Long-time fantasy gamers will at some time in their life wonder why, exactly, the world is populated with all those dungeons. And I'm not talking about the simple jail or root-cellar, I'm talking about the miles of endless corridors, dripping with slime, covered in traps and pitfalls, and teeming with countless monsters. Is there a real reason for all of this, or are these underground catacombs merely a fantasy trope?
Dungeons, the latest dungeon-building game from Kalypso, looks to address these burning questions. Old-school gamers will undoubtedly see many similarities to the old Dungeon Keeper series, and while there are many parallels between the two games, Dungeons takes a slightly different approach to the whole "overlord vs. heroes" idea.
Rather than those goody-two-shoes Heroes being the bane of your average, hard-working Evil Underlord, heroes in Dungeons are actually part of a symbiotic dungeon necessity, essentially filling a vital niche in the Evil Ecosystem. Heroes are an excellent source of Soul Energy, a resource needed to build and maintain the biggest and baddest of underground dwellings. But Heroes don't come filled to the brim with this Soul Energy, they first have Needs which can only be fulfilled by entering dank, monster-laden caverns and doing some proper adventuring. Only after the Hero has fully satiated his Needs, such as gathering treasure or pounding poor, sniveling underworld denizens, will he be filled with Soul Energy and ripe for harvest. So the role of a Dungeon Master is not to simply kill off these Heroes, but instead to carefully tailor their dungeons to provide the best possible dungeoneering experience.
Players control the Dungeon Lord, who lost his underground empire to a peeved ex-girlfriend. Left with nothing but a few worker imps and a Dungeon Heart, players must work to rebuild their one-time glory by ravaging the lands one underground at a time. To begin, players must first command their imps to begin digging out various chambers and corridors for the dungeon floorplan. Most dungeon development can only be carried out in a sphere of influence, initially limited to areas surround the Dungeon Heart. However, influence can be extended through the construction of monster pentagrams. These influence-spreaders also serve as spawn points for the dungeon denizens, insuring Heroes plenty to kill on their underground romps. There are also several doorways to the surface scattered throughout a level--once these are excavated and opened, Heroes will begin wandering the halls, looking for adventure. To satisfy these heroes, players must fill treasure chests with loot, sprinkle dastardly traps throughout the halls, construct eldritch libraries filled with lost knowledge, and forge wondrous weapons and armors for Heroes to "discover".
Once a Hero is full of soul energy, they must be harvested. Letting a monster simply kill them incurs a penalty, losing precious energy. Instead, players need to build prisons and torture chambers to fully extract every last ounce of goodness from the Hero. Of course, Heroes being as they are, they may eventually get bored with simply adventuring, and might decide to rid the land of Evil. Once they get this in their minds, they'll head for the Dungeon Heart and attempt to destroy it. Should they succeed, it's game over.
Building the dungeon isn't only about practicality--the best Dungeon Lords know that the most impressive dungeons are brimming with style. Players can dress up their dungeons with a large variety of gimmicks, from flickering braziers to dilapidated furniture to piles of rotting skulls. These decorations aren't merely aesthetic, either--each adds to a dungeon's Prestige, which in turn bolsters the Dungeon Lord himself, and causes more advanced (and, consequently, more Soul Energy-rich) Heroes to wander into the depths.
The Dungeon Lord is the strongest of controllable characters, and much time will be spent with him wandering around his domain in action-RPG fashion. Rather than let his minions do all the work, the Dungeon Lord can take point in the fight, unleashing powerful melee or magic attacks. Like most RPGs, the Dungeon Lord can advance along various skill trees when as he gains in experience and power, allowing players to focus on their favorite paths to Ultimate Evil.
Although still a preview build, and yet in need of some tweaks and polish, Dungeons is shaping up to be a charming and engrossing strategy/RPG. In my mind, Dungeons has some pretty big shoes to fill, walking in the footsteps of one of my more beloved titles from the 90s. I'm crossing my fingers for this one, and eagerly awaiting another chance to put my evil building skills to work.