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SummaryDungeon Keeper has been hailed as a revolutionary game and so it is. It has done something new for computer gaming industry.
The GoodThe fantasy gaming has been born out of the desire of to immerse into the works of J. R. Tolkien and other fantasy writers. And so the Dungeons and Dragons was born, and than it expanded to the computers. As Mat Barton’s Dungeons and Desktops points out the role of Dungeon Master from Dungeons and Dragons is given to the player in Dungeon Keeper. This is the first time something like that is attempted before the role of Dungeon Master has been played by the computer. In difference with Dungeons and Dragons where Dungeon Master is neutral in Dungeon Keeper the player is evil and bent on destroying heroes that go to his dungeon for the dungeon crawl. And it is truly a dungeon crawl for the computer controlled heroes who go thought the dungeon to vanquish great evil as it usually is or one can interpret the dungeon heart that looks like some kind of magical precious item as that orb that appears at the end of the dungeon in the dungeon crawl. In addition, the same classes are seen as in Dungeons and Dragons: Thieve Warrior/Knight, Barbarian, and Wizard with races being elves, humans and dwarves.
The concept of the game drew a lot of popularity because it appeals to the wants of players that looked for a chance to play for evil were tired of good triumphing all the time. The game tries not to give the evil side any reason to make the player understand why Dungeon Keeper is evil. He just is and that what makes it great. The player doesn’t see himself being right in what he dose as Dungeon Keeper, all the actions are evil.
And so let’s first look at the content that comes with the game. There is short story that is amusing to read and nicely written with the spirit of the game. Than there is a manual that is made to look like the book from Middle Ages. The manual is long and through and explains all the game and everything present there. It details the rooms of the dungeons, the creatures and the heroes as well as the spells that the Dungeon Keeper can use and those that the creatures and heroes could use. There is an error in the manual with regards to cave in spell ability to create land on the water, I tried it and it doesn’t work. However, reading the manual is not essential as the game has its own tutorial missions that do a great job of teaching about the game.
Now to the game itself, there are plenty of good things in the game itself. The graphics (and I don’t mean the quality as this is old game) are great, each creature has its own graphics for variety of situations, from when they are fighting, working, being tortured or picked up. All of them have unique first person view when they are possessed by the player. This is another good thing about the game the variety of ways to interact with the creatures and the environment. Ability to possess the creatures changes the game to different level and allows admiring the dungeon from the first person view. Here is the second plus is the look of the dungeon. It does look like one with some dimly lit corridors (when you are in first person) and each room has distinctive decoration to it. The cursor adjusts to the environment and often presents itself as devilish looking hand which is nice. The dungeon shakes as the keeper lays the rooms is another interesting add on. There something else needs to be noted, whether intentionally or not the game puts your dungeon keeper in red while the enemy dungeon keeper is blue and the heroes are white. This is interesting change from the default arrangement of the strategy games where often the default colour for the player is blue and the enemy is red. Whether this arrangement is due to the effects of the Cold War on the industry (NATO = blue, Warsaw Pact = red).
The sound is also good as each creature has distinct sound and there sound for when the player builds the rooms. Additional sound effects also add to the game experience. There is advisor’s voice that sounds right as the advisor should be. Exactly who is this advisor is hard to say but I would take creative license to call him the devil sitting on the players shoulder. The music soundtrack I did not notice, and I am not sure if it was there. However it is not really needed.
The gameplay itself is great as it changes the approach to the strategy game. The units arrive themselves without the need to build them, just build proper rooms. They have to be persuaded to train but they will choose to do that and can choose to do something else. Of course, the creatures that are trained and so have higher level are better fighters. The creatures need sleep and food and have their own schedule and ask for money. The question remains as to what they do with it. Some creatures appear differently through the transformation process of the dead in the graveyard, prisoners in the prison or torture victims in the torture room. In addition, there is possibility to attract creatures to join from the enemy’s side. Finally temple allows generating new creatures as well as receiving certain bonuses through sacrifices done there to the dark gods.
