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Realmforge Studios Dungeons 2
I don’t really want to spend most of my Dungeons 2 review discussing the mobile “game”/extortion attempt/mockery that EA put out a few years back and slapped with the name Dungeon Keeper in order to prey on people’s nostalgia for the classic PC game. Mainly because I never want to think about that piece of garbage ever again.
So I won’t. Suffice it to say, Dungeons 2 is better than that pseudo-Dungeon Keeper racket.
But that bar couldn’t be lower if the person holding the bar got stabbed in the gut by EA, fell down a conveniently placed flight of stairs into a basement, and then carried the bar six feet further down into a freshly-dug grave.
Is Dungeons 2 any good not just in comparison, but on its own? Ah, now that’s the real question.
Pat head, rub stomach
Dungeons 2 is interesting because it’s not solely a Dungeon Keeper imitator.
There is a Dungeon Keeper element, and inevitably that’s the part that’ll draw people to the game. Playing the part of the disembodied Ultimate Evil, you’re charged with building out an underground lair to help plot your revenge. With the help of a trusty portal-straight-to-hell you’ll hire minions to do all the work your ghostly self cannot do—dig out rooms for treasure, rooms for brewing beer, rooms for researching traps, and et cetera.
But this underground element is merely your base of operations. Bring your minions aboveground and the indirect god-game control that comes with any Dungeon Keeper-esque title is replaced by direct, RTS-style controls and combat.
You know that old "spinning plates" carnival trick? The one where there are a bunch of plates balanced on thin wooden rods and it's all some poor guy can do to run up and down the line of them, tapping each one in turn to keep the whole group spinning?
That's sort of how Dungeons 2 feels.
It's like twelve different systems, all running in real-time, all equally important, all of which need your attention simultaneously. Maybe you’re busy managing your troops aboveground. That’s fine—except that underground you’ve forgotten to zone more rooms for excavation, your research room is backed up and its crew bored, your treasury is empty, and while you’ve researched how to build hospitals you still haven’t built one.
You flip to the underground view to try and rectify some of these issues, and you succeed—except now two of your aboveground units were killed off while you were busy. And to top it all off, now a group of enemies are infiltrating your dungeon and you don’t have any troops belowground to kill them off with. Hopefully your traps hold…
This is Dungeons 2 at its best—a frantic scramble between two different games, like trying to play chess against a grandmaster at the same time you’re competing in a Twister tournament. Dungeons 2 isn’t exactly shy about its inspirations, but it doesn’t need to be. Just like Darksiders shamelessly flaunts its Zelda inspirations, Dungeons 2 gets to be cavalier about where it’s ripping ideas from because it uses those ideas in new and interesting ways. It’s two very safe, derivative concepts (Dungeon Keeper and an RTS) that when combined present new challenges.
Unfortunately, there’s a compromise: Dungeons 2 is neither a great RTS nor a great Dungeon Keeper game. It’s just “pretty good” at both.
As Ron Swanson once said on Parks and Rec: “Don’t half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” I’m not sure I completely agree—there’s a brilliance to the underlying concept of Dungeons 2, and I’m glad the game exists.
But the problem with Dungeons 2 is that neither the RTS side of things nor the dungeon management side has any real depth. On the dungeon side this manifests as a lack of rooms. I often finished levels with massive amounts of empty space, because I just didn’t need a second treasure room or a second hospital or a second brewery or what have you—to say nothing of the fact that Dungeons 2 barely even tries to innovate on the Dungeon Keeper formula. On the RTS side, combat relies more on throwing enemies into the grinder than it does on strategy and micromanaging.
The problem is exacerbated once you leave the campaign’s training wheels behind. The Dungeons 2 campaign is actually kind of brilliant because it masks the game’s biggest problem—when you run out of things to do, you can ascribe it to the level’s built-in constraints. Play a normal singleplayer match though and you’ll quickly reach the same impasse, and this time it’s not because the game’s holding something back. There’s just not a ton of depth.
It’s not too surprising. If either side were as fully-featured as your standard RTS or Dungeon Keeper imitator, there’s no way a player could pay attention to both sides. The problem is the initial challenge of managing both your dungeon and your aboveground troops is all-too-quickly replaced by the feeling you’re knocking against the game’s skill ceiling.
There are a few other knocks I have against the game—namely, that the dungeon controls are super picky and imprecise, which is all the more noticeable when you come back from the tight RTS controls in the other half of the game. Also, the UI is cluttered and often completely obtuse. Why, for instance, do I need a separate menu for “Rooms” and “Production Rooms”?
And on the other side of the scale, I’d be remiss not to mention the game’s solid writing. Sometimes the game’s silliness stretches into trying-too-hard territory, but overall there’s a decent mix of fairytale parody and fourth-wall breaking meta-jokes in Dungeons 2, all excellently voiced by Kevan Brighting (or as you might know him: The Narrator from The Stanley Parable).
At one point somebody said “Hey, what if we had Internet built into our phones?” and that probably seemed crazy, but now I can stand at the top of a mountain and check my email, and most of us seem to agree that’s A Cool Thing.
On the other hand, somebody else said “What if we had Internet built into our refrigerator?” and you know what? That one actually was weird and crazy.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s merit to trying something new. By taking two old-hat concepts and throwing them into a single game, Dungeons 2 certainly forges its own identity—and does a pretty decent job in the process. But some small part of me can’t help but wish Dungeons 2 had just taken the Cities Skylines route and just delivered an updated version of a classic game with all the whizz-bang whistles and complexity afforded by modern hardware.
Realmforge Studios Dungeons 2
Dungeons 2 is neither a great RTS nor a great Dungeon Keeper game. It’s just “pretty good” at both.
- Bright and colorful Warcraft III-esque art style
- Solid writing and excellent narration
- Lacks late-game depth
- Obtuse user interface
- RTS is more like RTS-lite