Review: Dungeons 3 is devilishly fun

Kalypso Media and RealmForge’s Dungeons 3 is near and dear to my cold, shriveled (Dungeon) Heart—and not just because it continues the legacy of its predecessor and a 20-year-old PC classic.

RealmForge isn’t just continuing a legacy anymore. They own it now and it’s clearly in good hands. How could you not love a game with a dedicated keyboard command (L) for ‘Muahahaha’?

Making Dungeon Keeping Great Again

Dungeons 3, like its predecessor Dungeons 2,  is a spiritual clone of the classic PC Dungeon Keeper games originally developed by BullFrog Productions and first released by Electronic Arts in 1997.

Dungeon Keeper was well received critically and later spawned a sequel in Dungeon Keeper 2. But Dungeon Keeper 3 was canceled in the wake of EA striking licensing deals for Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter games (according to Wikipedia). Dungeon Keeper 2 hadn’t sold as well as expected, and EA had their sights on bigger, cash-generating games with broader appeal.

 

 

Bullfrog Productions shut down a short while thereafter in 2001 and the Dungeon Keeper series died with them. Electronic Arts still owns the intellectual property for Dungeon Keeper but has largely abandoned the series, aside from an ill-conceived mobile version released a few years ago.

Evil (re-)incarnate

Dungeon Keeper was basically a corpse loaded with legendary equipment ripe for looting by an enterprising new player. In this case, that player turned out to be RealmForge, who did what any new player seeing legendary loot would do: They unabashedly looted Dungeon Keeper’s corpse, respectfully kicked it in the teeth, and created a game that shamelessly clones— but still honors— its inspiration.

But don’t think RealmForge was content to just copy an old game. They also significantly innovated on the formula and injected their own humor and style into the game. RealmForge made this game and genre their own, first with Dungeons 2 and now continuing it with Dungeons 3. (On a side note, the first Dungeons was a very different game from Dungeon Keeper and Dungeons 2. It also received a very lukewarm reception by critics, myself included.)

Dungeons 3 (and RealmForge) thoroughly own the dungeon-builder genre now.

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A small strike force sets out to claim a foot hold of evilness.

The Dungeon Keeper is dead. Long Live the Ultimate Evil

Dungeon Keeper‘s tongue-in-cheek spirit of punching good in its face is clearly in capable hands. Continued refinements in Dungeons 3 clearly show that RealmForge has hit its stride.

A long time ago…

Dungeons 3 begins with the Ultimate Evil (i.e. you) choosing Thalya—an adopted Dark Elf sorceress and the daughter of a valiant paladin named Tanos—to become the emissary of doom in a new land. Dark Elves are morally dodgy so Thalya heartily accepts.

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An Orc hideout nestled next to a Demon lair.

From this point forward, anything resembling a serious fantasy trope/story is entirely purposeful, happily skewered, and endless fodder for the cheeky, 4th-wall-breaking Narrator of Dungeons 3 and Thalya. Perhaps less subtle in its humor than its inspirations, Dungeons 3 is rife with riffs and references to pop culture, including Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Monty Python, other video games, and more. Nothing is sacred.

Some of the humor is admittedly a little long-winded and sometimes tries a bit too hard, it’s still generally successful at shaping the game’s charm and putting RealmForge’s unique stamp of ownership on the game.

Shameless looting but still crafting

Amid all the Dungeon Keeper corpse-looting, RealmForge still added significant improvements, and a major new game play element to the formula: the ability to march your foul army into the Overworld and stomp the forces of light into the daisies in classic RTS (lite) fashion.

But before you can twist the Overworld’s rainbow of colors into the fetid swamps and lava so adored by the Ultimate Evil, you must first dig out and build a suitable dungeon from which to grow and command your forces. Those damn orcs and demons want to be paid and fed, and most of them need a place to sleep. There are creatures to summon, spells to learn, and traps to build.

And the currency for doing all of this is EVIL <Cue thunderclap> 

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Take over key map locations in the OVerworld to turn them into Evil-generating fountains.

Let the hate flow through you

To get evil flowing into your dungeon, you’ll need to conquer key locations in the Overworld guarded by heroes. Once captured, these locations turn foul and corrupted, and evil trickles into your dungeon, making you and your dungeon more powerful. Evil and gold are spent to unlock rooms, spells, upgrades, creatures, and traps.

Of course, while you’re busy building and managing your dungeon, you’ll have to deal with pesky heroes stomping into it and sticking their swords in your business (and your minions). They’ll even steal your treasure! Who is the real victim here? 

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If you manage your resources and survive the early and mid-game long enough, eventually you’ll be able to make your dungeon nigh-impregnable via traps. This hall of doom is littered with “frost spike” and “crusher” traps. No heroes could survive them.

Heroes enter from set points and generally follow predictable paths. As any good Dungeon Keeper Ultimate Evil knows, traps are essential tools of dungeon defense.

They are also downright hilarious. I never got tired of watching those hapless dolts walk down hallways of doom, spiked and crushed every step of the way through my Tomb of Horrors. (Press that L key. Go ahead.)

