Dungeons Review

By Published February 23, 2011 at 6:27 pm

The ruthless dismemberment of materially-satisfied heroes, the crunch of elven bone under the weight of an oppressive iron gavel, and the cries issued forth by pertinent champions as they are subjected to the treacherous will of beholders are all sounds that make up the clockwork of a dungeon. Day-in and day-out, dungeon lords very rarely receive the attention that their adversarial adventurers do; rather than resort to anti-depressants, one particular dungeon lord has decided to strike out into the world and create the deadliest, most magnificent dungeons ever to grace a generic fantasy setting. Dungeons is the virtual representation of a tabletop Game Master's dream environment for quick dungeon-crawl assembly.

 

Dungeons puts the design and trickery of a dungeon master, game master, or dungeon lord into the hands of the player. The game thrives on creativity and fluidity, using categorically separated components to ease the development process of your dream dungeon; as the dungeon lord, you place prestigious artifacts on the walls, instruct goblin minions where to dig out rooms, select monsters that give heroes the biggest challenge, place traps, treasures, armories, libraries, and more. The objects are unique for each of the major level categories (Temple, Hell, and Catacombs), which means there are hundreds of fanciful objects to keep heroes (and the dungeon lord, of course) entertained for hours. The game follows a backwards model of placing the gamer in the shoes of a designer, and instead of being a Dovahkiin-like hero, you kill them.

There's a definitive science to any game with sim-like AI; they're generally stupid, glitchy, and overly simplistic -- however, Dungeons knows this and promotes it actively. Heroes are supposed to seem stupid to the residing dungeon lords. They want only to come get your loot, look at a few artifacts, and leave before the Evil Overlord himself makes an appearance. The responsibility is placed on you, as dungeon lord, to create a winding labyrinth of traps and treasures that leads adventurers deep into the bowels of the dungeon, while simultaneously protecting your dungeon heart. The dungeon heart is, essentially, the life-force of your underground kingdom; it acts as a central point for upgrades and quests. Back to the building though: each map has differently themed interactive props, some being more Aztec in nature, while others are basic catacomb or 'evil' hell themes. While achieving the same exact goal -- helping guide heroes through the dungeon -- they have a different look and feel that helps break gameplay up better.

All dungeons need a thriving monster ecology to convince adventurers to come for a visit; most of the monsters present in Dungeons help imbue dungeons with mythology, but are extremely unoriginal and lacking in quantity. As an avid player and DM/GM of tabletop RPGs, I expect to see things like dark elves, dragons, constructs, elementals, orcs, kobolds, 'named mini-bosses,' mimic treasure chests, minotaurs, rooms in foot-deep water that are infested with serpents, and so on. The game has tremendous potential if a clean, easy-to-use modding toolkit is released alongside basic instructions; currently, you can get a map editor, but it's primitive and hard to understand, and that doesn't fix the lack of monsters and artifacts. It's one of those games that could actually be used as a tool for dungeon designers if it were just a tad more complete.

The gameplay takes us through a fairly taut sequence each level: dig out some cleverly placed rooms (trying to route heroes through key areas, like fountains that heal heroes), place as many prestigious artifacts as you can afford, plop down some rewards that guide heroes deeper into your dungeon -- away from the exits, and then open the gates to the world above. Once a hero's satisfaction meter goes up (parallel to his loot, kills, and other basic hero 'needs' ), he will attempt to escape the dungeon with his loot. This is where traps (or you, the dungeon boss) come in to play to prevent gold from leaving your hands. The hero dies happy, which provides you 'soul energy,' which is used to expand your dungeon further. That's right: you can't just put a beholder and two stone guardians in the first room and kill everyone, that'd spread tales of "no one ever returns" in the taverns, which means no more adventurers come to your dungeon. The game is very similar to Rollercoaster Tycoon; make the tourists happy, collect their money, and focus on the 'city building' aspect of your creation.

However, the Tycoon series succeeds because it has hundreds of options -- including the ability to completely customize the rollercoasters and rides in your park. Dungeons falls just short, and lacks the customization required to satisfy the player as well as the heroes. Knowing that a dungeon with six rooms could be just as effective as one with dozens is a let-down; there are only so many room types you can create that serve a mechanical purpose -- libraries, armories, and (unofficially) treasure rooms. If the team added, for example, puzzle rooms (for intellectual heroes), physical challenge rooms (fighters), teleporters, artifacts, and more, I'd be playing the game right now instead of writing this review. Hopefully someone sees this and heeds my advice! I'd love to play that game.

Last modified on February 23, 2011 at 6:27 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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