One of my gaming experiences that stayed with me over the Years is the Dungeon Keeper franchise. It was the first time you got to be a Dungeon Master and play from the bad guys perspective. The crazy evil geniuses over at Realmforge Studios came up with their own version, playing as the heroes, in Dungeons. However, in Dungeons 2 Realmforge has you playing as, The Ultimate Evil and his Orcish Horde. The most interesting thing for those who played the Dungeon Keeper games is this starts where that series left off. Dungeon Keeper 2 had a small trailer at the end alluding to a third installment that was never to be, until now. No longer is it just about maintaining the defence of your lair from invaders but it’s also about amassing an army to destroy the bases they come from in the Overworld above.
In typical fashion you have a disembodied hand that is use to interact with everything in the Underworld. That’s not the only similarities between Dungeons and Dungeon Keeper. You will command your group of Snotlings, the equivalent of Imps in Dungeon Keeper, to mine for gold and build rooms. Treasure rooms being built as close to the gold seems as possible is the first priority. One major difference is that you don’t have to wait for them to claim areas. This allows you free reign over all you can observe within your domain. Though, be careful as digging too much can open up areas with enemies and even entry points for heroes to invade. However, occasionally you will find extra troops that immediately join your ranks at no cost to population. Oh and yes, you can still slap them to focus them and speed them up, which never gets old.
There is a clear refinement of rooms since you don’t require lairs for your creatures. For sustenance you can create Breweries, unlike Hatcheries, they require you to build a brewing kettle and have a Snotling to operate it. The added advantage is, you can transport stacks of barrels to units on guard posts and in workshops so they never have to leave their assigned work. The Tinkerers cave with at least one Create-o-matic will give you access to much-needed research for new rooms, traps and various resource buffs. To operate the machinery you will need Goblins that are made available once you build the room. Creatures don’t just flood your dungeon, you actively select the ones you require, which is a vast improvement. If you ever had a problem with too many fireflies in Dungeon Keeper, you know what I’m talking about.
As you go through the levels committing evil deeds like, slaughtering legendary fairies and unicorns, your power grows. When you reach a certain level you can upgrade your throne room. As expected this gives you new rooms and crafting options. The crystal chamber unlocks Nagas; snake-like beings proficient in archery and magic. You can increase your population cap and gain access to spells that you can use to aid your army. Upon building the Chaos Forge you can recruit Trolls that will toil on significant research for troop upgrades. Some of these directly impact your training of creatures in the fighting pits of the Arena room. At the cost of one population point you can specialise your villainous denizens. For example an Orc can become a chieftain with a war dog and Naga’s can become Matriarchs that heal units. This adds much-needed variety in your army of evil that was sorely lacking in Dungeon Keeper. The Hospital as you may guess is for healing damaged units. You are able to research for a resurrection station that recovers dead troops from the world above. This becomes invaluable as it saves you from starting from scratch with leveled up units should they die in battle.
Eventually you will feel confident enough to explore the Overworld. To do this you simply pick up the units you want and drop them on the nearest surface entry point. It’s important to note that you have far less power than in your dungeon. Your evil hand cannot exist beyond your subterranean domain so it’s all down to moving your hoard effectively. Even though you will have set traps like a tower defence game, Bards can disable traps and doors, so it’s a good idea to leave a few soldiers behind. Once on the surface you can select the entire hoard and go on a rampage. With every victory the world around you corrupts which is a really nice touch. One issue is the inability to form numbered squads, which considering the units are a mix of ranged and close assault is a bit odd. As you use fewer button commands in the Overworld it’s not like they couldn’t have implemented it. You end up just charging your hoard in with a complete disregard for tactics often getting ranged units killed in the process.
One really nice surprise was the sidequest that allows you to play as the Chaotic Evil and it’s band of Demons. Though there are many similarities there are distinct differences. Torture rooms instead of arenas, a sacrifice podium to max a creature’s level for the cost of one of your minions. Leveled up Mistresses can become succubii that seduce enemy heroes to fight for them. Clearly some thought has gone into keeping it familiar but having distinct character traits that change things up. It’s well worth completing this sidequest as it gives you the option to attempt the final level with Demons.
Though, the Overworld is the weakest aspect of the game it’s still competent enough to be enjoyable. It was nice to have something to actually work towards. It gave a certain needed logic to creating an army and an underground fortress. The fact your power is significantly less makes sense too, making you feel all the more powerful in the Underworld. It just needs a few tweaks here and there to enhance an element of strategy. The excellent narration from the talented Kevan Brighting is full of sarcasm and pop culture references that made me chuckle on more than one occasion.
There is a steep learning curve for those used to having their hands held as even when explain it’s not entirely clear. I found going on a quick skirmish helped me understand the mechanics better. As you can’t change the main campaign difficulty there’s skirmish modes for extended play on higher difficulties. Skirmish has unique missions like attacking a dragon in it’s cave so it’s not just playing the same old missions from the campaign. There’s also a multiplayer mode with six maps and a choice of Domination where you capture points in the Overworld or Deathmatch, where the goal is to kill the other player by attacking their dungeon heart. All that said, it does little to overshadow the fact that this is the closest thing we have to a Dungeon Keeper game on consoles. The levels take several hours to complete and yet you don’t even feel it. In fact, you want to continue playing, which is testament to how addictive this game is.
Ultimately this is clearly Dungeon Keeper 3 in all but name. There are some things that are sorely missing like the spell to possess your creatures. Which baffles me as that was a key feature in the games it’s inspired by. Also, you start the introductory level as the embodiment of the Ultimate Evil. Though, you never get walk around as him again, even on the final level. So that final battle was bit anti-climactic as the logical outcome to all your efforts should’ve been the Ultimate Evil marching alongside your army. However, this does nothing to diminish just how much Dungeons 2 captures the very essence of it’s inspirational predecessor. Not only that but it goes as far as to improve and refine it. If you were ever a Dungeon Keeper fan then this is a must buy. If you’ve never heard of it and just want a unique based building experience on console, then it’s well worth checking out. In all the Years that have past, I’m glad to say, It’s still very good to be evil.
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