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Dungeons Preview

Josh_Laddin By:
GENRE Action Strategy 
PUBLISHER Kalypso Media 
DEVELOPER Realmforge 
M Contains Blood, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

How to build a better deathtrap.

Start with some lowly imps to dig out tunnels and rooms, stir in some ancient tomes and artifacts, add a healthy dose of treasure and a heaping helping of gold, and (of course) sprinkle liberally with monsters. Wandering heroes will never know what hit ‘em.

click to enlargeDungeons is a recipe that looks (at least on paper) to appeal to a specific crowd, much like the similar classic PC game Dungeon Keeper made by zany Peter Molyneux. Not just dungeon crawler fans, but evil dungeon crawler fans. If you’re tired of games like Diablo, Dungeon Siege, and Gauntlet putting you in the role of that pesky do-gooder hero who can’t get enough of hacking away in dimly lit tunnels, this is your chance to turn the whole genre on its head and dispense some not-so-righteous judgment.

The story starts you out sitting on high as a dungeon master, maybe on par with even Diablo himself. But then, much like in real life, your succubus girlfriend turns all psycho bitch on you, jacks all your stuff, and kicks you out of your own home (or in this case, dungeon). Now you have to work your way up the dungeon master totem pole all over again, eventually to challenge your ex for control over what was basically yours to begin with. It sounds pretty much like every case that runs through Divorce Court (except the chick is a real live succubus instead of a proverbial one!).

The gameplay is a mashup of RTS, RPG, tower defense, and even a little bit of Sims thrown in for good measure. On each level you’ll start with a basic dungeon layout and expand it from there. Then you’ll populate it with monsters, treasure, books, all the things a young growing hero needs. The heroes themselves trickle into your dungeon as NPCs, poking around at the cool demon pad you’ve set up.

click to enlargeBut the intricacies lie in a delicate balancing act with all of your resources. You need to drop gold and treasure to lure the greedy heroes in, but if your monsters don’t kill them before they escape, you’ll lose the goods. The heroes themselves have different preferences (some like money, some like learning, some like fighting), so you have to drop money, books, and monsters appropriately to keep them happy and growing.

“But wait!” you cry, “Why should I keep my enemies happy?” Therein lies the most important balancing act of all: happy heroes leave their happiness behind when you kill them, which happens to be your most valuable resource of all. If you don’t help them grow by, say, giving them items or weaker monsters to grind, you won’t steal enough mojo when they die to expand enough to finish that particular level’s goals. If you get those heroes too beefy, though, they will become too strong to keep them from killing your dungeon’s heart (in other words: you lose). Basically you want to fatten them up as much as you can before the slaughter, without inadvertently allowing your cattle to trample you.

You can also take direct control of your dungeon master to help out the troops and, when the time comes, take on bosses. This is where Dungeons turns a little more action RPG, giving you third-person control and the familiar hack-'n'-slash and spellcasting of other dungeon crawlers. There’s also a WoW-esque skill advancement system, with three skill specialization trees to develop your hero villain as he levels up.

It’s a revenge story, resource management, action-RPG combat, and delicious evil manipulation all at once. It’s good to be the bad guy. If you’re into dungeon crawler PC games, keep an eye on this one, which is slated for early next year. We sure will be.

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