Before I begin talking about this game, I do need to give a disclaimer. I did not get very far in it, but then I've never been the greatest at dungeon management games. Still, I played for a few weeks, and I think I can give you an idea of what to expect. So please, if you have an interest in this game, have a listen. It might be worth hearing what you are in for.
Story: Ever get dumped by a girl you have been going out with for a long time? How was that experience? I bet it wasn't half as bad as what your character in Dungeons deals with. When the game starts, he is the evil Overlord of all the land... that is until he is forced to flee his dungeon from all the heroes who are flooding into the freshly opened dungeon doors. And why? His now ex-girlfriend Calypso decided they were through and to try to take his place by getting him killed here and now.
After escaping, the rest of the game is spent with your villain climbing the ranks anew in his quest to regain his thrown and get his revenge on Calypso. No really, that is all there is to it from here. Sure each level has something of a background, but really, it's just a little window dressing to explain why each town is worth your time to take over and terrorize.
Within each level, you will have VERY limited storyline as well. Basically what is there is there to support the gimmicks of the level... not the ones you place in your level, but the ones that are there as an attempt to give each level some variety. In this way, it's a lot like old games from the age of DooM... do not expect any real plot in the level, and expect very little between...
Graphics: This game actually looks pretty good when all is said and done. Like most games played from on-high like this, the graphics are a bit more limited in detail then hit FPS games on the market, but then you are not expected to get up close and in person with them. In fact you may zoom out to see more of your dungeon at once since this could be a lot more practical. The only time the detail to that degree hurt this game is when you use a specific spell to make the game more 3rd person-esque and grant your dungeon master a little extra boost on the battlefield doing it.
However, this may not be a good way to go and I will explain why later in the review. But to this end, the game really does look fairly nice, with heroes and monsters alike looking appropriate and even having descent effects when they perform special moves.
If I have any complaint here, it's the shadows. I do not know what engine this game runs on, but it seems slightly unstable in this department and the edges flicker according to your camera position. Hardly a game-breaking issue, but it will bother you during cut-scenes (a few exist for actual story, but most are to get you to do some arbitrary side-mission along the way) or while your camera slowly pans along the map between levels.
The UI also just seems scattered and unorganized. At the top, you have your dungeon heart's health which opens up for options that should probably have been in your main spell interface on the bottom, and your map is just clunky as hell to work with. The only thing that seems done right is your gimmick/prestige/gold/soul power UI. Everything else seems somehow placed a little bit off.
Sound: This is one place where the game fails, but fails slowly. Now, I can forgive the general lack of music. After all, sometimes it can get in the way, and I respect the choice not to have it. However, Dungeons also tries to walk a very fine line between dark and or nerdy but amusing/funny lines and killing the joke. It kinda fails at this. For example, you have no idea how much I wanted to punch heroes by the end of my time with the game for yelling out "walking experience" or "here comes my level!" I get it. You are not the villain of some evil dungeon, you are literally the villain of a video game and you are supposed to run with this gag the ENTIRE TIME. But things like this are more then over-kill.
And at the same time, they are not the worst offenders. Admittedly, I did not get very far, but the zombie king who was supposed to be my boss was beyond obnoxious when repeating requests... partly because of bad acting that I was forced to listen to again and again and again, and partly because EVERY time he came back and repeated the same request from me (aka give him soul power or water flowers (I'm not kidding)) the game had to pause to show me the cut-scene again and again. And let me tell you, looking at a still picture in green floating over a giant read stone (your dungeon heart) is NOT interesting the first time. How the FUCK did they think it would get more interesting the 10th, 15th or even 20th time? Possibly in the same level!
Gameplay: The basic gameplay of Dungeons is fairly simple. Each level will give you specific goals you must complete. These goals can be any number of tasks. I've done everything from simply reaching X prestige to finding an artifact within the dungeon.
To accomplish this, you need 3 resources: Prestige, Soul Power, and Gold. Prestige is determined by how many "gimmicks" or decorations you put about your dungeon. Each one costs X soul power and produces Y Prestige which will be noted in the menu you can select them from.
To obtain this soul power, you need to collect it from heroes who enter your dungeon. This game deviates from being like Dungeon Keeper VERY directly here, for simply killing heroes is often not enough. They need to first be as satisfied as you can make them. This can be done by leaving treasure for them to find, monsters that wont finish them off, but will give them quite a workout, libraries to read from, armories to find new gear in, or even simply cool things to wander around and admire while they adventure. Just be careful to take them out before they leave the dungeon satisfied, or they will take whatever they collected with them and you will have to pay for it to be replace.
Once they are satisfied and killed, you will collect some soul power on the spot, but to get the max out of them, you will need a prison for your goblins to bring the fallen hero to for the soul power to be slowly extracted from them until they are dry of all the satisfaction they collected, but either way you also get back everything they collected and whatever gold they had on them to begin with. That gold will be used to buy pretty much everything else in the game, be it libraries, pentagrams to summon your monsters (or spawn points if you prefer), armories, prisons, or even just to leave around to attract these heroes in the first place. But be warned, you MUST satisfy these heroes somehow as you go. Otherwise they will get mad and just go straight for your dungeon heart. If it dies, it's game over.
Obviously this requires watching over the map heavily, which, as I said in the graphics topic, kinda renders the "up-close-and-personal" mode pretty useless.
And I wish that I could stop here explaining the gameplay, but once again, they really wanted to spice up the variety a bit more here by having your "boss" randomly ask you to do something once in a while. Again, this is varied. I've done everything from kill his zombies that refused to listen to him and came after my dungeon heart before they could get there, to watering flowers within a time limit before he SENDS his zombies to attack my dungeon heart. But this is where the game goes from pretty formulatic to VERY annoying. Your boss seems to feel himself important enough that whenever these events happen (seems to be once every X minutes in each level), you don't just get a voice over. The whole game stops so the cut-scene his still image floating over your dungeon heart can repeat again, including whatever your side-kick says to try to talk him out of it. It completely cuts you away from the game and will annoy the shit out of you.
Bugs: This game seems to be very solid, and I have VERY few technical complaints with it. However there are a few. First and foremost is the launcher. I have no problem with a game using a log-in instead of needing the disc in the drive to play, so long as I can install it as many times as I like wherever I like, and that seems to be the case here. It's better, however, when the game auto-updates in the process. The problem I have here is the time it took to do this. The game is 2 gigabytes and it installed fast enough, but then it took close to an hour to download and patch 100 megabytes of patch... on a CABLE MODEM.
I checked if it was my connection by a random download of MS-Safety Scan and confirmed normal web-browser based download speeds (500K/s or so) so this is definately something on Kalypso's end. They really need to fix that.
However, ingame was also not flawless. Im running a high end machine (Phenom II 6x with a Geforece GTX 460 backing it), so the occasional hitch in on-screen animation was less then welcome or understandable. Still it was minor, enough to let go.
But clearly someone was cutting corners in the audio department. It's not uncommon in this game for your sidekick to read off the description of a level you are about to play... over himself saying the name of it. It was funny the first time. It was eye-rolling the 5th.
Overall: This game is a bit of a mess, but not without it's merits. If you enjoy micromanagement games, this is probably one to check out, especially at it's current price of $20. The sense of humor will amuse, at least for a while and you will probably have fun figuring out how to manage the dungeon. But do so with caution. It is hardly the best of it's kind, or even from this company.
Acquired through: Bestbuy (physical copy no longer available)
Available at: Gamestop