungeon Keeper, this game is not a product  of my fevered fantasies, but is very much a reality and due to hit sometime in February.  In development by Realmforge, who produced the well received adventure game, Ceville, the game has strong echoes of Peter Molyneux’s seminal dungeon management game, which is no bad thing, however, the game has been given more of a story to lend some motivation for your evil machinations.

After being on top (or, rather, the bottom) of the dungeon hierarchy, idly luring heroes into your dark labyrinth to trap, torture, and drain their soul energies (presumably for some kind of Blumenthal-esque cocktail), things go a tad pear shaped.  Your ex-girlfriend, not content with (presumably)  leaving bitchspaz messages on DungeonBook, has concocted a foul plot, the result of which is your downfall, landing you back at square one.  If you want your choking grip back on the forces of light, then you’re faced with taking down three other Dungeon Lords (to whom you are now beholden) and work your way back up to extract your revenge.

Dungeons sees you using your flaccid horde of goblins to hack out a dungeon and create rooms, with the goal of luring, trapping, and then…managing heroes.  The game, initially, may sound nearly identical to Dungeon Keeper, however underneath the setting, format, and spin on the traditional good vs. evil play, the differences begin to emerge.  While Dungeon Keeper was primarily focussed on managing minions, Dungeons takes the opposite tack.  This is all about the heroes.

Once you have trapped them, you have to nurture your newly acquired inmates and provide for their needs, rather than pandering to the whims and egos of cantankerous minions.  Why aren’t you crushing their bits in a mangle and slapping a hellish horde into doing your bidding?  Simply because happy heroes generate more Soul Energy, which is your primary goal.  The happier they are, they more they produce…which is then extracted by you in a ‘harvest’ through means of torture.  It sounds sinister, with undertones reminiscent of some of mankind’s darkest hours, however, in the happy game world, laced with dark humour, this hero/hell factory is oddly intriguing.

Each hero type (of which there are many) has different needs which require pandering to if you are to ‘fatten up’ their happiness.  Some seek treasure, others, arcane knowledge from your libraries, or kick arse weaponry.  Lots of weaponry.  Others have more interesting fetishes: pain (inflicting and receiving – these heroes sound like our kind of scum), triggering traps, or healing others.

With heroes taking centre stage in your management affections, minions are very much consigned to the background.  They don’t need fed, trained or faffed with and, while they are used to fight, Realmforge have made it clear that they aren’t the stars of the show and, instead, are more cannon fodder for the heroes than anything.  Indeed, rather than a disembodied presence, the player can actually control their Dungeon Lord who has been described by Realmforge as ‘the most effective combat unit the player has’, so expect to get your own hands dirty when it comes time for a scrap.

All this harvested Soul Energy is used to create workers and build various important things in your dungeon, though you’ll need to complete quests in order to earn skill points to unlock new spells and skills.  From what we can tell, gaining strength relies on securing ‘prestige’ which you get from pimping up your dungeon with the wealth of items on offer -  customisation which can give your rooms a unique look.  The rich, alluring graphics speak of a good level of detail, and careful examination of screenshots reveal more than the obvious Dungeon Keeper style would suggest at a glance: tools are laid out on workbenches, skeletons hang on walls, and gaudy carpets decorate libraries (it’ll take more than a can of Shake & Vac to get the Minotaur smell out, so shop wisely).

As far as game modes go, multiplayer won’t make it into the initial release, however, we can probably expect to see it at some later date, along with a mod toolset for the more adventurous. Also,  for those who are hoping for a sexy collector’s edition of this beast, you’d better get importing because it is limited to a handful of European countries only, in a similar way to the decent Patrician IV set.

For all the smart graphics, pretty lighting, and new gameplay twists though, there are some concerns.  There only seem to be a few room types available for your heroes (at least as far as has been revealed), and though these can be upgraded, will they be enough to sustain an immersive level of gameplay?  Playing house with a host of Dungeon objects may be fun, but if all they provide is pretty aesthetics and prestige points (Realmforge are understandably playing their cards close to their chests in this respect), then players may well end up simply spamming their dungeon with unwanted objects, just to rack up these points.

Ultimately, I worry that for all the detail and potential for delicious humour, it risks being a touch shallow, which is scary when you consider that Dungeons is likely to be the closest we will likely ever come to another Dungeon Keeper sequel.  Still, I keep the faith and I’m going into it with an open mind.  Yes, the hyperactive part of me that fell in love with Dungeon Keeper all those years ago is practically bouncing up and down with anticipation, but the cynical part is a little more reserved at the potential for disappointment.  The depraved third of me, however, is already paging  through ‘What Torture’ in anticipation of, once again, ruling the underworld.

