Dungeon Keeper Mobile – Review

Title   Dungeon Keeper Mobile
Developer  Mythic Entertainment
Publisher  EA Games
Platform  iOS, Android
Genre  Strategy
Release Date  December 19, 2013

If you’re old enough, and didn’t spend all your time in front of consoles, you may be aware of a PC game from 1997 which goes by the name of Dungeon Keeper.  Developed by Bullfrog – the Peter Molyneux-led team behind classic game changers such as Populous, Syndicate, and Theme Park – it took an entirely different slant on gaming whereby, rather than being the much-loved protagonist having to do battle against some megalomaniac antagonist, you were the bad guy.  Your job was to go from town to town, wreaking havoc and destroying everything you could in as vile a way as possible.

At your every beck and call are the minions, ready for a slap whenever you want to speed them up in their excavating or building tasks, and they’ll chatter away happily as they go hammer and tongs to do your bidding.  It’s a great game, and such a breath of fresh air among the stereotypical nonsense where you’re there to champion this cause or that cause, saving this load of people from this thing or that thing.  Dungeon Keeper held up a long, bony middle finger at all this and it said “Fuck you; I want to be a prick and there’s piss all you can do about it!” so imagine my delight when I heard that it was being remade for handhelds.

My first thought was that I could lounge around with the Vita, slapping minions across the gob just for the hell of it while my crotch got a little tight whenever the Dark Mistress strutted around in her shiny black outfit looking like some sort of bewitched Victoria Stilwell-esque sex worker.  There was indeed an air of excitement yet, sadly, this was soon quoshed as I discovered that it wasn’t strictly a handheld version as it was being developed specifically for mobile devices.  As long as it came out on Android and was compatible with the Tab 2, however, I’d be happy.

Except I’m not.  This isn’t Dungeon Keeper.  This is the abhorrent rebirth of Dungeon Keeper which should have been aborted and yet somehow managed to sustain life long enough to reach digital distribution.  It may look like Dungeon Keeper and, in fact, the graphics are pretty damned sexy, but that’s pretty much where the comparison ends.  In the same style as the original, you’re provided with a blank canvas which contains nothing more than your dungeon heart and it’s from there that you excavate more space by using your pick-axe-wielding minions.  Almost immediately, however, it becomes apparent that this is Dungeon Keeper in name only because, rather than building certain areas to encourage new creatures to wander in and make a home, you have to summon them, and summoning costs you ‘gems’ – the in-game currency.

In fact, almost everything you could possibly need for your dungeon costs gems.  If they don’t cost gems, they’ll need a certain amount of gold or stone in order to acquire them… and if you don’t have enough of those resources, you can simply buy more of them by using up your gems.  Once you buy enough resources to build these structures or summon creatures, they’ll go into their own build queue where you’ll have to wait for a specific period to pass before they become available to you.  In some cases that may be as short a wait as one minute (as is the case for the most basic creatures), but some builds can take three or four hours and this is in real time.  If you need that structure in order to continue the chain to build others, then you must wait until the time has passed… or spend gems for an insta-build.

Once you’ve built the structures, by either waiting out your time or spending gems on immediate clearance, you can then progress through the game a little by building more areas… except that most areas require that existing areas be upgraded first.  So, for example, you want to build a training room but you can’t because you need to have a level three dungeon heart, the obvious solution is to upgrade the heart.  Doing this may take 20,000 units of ‘stone’ but if you only have 5000 then you have to subsidise the build by spending… you guessed it… GEMS!  If, like me, you don’t have the time to wait for 20,000 units of stone to be mined (bearing in mind that a level two quarry will only produce 1500 units per hour) then you’ll undoubtedly cave and spend your gems to have it built immediately.

But wait! What’s this?  You’ve just spent a shitload of in-game currency in order to cut down on the waiting time and upgrade your dungeon heart, but it’s suddenly appeared with a timer on it?  How can that be? Because what you’ve just paid gems for was the resources, and not the time.  Now that you’ve actioned the build, you need to wait for the upgrade… and that’s going to take six hours.  Yes, you read that correctly… six hours.  Of course, you can speed up this waiting period by spending.. GEMS!  The sad thing is, those lovely people at EA didn’t give you many gems to start with and so you’ll notice that they start to disappear rapidly and the only way to get more gems is to mine them.

