It has certainly been a long time since we’ve had a good dungeon builder game. I don’t mean that to be rude to those that have attempted it, but when you look at all of the games to have come out in the genre, nothing really triumphs over the Dungeon Keeper games from Bullfrog Studios.
Now that Bullfrog has been dead for well over a decade, a lot of developers have picked scraps from their legacy and tried to succeed in improving them. Many have tried, and quite a few have failed to do anything, save for falling short. However, in the case of Realmforge Studios, this isn’t one of those stories.
Realmforge has delivered the Dungeons series, a set of games that focus around the Undeniable Evil Overlord, whose whole point in life was to conquer the lands and raise an army of evil minions. Having completed that goal in the first two games, the Undeniable Evil became a recluse, locking himself away in his secret lab as he munched on unicorns. Once he came out of his lab, he declared that he would have a fleet created in order to conquer a newly discovered island. After the fleet sinks a few times, he decides just to corrupt an already evil person and make them his apprentice.
That is when the game introduces you to Thalya, a dark elf that was adopted by a paladin and raised to be good. The Undeniable Evil bonds his shadow with her, allowing the true might of her powers to come through as she slaughters the people in her hometown. She then descends into the Fatiguing Library’s basement, and starts about her efforts to create a dungeon to fight off the goody two-shoed heroes of this island.
If you think the story already sounds pretty comedic in a dark, unicorn legs for dinner sort of way, then you’d be right on the money. The game prides itself with going evil and making you the great big villain that you deserve to be, and it certainly commits to the comedy aspect of it. The narrator, voiced by somebody that sounds similar to David Attenborough, is a very conversational individual that helps bolster the story, whilst poking fun at the conventions of gaming sequels as a whole. One of the most memorable exchanges takes place in the third mission of the game when you have to unleash these demons from powerful stones.
The narrator, after you unseal the third stone, informs Thalya that there is one last stone that she needs to corrupt. She asks him why she has to do this a fourth time, for every good game has three goals to each level. He responds by telling her that yes, in fact, every GOOD game has three objectives. Take that how you want, but it’s that kind of doubled-edged comedy that the narrator rattles on with throughout the campaign of the game… whether it be about him talking about his lucrative narrator contract, or about how much he hates the paladin, simply because he won’t understand that Thalya has gone bad and won’t go back.
Now, as much as I hate to correct the narrator in this game, Dungeons 3 is a good game. The main focus is set around you building up your dungeon in each level, and then swinging up to the topsoil and corrupting the good lands of what I’ll deem Sequel Island. You have to design the rooms by marking out squares to be excavated, and you’ll have to wait as your Little Snots go about shaping the caverns to your bidding. You have to dig up gold veins to purchase room tiles, and to hire monsters to send out and kill the heroes that infest the soil above your dungeon. If you do a poor job of stocking monsters up in your dungeon, heroes will enter and go about destroying the Dungeon heart, otherwise known as the giant red videogame weak point of your entire dungeon.
In order to unlock new rooms and monsters, you must spend large sums of money in the research tab. Some of the research items will require you to spend Evilness, which is gained by corrupting monuments on the top section of the level. To corrupt said monuments, all you have to do is slaughter the heroes that guard it, and that will start netting you a passive income of evilness, with a large payout upfront. You can spend this Evilness on endless upgrades to increase the stats of your monsters, which will allow you to spend significantly less time mowing down hordes, for your creatures will become murdering machines!
I personally liked to rock a bunch of Goblins and a couple of Nagas. The Goblins would do hefty amounts of DPS, whilst the Nagas keep my party healthy with their healing abilities. A thing to keep in mind whilst you push your way through the game is that there are different types of monsters that you have access to. There are Horde monsters, which are your typical Goblins and Orcs and Nagas, Undead, which include Lichs and Banshees and Vampires, and there are also Demons, which will resurrect themselves at the cost of draining some of your Mana. All three of these types also have Titan-class monster, which are wildly expensive, but will have no difficulty in crushing any opponent that crosses their path.
My only issue with the research system is that it restarts at the beginning of each level. I really wish they would give the option of at least keeping Thalya’s levels, just so you don’t have to reset entirely, and because it doesn’t make sense for her to lose her levels. She should be perpetually getting stronger, and so I’d argue that her base level should go up once every mission until it caps out at the max research. This would give more of a natural curve to her power, and would make it significantly less likely that she’ll die during a small confrontation with a gunner enemy.