However, the creatures do have mood swings and they also do not like some other creatures, this adds to the game as the player has to manage these creatures to prevent them from killing each other. Also worthy of the notice is the unique characters of the creatures are reflected by the fact that they have distinct names. The manufacture of items such as doors and traps is done through the workshop where the creatures choose to work, so are the spells and rooms are researched by the use of the library where the creatures choose to research. This is all gives the game a very different character.
Another small thing to add is the fact that each room has a flag that indicates the efficiency of the room in performing its job, how full is it and how much it has health to resist being converted by the enemy. This is additional perk as the game allows player to capture enemy rooms.
I also would like to point out the ease with which one can cast spells here in the busy fight. The spells are cast by pointing at creature icon and casting the spell rather than aiming in the game world. That option is also available.
Than there is the great story that the single player campaign follows. The player sees a lush land of green with blue seas and blue sky. However, this supposed to disgust the evil dungeon keeper and every land that is conquered turns into barren earth with lava flow. The more is conquered the more things change, seas change colour so does the sky. Each mission is accompanied by before and after messages that describe what was the land before and how it transformed thanks to the player. The story advances beautifully and has allusions to the Ultima game by calling the grand good hero avatar and giving him the same image as the he has in Ultima.
The ending cinematic for the campaign is done nicely with the same dark humour as the rest of the game.
Finally, the game has hidden levels and bonus level last one appears during the full moon. There are also plenty of other Easter eggs that the player would love.
The BadWell the game has some bad things as well. The first thing I would like to point out is the computer A.I. assistant that is given to the player that supposed to make the player’s life easier but in my opinion makes it harder due to inadequate A.I. The same goes for the computer enemy A.I. The difficulty is only added by the starting conditions and the restrictions on the human player. The traps that are present in the game look a lot alike and so are hard to distinguish. The second part is that is the traps and doors can’t be requested and build at will by the creatures. Of course, if there is too many of them in the workshop remaining than the creatures complain about the lack of room to work.
Finally the spells and the possession mode are not as useful to the player as many spells could only be cast over one’s territory. And possession doesn’t add enough to the game to make the action worth the time.
The game has also major flaw, which is lack of skirmish mode against computer in single player. The campaign is the only thing available which after is done could mean the end of interest in the game as even though there are bonus hidden levels they do not add drastically to the game.
Another minor flaw is the fact that opening cinematic does not much the game entirely as the alarm trap doesn’t look like that in the game. So is the entrance that the hero uses looks like a castle rather than the entrance to the dungeon that heroes use in the game. However this problem was common in those days as cinematic was often made before game was finalised.
One thing that is left unanswered is what exactly Dungeon Keeper is; there are numerous mentions in the game to Dungeon Keeper as physical entity. Enemy Keepers even promise to feed Dungeon Keeper’s corpse to their minions, but Dungeon Keeper physically is nowhere to be found. Same goes for his advisor.
Of course, than there is realism (believability of the game world) problems. There appears to be no explanations for how it is possible to hold up the ceiling on the large rooms that Dungeon Keeper builds, nor real explanation for how Bile Demon moves around with no legs and skinny arms. How come chicken eggs pop out of the soil is also unexplained. The hero entrances just look too weird in comparison to the portals used by the creatures. However this is not as important.
The Bottom LineOverall this game is great and accomplishes a lot of things. It fulfills the role of being entertaining and in addition it is also is able to pass on the message of how hard it is to be the evil guy and how hard it is to manage different people with egos, likes and dislikes and to satisfy their needs at the same time. In terms of the improvements the game could make is the number one being ability to get some money back out of the creatures because on many maps the gold is finite resource and creatures ask to be paid more and more.
The other things that would be great is ability to order doors and traps that the player needs than just wait for them to be manufactured.
Finally a better creature management and grouping system for combat system would also be great as it would help to move the creatures to the battlefield more effectively. This means also the ability to pick up more than 8 objects and ability to determine exactly what the creatures are doing as research, manufacturing and training are shown on the creature list by the same icon.