Last five articles by Lorna



  1. Edward Edward says:

    Excellent preview, Lorna :)
    While I never got around to the Dungeon Keeeper games of old, if this delivers I may to give this one a look! :D

  2. Mark MarkS says:

    Looks and sounds like a game i would really enjoy.

    Fantastic preview, i remember messing around with Dungeon Keeper back in the day, never really got into it at the time, but then i played Evil Genius. I loved the base building the laying of traps and the crazy heroes that would try and invade. This sounds a little like that which isnt a bad thing so ill probably give it a look when its out.

  3. FC360 says:

    So you have to capture Heros and make them happy then you can torture them for soul energy? That’s a rather odd thing to do. I would rather capture the Hero and torture them for soul Energy not make them happy, why the heck would a Dark person capture someone to keep them happy? They would do evil and dark stuff to said hero. This is probably 1 of those games I would pick up in the store, look at the back cover and then put it back on the shelf, if it only had torturing the heros instead of making them happy I would be interested in it. I shall continue hoping they release a game like that sometime :)

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    Thanks folks :)

    @FC360 – yes, I also thought that it was a very odd choice and am worried about the longevity of the gameplay. I would have much preferred a more similar setup in gameplay to Dungeon Keeper, however, this is probably as close as we’ll ever come, since I imagine EA still own the rights to DK after scooping up Bullfrog many moons ago and doing bugger all with it.

    Still, it sounds interesting enough and looks stunning – plus being able to customise does hold a certain amount of appeal – hopefully there will be more to it, I’d love for it to be as sexy as it could be.

  5. Richie rich says:

    I, for one, would like to go and party with Realmforge Studios. They sound like beer monsters.

    This game looks like a geeky Loaded.

  6. Lee says:

    The hero thing sound quite clever i think. Just how happy can you make the heroes? Is it like yay it’s Friday happy, followed by won a tenner on the lottery happy and eventually hitting tgi Friday staff happy. Because I couldn’t think of anything worse than being as happy as somebody who works in tgi’s. That’s torture in it’s purest form.

  7. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    While I can’t help but feel that it’s a tad TOO plagiaristic to take pretty much everything that Dungeon Keeper offered and change one aspect – that you have to keep the heroes happy rather than your dungeon dwellers, I can’t help but think that it’s about time someone grabbed the Dungeon Keeper baton and ran with it. It was a great game, a great concept and a great shame that the next evolution was the huge sidestepping Overlord.

    The graphics look good, and very modern, and I reckon they’ll pull out all the stops to make this a great successor to the original so I’m really looking forward to giving it a whirl as I imagine it’ll be one of those games like UFO: Enemy Unknown where there’s enough pull to keep you coming back over the years to try different tactics.

    I’m not convinced that you can extract Soul Energy from heroes though, not if it’s based on happiness. Let’s face it… how happy is anyone going to be trapped in a dark, damp dungeon… no matter how many pretty carpets there are around. These guys are heroes, bred for fighting and challenging, they’d have broken out ages ago so they could get laid. I’ll say no more on that score though and just assume that they have their own reason for staying put.

  8. Samuel Samuel says:

    I’m going to keep my eye on this, because despite some reservations, the thought of a revival of the Dungeon Keeper series, even in spirit, is too tantalising to pass over.

    Interesting and in-depth preview, Lorna, really enjoyed getting a better look at this.

  9. Gamer1991 says:

    Dear FC360, This kind of ” Torture heroes and get them to serve under you game” have already been made way back in 1997 and was named Dungeon Keeper,Dungeon Keeper gold featuring an Extension named Deeper Dungeons.
    Later, Bullfrog was in the process to be bought by EA and in 2003, If I remember correctly, Bullfrog and EA released Dungeon Keeper II. Bullfrog no longer exist though.

    Now, my impressions on the so called “New DK” are bleh, the goblins are fat ( wth?), the graphis are bad, no lies, even the animations are not better than what was made back in 2003 for DK II. This whole, make your dungeon cute to get your game going on thing is kinda weird. I believe a dungeon should not be looking good, it’s not a castle, it’s a DUNGEON, jesus. They simply thought they could bring back to life an award winning tittle by adding a few things here and there, changing the looks of the “Main” good character and the “Main” evil character but personally I prefer Horny from DK over this weird spell casting demon “which Kind of looks a-like to horny”.Don’t get me started on the Greedy and stupid looking White knight….

  10. Ste says:

    Only just seen this preview for some reason. It looks pretty good though, I think I might check this out when the time comes. Good job Lorna

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