There are different types of enemies too, ranging from melee and long ranged confrontations, all the way to support class gunners and mages that can do large amounts of damage whilst suffering from having low amounts of health. You will certainly need to diversify your battalion of ghoulish minions if you want to succeed with minimum casualties. If you don’t care amount casualties, I suggest just using Goblins and following a strategy akin to that of Zerg Rushing. The reason why I suggest that is because the AI gets confused when there are large numbers of targets, especially in the closed off tunnels of your Dungeon. This exploitation of the game’s AI makes for a near childish playthrough of the game, but definitely assists in the Skirmish game modes, which includes a 20-wave survival mode that I’ve yet to beat.
The best part of Dungeons 3 would have to be the Skirmish mode, simply because it unlocks all of the research and lets you see what the end game looks like. Plus, it means that your days of dungeoneering don’t have to end simply because the story ran short. If you want to boot up a match and lay waste to some non-descript location, you can do just that without having to worry about the ramifications of whether or not it’s canonical to the story!
While I’ve talked a lot about the positives and what I like about the game, it does fall short of certain things that can definitely get annoying for some players. The first of these issues is the performance and loading times of this game.
Dungeons 3 generally sits at around 30 frames-per-second, but will occasionally drop below that when you’re either doing large amounts of dungeon expansion, or if you have a generally large number of monsters. Pair the concept of having a lot of monsters in a dungeon that you’re expanding together, and throw in some combat against enemy units. Once you’ve concluded that scenario in your head, imagine playing it back as the game jumps between frame rates, never settling itself on one particular number, and certainly never getting up to a pleasant number of frames until after the battle has finished. The biggest flaw here is that in order to target a specific enemy, say the healer in a group, you have to be able to select them using the cursor and press X on them once you’re hovering over them in order to prioritize them. Those same flaws that I exploited in the AI are unfortunately quite prevalent in your minions as well, but are exacerbated because of the sheer number of monsters you can have all trying to attack a certain enemy. They sometimes just can’t find a path to your enemies, and will take significant amounts of damage in the process of standing still as they try to figure out who to prioritize.
Now, the loading times are a bit off putting, especially the first time of booting up the game. I launched it, and it took quite a few minutes to actually get off the ground, and then it crashed. Granted, it was right after the latest Xbox update, and so that could have been a factor, and I certainly didn’t experience any issues after that first crash, but it was still quite unfortunate. It takes a decent amount of time to get into a Skirmish map, mostly because it seems that the game procedurally generates the maps to some extent, and even then, the biggest is only 100 tiles by 100 tiles. When you’re going for a massive, well planned dungeon, everything starts to bleed over itself.
Also given the fact of how small that map ends up being, the game starts to feel like it’s wildly unoptimized compared to the size of what it is showing you. Granted, it is rendering the top world at the same time as the bottom section of the world, but it’s still a negative impact to my gaming experience.
There are also a few other minor negatives, like the monsters being a bit slower than they should be whilst moving around the dungeon, and some of Thalya’s lines away from dialogue sequences that sound like they need a bit more balancing in terms of volume. I could be playing at midnight with a very low volume on my television, and it would sound like somebody is actively being murdered right in front of me. It’s not really a massive negative, but it was something that stuck with me and popped up every time I went to boot up the game.
Of course, I want to end on a positive note, simply because I don’t want to give you the impression that I hated everything that was detail oriented about Dungeons 3. I really do love the general aesthetic in this game, but there’s a particular graphical change that I simply adore – this comes from the process of converting monuments in the top world. When you change these monuments to be evil landmarks, the area around it begins to become saturated in darker colors, and some of the props around that turn into evil recreations. I recall seeing several meat grinders and a few guillotines, and possibly even a fisherman being replaced by a giant fish that was trying to hook a human. It’s this surreal environment that really adds to the appeal, and just makes it that much more evil!
All in all, Dungeons 3 is certainly an improvement upon the original Dungeon Keeper games that Bullfrog made. Sure, you can’t go first person as a minion and fight your opponents, or at least I didn’t see a way to, but it has a large amount of content and scenarios that leave you feeling both pleasantly surprised, and content with the game. If you like a base builder that harkens back to the age of Evil Genius and Dungeon Keeper, and can look past some performance issues and the occasionally stupid AI, then this is definitely one you should look at getting. It’s funny, it looks nice, and it will definitely fill that need to plunder and pillage!