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Dungeons 3 (PC) artwork

Dungeons 3 (PC) review


"We're going deeper underground"


There was a time when Dungeon Keeper was a thing and everyone was happy about that. Developed by serial success artists, Bullfrog, Dungeon Keeper made you the bad guy, trapped you underground and released floods of do-gooders to pinch your gold and slaughter your troops. So you diligently mined out rooms, produced traps and bulked up your army of goblins, spiders and ghosts to thwart them. Many hours were lost to malicious chuckling, a sequel was produced and loved by all, and evil overlords destroyed all that was good worldwide. Then EA came along and ruined a good thing, as EA are wont to do. The series and the genre it championed were forgotten about for decades, until an awful mobile port dripping with beloved EA staples like microtransactions came along to be derided by a sneering fanbase.

While the founding title was cut down in its prime by a mixture of corporate greed and general incompetence (I’m not bitter), other titles have taken up the mantle from time to time to try to appeal to Keeper’s now nomadic fanbase. Games like Craft the World, Evil Genius and War for the Overworld are all worth a mention, but so too is the Dungeon series. The initial release was a clumsy but honest tribute to Bullfrog’s fallen juggernaut that did little more than clumsily ape its inspiration. The second release tried to do more, by allowing your rampaging hoards to leave the murky underground and reign chaos on the world above. The third game offers more of the same.

It would be a disservice to suggest that Dungeons III is just the second game with a few new maps lobbed in (especially when Dungeons II has that rarest of things; genuinely good DLC campaign extensions that do just that without the need for a sequel). There are changes afoot. For one, there is a much greater number and variety of missions that often go above and beyond just having you patiently build an unstoppable force and roll over everything when the time’s right. One early mission pits you against a fortified town filled with formidable gluttons. The only way to break their defences is to routinely hijack their food shipments until you starve them out and can put them to the sword. Another asks you to collect various ingredients from both the under and overworld to sacrifice so that you can summon a new demon ally. Another introduces a day/night cycle that has you under siege from hardy foes by day, but sees them exhausted at night, allowing you to creep around relatively unchallenged while they slumber and you destroy all their stuff.

Dungeons 3 (PC) image

Trying to juggle both aspects of the experience was a staple of the previous Dungeons game, but only up to an extent. Now the two halves are more symbiotic and feel much more like a whole.

In Dungeons II, you were free to lurk in your lair, building up your army and slaughtering the occasional band of heroes who journeyed into your depths in the name of goodness until you wanted to venture out. Some of that remains the same: the construction of your lair and the smooth management of your numerous facilities continues to be the foundation of a worthwhile army of evilness. You still need a constant supply of mined gold to pay wages or make purchases. Your troops need to be housed, fed and maintained. Want to start building traps to chip away at would-be defenders? You’ll need the machinery to produce it and the manpower to put it all in place. Want to start using the corpses of your enemies to animate a few zombies? You’ll need a graveyard for that.

But now, you’ll only get so far if you stay underground and only peek outside when armed with seven shades of overkill. You start most missions with the bare minimum of resources and have to purchase upgrades if you want anything more than basic minions and humdrum facilities. To begin with, you can get fledgling upgrades with just the gold you mine from your dungeon alone, but soon, you need to chip in with a source of evil essence. For the most part, you can only obtain that by destroying particularly saccharine spots in the overworld, like pretty waterfalls and picturesque hobbit villages. Burn them to the ground, replace them with a garden of evil, and watch the resources build up in the background.

It’s a clever way to force you above ground before you might think you’re ready, because becoming strong enough to obtain victory is going to require upgrades hidden behind the evil essence paywall. Without it, you’ll never be able to hire Nagas, who act as the horde’s healers, or obtain workshops to build your traps and doors. So you’re forced to take risks, to order fledgling armies into the sunlight to chip away and guard posts and creep your way to garden sites. You need to sneak in the odd raid before a platoon of heroes invades your underdeveloped base because you don’t have the resources to fill it full of traps, or you lack the population numbers to split your army in both defenders and attackers.

Dungeons 3 (PC) image

Dungeons III has also done away with the big evil being a floaty malicious hand, except, at the same time, completely hasn’t. The ethereal evil presence you use to slap minions around and lob them into the corners of your dungeon that need immediate attention remains, but it also has an avatar in the form of the corrupted dark elf, Thayla. Having a controllable champion was something touched upon in the second game’s expansions, but Dungeons III makes her the focus of the campaign’s plot, having her destroy former allies with either a sense of malicious glee or guilt-laden horror depending on which side of her light/dark persona is currently in charge. She’ll spend the game arguing with herself on the rights and wrongs of centaur genocide, or the pros and cons of a bloodthirsty mob compared to a chat and a cup of tea. It gives the game a personality to drive it onward rather than rely on a wraith-like swirling of evil and constant interruptions by the narrator.

Voiced by Kevan Brighting, who you might recognise as that posh British fellow who made fun of you for hiding in the broom closet during your third attempt at The Stanley Parable, the narrator returns from the second game to begrudgingly offer guidance, cheerfully make fun of your slow progress and declare open war on the fourth wall. Only, this time, rather than being stuck being an endless collection of monologues while talking to a formless being that has no way to communicate back, he now has a foil in the form of Thayla, who can take offence at his comments and shoot back barbs of her own. At one point, she derides him for not commenting quickly enough and mentions how reviews of the previous game criticized some of his snippets as forced and unneeded. To which the narrator clears his throat and says “And, suddenly, magical bears attack”, wherein bears appear from nowhere to maul your party. They keep appearing until she finally apologises.

It’s all pretty subjective, but Dungeons III is funny because it knows what it is and knows who it’s trying to appeal to. But, even if it lacked that quality, there’s enough variety in the twenty-mission single player campaign to appeal to the people who still feel a little bit sadder when they remember that Bullfrog is dead and Dungeon Keeper is never coming back. But, while Dungeons used to be a tribute act (and a pretty decent one at that), it’s learned from its mistakes, it has invested in what worked and it has outgrown that comparison. It’s dared to change the foundations enough to finally become its own thing. It also asks you to kill unicorns. I could not be further on board with that.

4/5

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Mr. Wise Guy (October 30, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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