So, you send your minions off to mine the gem veins and you’ll hopefully start to see the counter start to increase, except that it doesn’t.  That gem vein is going to take four hours to excavate, and it’s only a 1×1 block… but right next to it is a hard gem vein, which will undoubtedly have more gems than the regular veins, so perhaps it’d be a good idea to send the other minion to deal with that one.  This one is going to take 24 hours to excavate, and that means that you’ve used both minions up.  Time to summon another couple of minions!  It would appear that minions cost 800 gems each, which is more than you actually started with.

Even though you can take part in raids, some are defensive while others are offensive, you’ll only earn gold and stone by doing so.  There’s no mention of any award of gems and, after playing through six different raids – five campaign and one ‘found’ raid – I still haven’t been awarded with any gems.  The only gems I’ve naturally come across have been through regular soft excavation where every ten or twelve blocks you’ll find a few gems if you’re lucky.  As an experiment, I spent a much-needed 49 gems to speed up the excavation on one of the four-hour gem veins… and netted only eight gems in return, so that’s a deficit of over forty gems.  Nice move.

No matter what you do in Dungeon Keeper Mobile, you’re invited by the bastard of a smug devil to spend more gems to speed up the process.  Constantly.  After only two hours of playing this game, I exhausted all of my gems just so I was able to play it in a natural way with no waiting time whatsoever, and I left it ticking over while an upgrade to my warehouse counted down for three hours and upgrading my trolls to level two in training room was taking six hours.  I can’t go on any raids, as I don’t have enough gems to speed up the training process and have already got to the point where I need higher-level creatures in order to survive.

After only two hours, I can do absolutely nothing.  Unless I buy more gems.  With real money.  A quick visit to the shop shows me that the ‘best value’ comes if I spend a ridiculous £69.99 on gems which, by my calculations based on what I’ve experienced thus far (in terms of build times, resource subsidies, training, and upgrades) would last me no more than twenty-four hours of gameplay.  Broken down into four-hour segments per night, which is easily achievable, this means that this ‘free to play’ game would actually cost me around £70 to play it naturally for a week, with no waiting a day for a vein to be excavated.  That’s just a fucking joke.

What’s even more of a fucking joke is that every now and again I’m being badgered by smug devil bastard who appears in a popup asking me to rate the game.  This doesn’t happen when I go to quit the session and perhaps take a break, or even when I’ve put the Tab 2 down for a while and it goes into idle mode… this is happening during gameplay.  Constantly.  The intriguing thing is, I’m only being given two options when it comes to rating the game – either select “five stars” or “1-4 stars” along with a very leading “5-star ratings from you help us provide free updates!”  This is nowhere near a five-star game, so imagine my surprise when I select the “1-4 stars” option and I’m suddenly being asked to email EA directly with feedback, or close the window completely and return to the game.  Where’s my option to leave a 1-4 star rating?  The simple answer to this is that it doesn’t actually exist and a quick search on Google to see if perhaps this was an early April Fool’s joke turned up something very interesting.

If you tell the app that you’re going to leave a 5-star rating, it will then take you to the Google Play Store where you can then leave any rating you like.  You don’t have to leave a 5-star rating.  How could anyone possibly know that?  I’m a software developer and I genuinely thought myself that by clicking on the ’5 star’ option, I’d immediately be casting my vote and that they’d be getting those undeserved five stars, so how do they expect anyone with no software background to even consider this?  The fact is, they don’t.  They want people to either click on the 5-star rating option or just not give them any rating at all, in order to fudge the figures and make it look like their game is great.  Realistically, the potential is there for them to have nothing but 5-star ratings because anyone selecting the 1-4 option would either just email EA and hope to be heard (as if) or just cancel back out without emailing them.  Either way, that 1-4 star vote would never be cast.  I urge you – if you play this game and find it as vile as I did, click on the 5-star option and leave an honest review once you get to the Google Play Store.

