It's no big secret that Dungeons was marketed as the heir apparent to the Dungeon Keeper series. The look of the game in screenshots, the trailers and even the taglines ("Be Evil and Feel Good" vs. "Evil is Good") are so similar, it's hard not to expect a Dungeon Keeper-style of game. Yet if Dungeons originally began as a successor to Bullfrog's lair-building brainchild, it took a completely different path to reach its current form.
Can You Dig It?
Dungeons offers a single-player campaign spanning 20 levels, with the first three serving as a tutorial, and a series of maps for custom games. You control a dungeon lord, an imposing figure that looks like a cross between the movie version of Sauron and the lead character in the Overlord games, from a third-person perspective high above your chiseled-out lair.
Your goal is to manage a series of dungeons with the help of some goblin minions, who will gather gold, fill treasure chests, collect bodies and tunnel through dirt. You must also protect your dungeon's heart -- literally a beating heart -- from angry heroes and powerful champions, since the game ends if the heart is destroyed.
Unlike the Dungeon Keeper series, you don't actually create your lair from scratch, digging out hallways and rooms. Instead you inherit existing dungeons and create links to other established rooms or nearby passageways.
So if you're hoping to create a sprawling layout of your own design, this isn't the game for you. In fact, the building aspect is limited to placing silly trinkets, called prestige gimmicks, on walls or floors to "amuse" the heroes that stroll through your dungeon. These gimmicks range from skeletons on chains to simple chairs or bookcases.
The three resources you'll focus on are prestige, soul energy and gold. Prestige strengthens your dungeon lord's attributes and is gained by either placing the gimmicks throughout the hallways or by placing monster-generating pentagrams on the floor. The pentagrams generate a specific monster type, such as skeletons, bats and slimes, but only after you discover the creature type's lair somewhere on the map.
Pentagrams also expand your influence and prestige throughout the dungeon, allowing you to control more of the map. Gold is collected by either digging or defeating heroes. Soul energy is also taken from defeated heroes, but there's one catch: to earn the most energy, you have to first make the heroes "happy."
Heroes are happiest when their needs are satisfied, and their needs include knowledge, money and gear. In other words, heroes are the typical college student.
Knowledge is satisfied by building a library, money is satisfied by placing treasure chests, and the need for equipment is addressed by building an armory.
The only other room type you can build is a prison, where you'll be able to extract the soul energy from defeated heroes.
So Dungeons isn't about designing the lair of your dreams, nor is it really about killing heroes trying to invade it. Instead it's more like stocking a shopping mall or theme park for adventurers, who will enter your dungeon at specific times, browse your wares, engage in some exercise and collect goods. The key difference is that you don't want them to leave.
C'mon Get Happy
Most of your time is spent managing the influx of heroes in your lair, giving them enough things to look or gawk at and some monsters to satisfy their need to do heroic things. You aren't trying to finish them off as quickly as possible, because then you won't be able to maximize their soul energy.
And that's one of the game's biggest issues: it seems you're more a dungeon nanny than a dungeon lord. There's a paltry number of rooms to build, so you don't have much to do aside from slapping random trinkets down and waiting for heroes to get happy to satisfy your gold and soul numbers. You can't even create doors.
Since you lose a portion of soul energy if heroes are killed by monsters, you're encouraged to take matters into your own hands. That means waiting for the right time to engage heroes with your dungeon lord, which involves a degree of micromanagement.
The click-based combat isn't particularly deep, opting for a Diablo feel, and its frequency can get tiresome, especially for those hoping to spend some time trying to tweak their lairs. While the levels will change in setting and throw in some different objectives, such as side quests to keep your "bosses" happy (which usually involves giving them money or souls), the lack of meaningful choices means you approach each level exactly the same way.
Tales From the Clipped
Later stages will have several hero entrances to keep an eye on, each spitting out waves of magic users, warriors and so forth at timed intervals. As time wears on, heroes will steadily increase in level, so you'll have to spend resources on raising your monsters' levels in return (monsters sadly don't gain experience in combat).
Since your monsters are little more than speed bumps en route to a hero's happiness, it can be aggravating to have to keep monitoring the well-being of heroes instead of making their lives miserable. Yes, it's supposed to be funny, but the joke long overstays its welcome.
Dungeons certainly had the potential to be another game in the vein of Dungeon Keeper, Evil Genius or Tecmo's Deception, but that's not what the developers decided to focus on. And what they did focus on is not as satisfying, opting instead for a twist on tower defense titles.
Since you can't create your dungeons, you don't have an emotional connection to defend them. Since you can't build lairs to attract certain monster types -- only plop down symbols to have them sit in one area -- you can't watch creatures wander through the dungeon, interacting with each other like a monster version of The Sims.
There's embarrassingly few rooms to build, and no real personalization other than tossing around trinkets. Dungeons is a great looking game with enough content to last 30 hours or more, even despite the lack of multiplayer support. Yet its limitations and repetitiveness will likely frustrate those hoping for something deeper.