Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: Dungeon Keeper 2

To start with, a disclaimer; I did not play the original Dungeon Keeper aside from a quick playthrough of the first mission before playing this.  Unfortunately, if graphics don't have a timeless quality to them then I'm quickly put off so I skipped ahead to this game.  Therefore, I can't address any of the 'which is better' arguments.

Dungeon Keeper 2 (which I'm constantly reminding myself doesn't use 'II' instead of '2') is a strategy game developed by Bullfrog, and is quite unlike anything that came before it- apart from its predecessor, naturally.
Previous strategy titles were either Command and Conquer style, i.e build an army base and attack another army base, or they were Theme Park style, i.e micro-manage some sort of business venture peacefully.  This game could be considered a combination of the two.  In it, you play the role of an evil overlord who is trying to wrest control of the portal gems- magical items that when combined will allow passage to the overworld.  To do this a base of operations must be built, providing facilities to keep your creatures happy and train them up ready to take the fight to the lord of the land, all the while defending yourself from pesky heroic adventurers.  Where this differs from other real time strategy games is the fact you have no direct control over your minions; all you can do is guide them to what they should be doing.  The most control you have is picking up and dropping creatures near their task and hoping they do their jobs, or through the use of possession spells.

The UI shows everything you need to see without getting too cluttered.
The level design is extremely well done, unlocking something new with each land you conquer in the campaign.  In many games this would get rather repetitive, starting from scratch each time, but this game will always give you different challenges to face- one level will have you taking your time to build an overwhelming force to defeat a powerful foe, another will have you hurrying to intercept someone before they can escape, another will have you fighting against rival keepers and destroying their bases.  Along with the narration this makes the game constantly feel fresh, and with each level able to be completed in an hour then you won't get bored easily.

Each room you build will attract a new creature, and each time a new creature arrives it will be introduced by your mentor so you'll know exactly what to do with them.  It's well worth your while to attract as many different creatures as you can as they all perform different roles, and to add to the challenge there's no knowing if you'll get the creature you want even when you have the right room for it- a portal can only attract 15 creatures, so if you attract as many creatures as possible straight away to defend against invasion then you may not have room for new creatures to fill new rooms.  By the same token, you may decide a particular level won't need traps, so you won't build a workshop, meaning you won't attract trolls leaving room for other creatures.  And if you decide after all that then it's still not enough, you can capture enemy heroes after defeating them, converting them to your cause through use of the torture chamber.

No I'm not going to address feminism in this review.
Speaking of the torture chamber, it should be noted that this game has a 'Mature' rating.  In my opinion this is unfounded; in ESRB's opinion it's due to excessive gore and violence.  Here's my rundown of what this game contains, for anyone interested: On defeating a creature, they are knocked out.  If they are not transported to a prison, they will die and leave their corpse and a puddle of blood.  If they die in prison, they dissolve into the ground and become a skeleton.  When tortured, a creature will shout in pain though it's far from traumatising.  Mistresses will sometimes climb on torture equipment themselves, and moan in pleasure.  And of course there's the theme of the game which is having fun being evil.  I have not encountered any drug references, swearing, or nudity- if this game was released now I would rate it Teen, and based on the humourous cutscenes I'm guessing that's what the creators were hoping for.

On completing the game I would say there is a lot of replay value, again because of the variety of levels in campaign mode.  If you don't feel like going through the campaign though, there's 'My Pet Dungeon' which is like a sandbox- each dungeon has set conditions, like some will have less gold or spell limitations, but in all of them it's up to you when you unleash your enemies.  The true purpose of this mode is to help you remember the basics of the game, as each dungeon is a tutorial in itself, going into great detail about all the rooms and creatures if you haven't played a while; an excellent idea as there are so many games I've left for a couple of months and forgotten half the features for, requiring me to start all over again.  Then of course there is the (rather limited) skirmish mode, which is fun but does have a limited variety of maps available.  And the multiplayer mode which has the same limitations as skirmish, but does still have an active online community- and if you ever want more maps then there are packs available to download if you look for them.

So how well has this game aged?  It was released in 1999, and the game has quite clearly aged since then,
even compared to 2001's Startopia (a similar game created by some of the same production team).  However, it's easy to ignore the graphical limitations especially when there's such good gameplay.  It also has a lot of charm you don't often get in modern games with various quotes when you reach milestones ('an imp can do a good impression of you' on reaching 20 imps, 'neutral creatures regret they can't attend' if there are unmet neutral creatures somewhere, etc).  Incidentally for the best easter eggs, play this game between midnight and 3am.  Ultimately you should play this game now before the graphics become too unbearable, as HD patches can only do so much.

tl;dr review:
Graphics 7/10- a bit jarring at first but tolerable.  Make the most of it while it lasts.
Sound 9/10- very atmospheric, though you may have explaining to do when your gf or mum's in the room and you pass over the torture chamber.  Mistresses can be loud.
Gameplay 10/10- very addictive, and if you start to get bored it's generally a sign you're powerful enough to complete the current map.
Story 6/10- it's nice to have a story at all compared to some games in the genre, but there's no conclusion.  This game was clearly set-up for a sequel that never came.
Overall 8.5/10- As the tagline says, 'It's good to be bad'.  Rarely do building/RTS games keep me captivated to the end without feeling stale, but this one has- and with its style and sense of humour it's been enjoyable at every stage.  My only hope is that the graphics will stay bearable in years to come, or that a faithful sequel is made to conclude the story- it will be great to see Horny get some fresh air.

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