The worst thing about Dungeon Keeper Mobile is that, despite it being a seriously watered down version of an amazing classic, it had the potential to be a decent time-waster.  It may lack the finesse and strategic gameplay of the original, but it was still enjoyable to play right up until the point that you have no choice but to wait twenty-four hours before being able to continue playing, or pay through the nose for in-game currency in a free-to-play game.  Had they released a £4.99 version of this with no in-app purchases, it could easily have been a solid 7/10 game with pick-up-and-play appeal.  As it stands, it’s yet another EA mobile release where the gamer’s wallet is being raped.

  • New style graphics are really pretty
  • Same old sarcastic voice-over that made the original so great
  • All spontaneity has gone and you have to initiate raids or attacks
  • No way to encourage creatures to come to your lair and you have to instead unlock and 'summon' them by spending gems
  • More than two hours in and there's no new dungeon to play with, so it could get very boring very quickly
  • More than two hours in... and there's no way to progress without spending money
  • The waiting time for builds is a joke
  • The waiting time for upgrading is more of a joke
  • The waiting time for excavating is a fucking piss take
  • Having to spend 'gems' in order to keep playing makes it difficult when you don't get many to start with, can't actually pick many up along the way, and end up running out too quickly
  • Having to BUY 'gems' in order to break down the wait times means that you could potentially spend upwards of £70 in a week... on a free game
  • EA doing a bit of ass-rapery again

Dungeon Keeper Mobile truly has the potential to be one of those great tablet games where you suddenly can't be bothered playing a 'real' game and just fancy a couple of hours tarting around your dungeon, slapping minions in the chops. Sadly, EA's greed has got in the way yet again and what you're left with is a virtually unplayable piece of shite that looks great, plays well, but either empties your wallet or leaves you with nothing to do but wait for up to twenty-four hours between moves. How can anyone ever have thought that this would have been a good idea? Who wants to send out a minion to a gem vein and wait TWENTY FOUR HOURS for that 1x1 block to vanish? Just fuck off, EA.

I'm throwing EA a bone here by giving them a single score point, purely because it genuinely looks good. If Mythic hadn't put the effort into the graphics that they did, this would be yet another zero-point scorer for an EA mobile game.

Apologies to Mythic Entertainment, as I'm sure that it wasn't their idea to make it glorified wallet wankery, and were only following orders.

Our review policy

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. UselessJack says:

    I heard that when the game went into testing, they seperated the testers in different groups with different difficulty and… annoyance levels to see what’s the maximum people would bear with, coming to microtransactions and other vile shit. They THEN raised the amount of annoyance even MORE than what was considered the maximum of what some people could take.
    I’m not making this up, this is actually something I heard, whether it’s true or not. It’s like they’re trying to find out just how much they can push us. Disgusting.

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    As much as I would never really touch a mobile game, I had hoped that if it found success, it might actually see the light of day on something like the Vita, or even nudge EA into a PC release, starting the series back up again. I’m not shocked that they’ve been mining gamers’ pockets, as usual, just fed up and disappointed. They have some great IP there, and they squander it. Fucking waste. What a shame.

  3. Richie Richie says:

    EA clearly are born of jackals. I fucking hate them.

  4. Ste Ste says:

    I hate games like this and the app store on iOS is flooded with them. I wouldn’t touch one with a barge pole but for some reason my wife plays loads of them. Thankfully she stubbornly refuses to pay a penny for gold, gems or what the fuck ever else they peddle in order to make these shitty games playable. Instead she uses the tactic of playing them for 20 minutes or so twice a day.

    Firstly she play in the morning before work, using up all her moves or whatever and setting off tasks that need doing or things that need building. Then later in the evening after work everything she set off in the morning is usually completed and she does it all again so that tasks etc are ready for the next day when she gets up.

    It sounds like a version of gaming hell to me but it seems to work for her and its a big fuck you to publishers like EA who commission these things.

  5. Cedric Sagne says:

    I have been a regular player of DK mobile for more than 4 months now, and hopefully you will publish my comment.
    DK mobile’s waiting times are motivated by the playing patterns. This game is not intended to be played for 5-6 hours at a time with immediate progress, but indeed by players who play 2-3 hours per day, one hour at a time.