Manage resources well enough to survive the early/mid-game, and you can eventually make every hall leading to your Dungeon Heart (the seat of your power that the heroes try to destroy) so deadly that no hero can survive it. Then just sit back and watch the bodies pile up. (Who is going to clean up all these bodies? What am I paying you idiot minions for anyway?!)

Build an army of darkness

Heroes wandering into your dungeon are literally dying to serve you, because once you’ve “dealt with them” they can become your servants, as… DUN-DUN-DUN…the Undead.

Place dead heroes in your Graveyard and they’ll eventually rise as zombies. And once you’ve built a prison, you have an additional option: place captured heroes into your prison (or wait for your Snotling minions to drag their bodies into it), and they will eventually die, generate a little Evil for you, and turn into Skeleton archers. It’s a win-win-win scenario!

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Dungeons 3 Research Tree. This is a very late-game level where I’ve researched nearly everything. (Early and mid-game levels won’t have all of these options available.)

Zombies provide expendable (and renewable) front-line cannon fodder, and Skeleton Archers add ranged support. More powerful undead include Banshees, Liches, Vampires, and the mighty Grave Golem. (He’s very serious.) Undead creatures also respawn after death, so you needn’t mourn sending them to die.

In addition to the Undead, there are two other factions: the Horde, which is comprised of Orcs, Nagas, Goblins, and the enormous Ogre; and Demons, which consist of Imps, Spider Demons, Succubi, and the giant, fiery Pit Fiend. (Oh, he shall pass. He shall pass A LOT.)

Some units serve secondary but important purposes. Imps and Spider Demons, for example, can generate mana for you if you’ve built a Mana shrine, which is a vital function for powering your spells. A Succubus paired with a Torture Chamber can turn enemy heroes to the dark side. Goblins and Orcs can make traps.

All units gain levels and experience as they fight, and you can spend Evil to improve them. It’s a slow road to building an army of ultimate destruction, but a satisfying one when it comes to fruition, at which point it’s…

Total War Craft Hammer Time

In the early game you’ll send small strike squads to capture Overworld locations, generate Evil, and destroy hero-spawning camps. But eventually you will amass enough strength and power to storm the Overworld and introduce all of those damn light-huggers to the underside of your legion’s steel boots (hooves, claws, etc.) and burn everything to the ground.

Tearing through the Overworld is the icing on your cakewalk of evil—the culmination of everything you’ve worked for. It requires relatively little strategy, unit management, or tactics. For the most part you can just select all your units, click something, and enjoy the chaotic skirmish until your enemies bodies fall before you.

None of the units are complex or have an array of special abilities. Only Thalya has some special abilities and she uses them reliably enough that you don’t need to manually trigger them.

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This isn’t to say the RTS part of the game is boring, just that Dungeons 3 is not StarCraft, nor does it need to be. Crushing the champions of light is the climax of surviving the early and mid game struggles. It’s not always easy (and you can up the difficulty level if you’d like more of a challenge), but it’s always eminently satisfying.

 

In addition, there are plenty of levels and missions that change enough of the general formula to keep things interesting and challenging without eroding the core game. (The first truly tricky mission I encountered was about half-way through the game.)

Adding to the your struggles for ascendancy is that you’ve got to manage the fight on multiple fronts in the Overworld and your dungeon. Spend too much time sacking villages and the heroes may invade your lightly-defended dungeon while you’re away. They will also sometimes attack and recapture your Evil-generating sites in the Overworld to dampen your research efforts.

Rounding out the challenges are some (sparingly used) boss-style fights, and random mobs you can encounter. Mid-to-late game levels often require multiple objectives and points to be captured, and the good guys and their defenses ramp up with your game progress.

But if you’ve managed your dungeon successfully, you can reach a point where your dungeon is nigh-impregnable, and it’s time to let loose the dogs of war. By this time your army has probably swelled to near maximum size and unholy power levels, and you can take the entirety of it out of your dungeon to crush any and all remaining opposition.

All that’s left for you is to stick a fork in good—because it’s done.

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Good is dead! Now what?

Kicking the crap out of Good never gets truly old, but it can (unfortunately) become almost too easy once you master a fairly standard and fundamental build order.

If there is a bit of chink in Dungeons 3’s armor, this is it.

While the research tree is pretty extensive, the path to attaining enough equilibrium between defending and developing your dungeon is pretty much the same. Once you’ve achieved that equilibrium, maintaining it is relatively easy until you reach the point of being nigh-unstoppable.

There is a ‘Hellish’ difficulty setting if you feel the need to ramp up the challenge. And once you’ve finished the game you can also play in a Skirmish (Sandbox) mode that lets you set various parameters and difficulty settings for a game.

A Co-op mode is also available—but seriously, is there ever room for two supervillains? It usually doesn’t end well for one of the them…

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Overall: 8.5/10pcgame-examiner-editor-choice

Dungeons 3 still has plenty of room to grow and improve, but if you were ever a fan of Dungeons 2 (or Dungeon Keeper) you owe it yourself to buy this game. I heartily enjoyed it start to finish.

If it’s the only good thing you do, buy this game.

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