Heroes. Virtuous beings who take it upon themselves to rid the world of evil and bring about a calm to the populace while slaughtering any monstrous beings who may oppose them in any shape or form. Such despicable pathetic bags of flesh. If you ever wanted to play as the villain few games have managed to come close to Bullfrog’s Classic title Dungeon Keeper, a 1997 simulation game that has you running your own personal dungeon, digging out and building rooms, enticing creatures and training them, researching spells and constructing traps all with the goal of wiping the forces of good off the map.
The game is incredibly simple to pick up and play and at times can be incredibly challenging, especially when we look at the expansion pack ‘The Deeper Dungeons’ released separately later in the same year. (The two were later combined into Dungeon Keeper Gold from 1998 onwards which is what this article is based on). The world of Dungeon Keeper is set over a course of around 20 levels (in the base game, an extra 15 in the expansion) with a handful of secret levels in you usually start with a Dungeon Heart (the life of your dungeon), a handful of Imps (workers who can be used to mine out rooms and gold) and a nearby portal (for attracting other creatures to your domain). Your job is to work out the surrounding area, take the gold for yourselves and start building rooms and attracting creatures before the locals pop in.
The gameplay is simple as a simple click on an unmined area allows you to command the Imps to mine out the area and once big enough and claimed you can begin constructing one of the numerous rooms which each have their own function and attract a different kind of creature; for example the treasury is used to store gold while the Lair houses your creatures. These rooms range from Hatchery to the Torture Chamber and Scavenger Room, each adding a new gameplay element as the levels continue.
Each room can attract a unique creature to the realm, for example, the Library can allow you to recruit the Warlock; an arcane monster whom prioritises research and the Torture Chamber will entice leather clad Dark Mistresses to your domain. Any hero or enemy creature that dies in the Prison may come back as a Skeleton or stuffed into the Graveyard to hopefully become a vampire. Each monster has their own likes and dislikes and will go about their own business, the Mistress will torture other creatures (and themselves) while Flies will buzz happily scouting out the world before being snuffed out. New creatures come in at level 1 and should be trained in the training room to make the best use of their combat abilities and unlock new spells with each increasing level.
Thanks to your Warlock’s endless research you’ll soon have some spells in your arsenal, one of the unique parts of the game allows you to possess one of your creatures and walk around in first person mode, while it gives a unique perspective on the world it’s ultimately a little pointless in most situations, other spells include Heal spells, a Lightning Spell, Cave-Ins and Speed Up, more interesting spells include a Turn To Chicken Spell which turns one of those pesky heroes into a small bird, far more vulnerable and appetising to your creatures. Another fun one is a Disease spell which contaminates a creature who will soon spread their virus to everyone else they can find in the nearby area.
Traps and Doors are used to furnish your dungeon with added defence against the forces of good and the trolls in the Workshop are too happy to provide you with more than enough. Doors can be used to slow the enemy or to lock creatures from wandering into areas you may not want them to, traps come in various versions such as the Poison Gas trap or Lightning Spell trap, a fun trap is the Boulder which when triggered will send a boulder hurtling down a corridor to instantly smash the forces of good (or some of your own if they are in the way.)
Take heed keeper, for its not long until the forces of good are hammering on your door and with heroes such as Archers, Wizards, Giants, Dwarves, Samurai, Fairies and Witches your creatures will soon be in the fights of their lives, starting off weak but quickly becoming strong these do-gooders will stop at nothing to wipe you and your dungeon off the map. Combat is rather simple and can be initiated whenever a hero or a creature nears each other, doing things on your own turf allows you to drop extra creatures in as a backup and overwhelm the forces of good. Usually, the first few levels will end things with an all out battle with a powerful ‘Lord of the Land’ Knight and your own creatures.
Dungeon Keeper’s music is present at all times with a combination of medieval sounds with guitar, the voice acting is superb and present at all times with each creature having unique sounds, screams (or in the Mistresses case: moans) and death noises while the ever present ‘narrator’ will introduce you to the area of the world you’ll be staining red with blood of the good. It’s a nice touch and keeps you interested in the game without feeling like you’ve heard everything before.
Of course, not every game is perfect and while Dungeon Keeper does come close it does have a few flaws, in the main game the enemy AI is often a little dumb, at times I’ll find that the enemy keeper or the heroes have managed to wipe each other off the map while I’m getting started or a group of low levelled enemies will tunnel into your training room and snuff themselves out.
Other issues I found was the sometimes trial and error of certain maps, one, in particular, had a nest of high-level fairies slightly north of my starting point and within 5 minutes of starting the level I’d managed to fail. Another issue is that in a lot of levels you’ll unlock things the same way, meaning the first hour or two of starting each level you’ll put down the same rooms in the same order with not much incentive to change things up. This is offset slightly in the latter half of the game as more unique and difficult scenarios are put to you.
Dungeon Keeper’s Evil Is Good tagline is certainly one that stays true to the overall game. The game is now known as a classic and allowed a sequel Dungeon Keeper 2 to be released a few years later. Plans for a 3rd game were halted and scrapped when Bullfrog was stripped by EA and forced to make Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter games for when the films released. Such a waste.
One last word of warning, Keeper. An enemy far worse than any goodly hero is known in the land for in 2013 EA brought out an abomination known as Dungeon Keeper for mobile devices. Stripping everything we love from the title and pushing it as a free to play title. It’s a torture device far worse than any you may hold in your chamber. Perhaps you may wish to use that against your next victim?
Dungeon Keeper is a great title that is certainly worth anyone’s time. It’s unique humour and fun gameplay is worth the admission price and better still the title can be picked up for next to nothing on either EA Origin or GOG.com.