    Also waiting times are a necessary evil to keep PvP raiding possible and desirable. A recent upgrade (Feb 2014) allowing the 0 second upgrade of walls has provoked a severe in-game stone shortage, where waiting times were forcing people to keep stone in storage and available for raiding.

    As this game is free to play, gems are the means EA chose to bring players to pay. In fact I have not paid anything to play it. The reminders you mention are no longer present – a good thing.
    The game allows for gem-fueled advantages during attacks, which has been criticized by the player community as “pay to win”, although I tend to disagree and to see that if someone is crazy enough to spend 100 EUR/GBP/USD just to win a place in the leaderboards, they are certainly a valued customer, and a small payment on the other hand is a deserved reward for the developers.

    Games and the playing experience need to reward the development effort, DK mobile does not rely on advertising, like so many mobile “social” games. A strong focus remains on strategy, and it is very different in one respect from DK1 DK2, it is free to play, not a boxed software.

    Overall I have been having loads of fun, IMHO games like Clash of Clans do not compare in terms of strategy.
    EA/Mythic have released a third update (April 2014) which introduces tournaments, and the guilds (groups of players) have been improved. The game is less stingy about gems than what you describe in your review.
    The official website features a forum where issues are discussed. I contribute there as a member, and I have noticed that some of the issues, suggestions are actually handled and implemented by the development team, and that the community is managed by persons who actually read the posts.

    Last, but not least, I am only a happy player of DK mobile and in no way affiliated to EA or Mythic

  6. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Hi Cedric

    I’m really glad that you get something out of DK Mobile, as it means that the devs didn’t spend months working on something that would be ignored by everyone. As much as I hate games which rely on IAPs or having to stop playing for a number of hours in order to continue, the thought of someone who desperately wanted to break into the games industry and ended up working on something soul destroying doesn’t bear thinking about.

    With regard to this particular review, however, we do make it very clear that we are always very honest in our approach to reviews/previews and that we see ‘games’ as something that you can play until you yourself decide not to, rather than something you play until the game lets you know that you need to either pay to continue playing, or wait 24 hours. Our contact page has this paragraph:

    “We review games, and by ‘games’ we mean something that you can play until you decide not to play it anymore. If your game has IAPs which are necessary in order to play continuously, or the game somehow penalises you if you choose to continue playing without paying additional funds… please don’t ask us to review it.”

    So if we’re asked to review a game which contravenes our guidelines, we’re not going to pander to the publishers by giving it more of a score than it deserves when compared to games which do allow for continuous play. As I said in the review, however, if the option was there to pay an outright fee for a game that you can play without interruption… it would be a GREAT game. Perhaps not quite as good as the original, but that’s down to hardware limitations, but still a damned good game nonetheless.

    I wanted to love it. I genuinely wanted to love it even half as much as the original, but if we’re asked to review a casual game with IAPs then we can’t make allowances. If GamingLives were a site dedicated to mobile games, and we expected our review code to have purchases or waiting periods, then the game would be scored as such and may have ended up being a solid 7 or 8/10 but as a site which reviews ‘regular’ games, it was sub par. Sadly.

    What you’re saying though, I totally agree with. In fact, one of our writers above admits that his wife plays games like this all the time, so if she were reviewing it I imagine she’d score it highly. So I do appreciate that it does have an audience who would accept it exactly as it is, but GamingLives isn’t that audience.

    I also agree that anyone paying their premiums would be crazy, but that rush for continuous gameplay is what made Zynga their billions with Farmville and folk unlocking immediate harvesting rather than waiting until the next day for a natural harvest. It’s the way the industry is going, sadly, and I imagine we’ll eventually see a day where all games are free and require you to either wait or pay a premium. I hope I’ll have found another hobby by then :D

    Thanks for your well considered and eloquently put comment; it’s nice to see someone disagree without resorting to insults and smack talk! I appreciate that.

  7. [...] it’s one of the first things they bring to your attention upon starting the game but, unlike Dungeon Keeper and Theme Park, it turns out that there is absolutely no reason why you can’t continue [...]

Leave a Comment