When I took on the task of reviewing Dungeons 2, it was with knowledge of its predecessor, but without any real experience with it. It, like many more games than I’m comfortable admitting, had been one of my many Steam sale purchases that sat quietly in my library waiting to be installed and experienced.
(There was an unfortunately long line in front of it on my to-do list.)
Dungeons 2, however, catapulted it to the forefront, and I played it a bit along with its sequel to get a good grasp of how the two compared. As a very broad summary, Kalypso sure has changed things up for the better, and for PlayStation 4 owners, they’ve even included a ton of extra content, so we’re off to a good start. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though.
I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time detailing the original Dungeons, especially since no shortage of reviews – professional and consumer alike – have covered it in the five years since its launch. For the uninitiated, however, the quickest way I can describe Dungeons is to compare it to setting up a Halloween themed maze for trick-o-treaters, making sure you had the candy they liked, and then killing them before they could eat any of it. It was like playing a strategy game as an adventurer from a third-person perspective with an obnoxious camera as your primary adversary and a somewhat forced, but nonetheless charming sense of humor as your strongest ally. The words “niche” and “cult” can be used with fair efficacy to excuse its flaws – of which it had many – and to highlight its strengths, the greatest of which was its premise and the aforementioned playfulness with which it highlighted the horrible misdeeds you committed as an evil dungeon lord.
Oh yes, you are quite evil. In fact, in Dungeons 2, you’ve become the Ultimate Evil, which is quite an accomplishment since only a game ago you were a plucky up-and-coming denizen of greater evils, reporting to your boney boss about…oh, whatever dungeon lords have to make reports on. Probably adventurer diversity death quotas or some nonsense since it is, after all, the current year.
All kidding aside, after kicking loads of squishy human backside in the prologue and being resigned to dwell ethereally in his somewhat-and-increasingly-less-humble abode, the Ultimate Evil puts his plan for revenge in motion, all while having said plan narrated by the delightfully charming Kevan Brighting. Brighting, known best for his stellar performance in The Stanley Parable, is a remarkable improvement to the game over the narration of its predecessor. Acting as a reporter-of-the-obvious, comedian, and guide, Brighting takes what would otherwise be fun, if uninspiring gameplay, and makes it into a joy as he praises, criticizes, and remarks on nearly every action or inaction you do or don’t take. Brighting’s narration actually influenced my gameplay decisions more than any other factor in the game, as a matter of fact, since I knew that complying or disobeying with his gentle prodding would elicit a remark that would undoubtedly make me chuckle.
Yes, Dungeons 2, I am very much aware that I still haven’t constructed that new room I need in order to make progress in the level, but frankly I want to hear what sassy comment Brighting will have for me if I fail to do it for the tenth minute in a row, so hush. Maybe he’ll make another Lord of the Rings reference, or have a sly comment about Dungeon Keeper again!
Gameplay has shifted very much from tending to the wants and needs of your invaders in Dungeons, and instead to the wants and needs of your horde of evil in Dungeons 2. Previously, you would want to lure invaders into your crypt, whereas now, they just happen to invade your tomb while you work to prepare your horde for its inevitable vengeful quest to the surface. Again, in Dungeons, you placed a treasure chest filled with gold and killed the adventurer after he took it, and in Dungeons 2, you place a treasure chest filled with explosives and kill the adventurer with it. Or with spinning mace traps. Or with spikes. Or just a good-old-fashioned monster beatdown. Whatever works.
In many respects, Dungeons 2 now plays like a game of StarCraft where you have the role of playing as the most defensive and inexperienced Protoss player in the world, sitting back constructing additional pylons and turrets until you have enough aircraft carriers to try to get rid of those pesky Terrans and Zerg. Unlike my crashing and burning failures in StarCraft, however, your horde will eventually be successful, as most of the offenses raised against you, and the defenses set before you, are of little consequence. Sure, the horde can be killed, and you’ll lose a minion or two here and there (even though you can revive them to save a little coin), but the game presents little true challenge and serves mostly as a fun simulation and management game with elements of an RTS, driven by the beautiful narration of Kevan Brighting.
The Real Time Strategy elements mostly come into play when you transition from building up your forces in your dungeon to taking them to the overworld to smash the meddlesome kids who keep invading your haunt. At first, the transition from simulation/management to RTS is strange. You don’t so much specifically direct your horde in your dungeon as much as you give broad, sweeping commands for minions to carry out. The most specific direction you can give is by using a giant, disembodied hand to physically pick up minions and throw them on an enemy or work station. Once your horde goes to the surface though, small details like the selection and command process change, and you can select one minion or multiple minions and give specific directions. When a minion reaches a commanded destination, they will patiently wait for further instructions (whilst defending themselves as necessary, of course) rather than wandering around looking for smaller monsters to pick on or drinking up all your beer.
(I mean, we all know that having a well-stocked brewery is evil henchman management 101, right? Right.)
Most of your objectives are smashing all the things (or people), enacting violence upon those who separated you from your corporeal form, and by and large there’s no real strategy required to accomplish this. Having a mix of units makes a small difference, since some have immunities or strengths to certain enemy types, but even if your attack fails, it’s only a delay of your inevitable victory and not a true loss. You can, of course, just outright fail by having your dungeon’s core destroyed, but the few times when intruders got far enough into my dungeon to attack it (when I sent literally every battle-capable minion to the surface to be an instrument of my thirst for vengeance), I was able to defend myself with my own brand of Ultimate Evil magic by either recalling units with teleportation, or just going all Emperor Palpatine on them and frying them faster than a one-armed Samuel L. Jackson.
The graphics are nice. Not super high definition, get-out-of-here-with-your-paltry-offering-Uncharted-4 good or anything, but nice. They’re very stylistic, with an emphasis on more cartoonish and cutesy designs than realism, and it works very well for the tone of the game. It allows the design to focus more on steak than sizzle, and there’s a lot to enjoy with the creative direction the art team chose. The game has a mischievous sort of feel to it, and the graphics work wonderfully in conjunction with that.
While I’ve already touched on the sound design by lavishing praise on the heavenly sound of Kevan Brighting’s voice, the rest of what’s here is actually pretty good. The background music is admittedly just so-so, competently there but not really wowing me, but the sound effects are very fun and energetic. The minions, environments, and various devices all sound very unique and liven up the game world, and the surround sound is actually pretty solid, doing a good job of informing your ears where a scuffle is taking place. Thankfully, for much of the game Brighting’s voice is the most dominant part of the audio design, which I obviously welcome. Were I to rate Dungeons 2 on sound alone, Brighting’s performance and the dialogue he was given to work with would earn the game a 12 out of 10, and no, you shouldn’t take that remark seriously in figuring out how it contributes to the overall score of the game.
If you’re leaning toward a buy, you’ll be happy to know that there’s quite a lot of content to enjoy in Dungeons 2. The original 11 campaign missions are fairly sizeable, with most scaling in size as you have more tasks to perform for victory. The game is also mostly relaxed with how long you take to complete each mission, which can be a curse if you’re a touch on the obsessive-compulsive side like me and you want to nitpick every single aspect of your dungeon and mine out all of the gold and set up everything just so. It’s a blessing to normal people, though, and gives the game’s length a great deal of flexibility for each player.
I also really want to commend Kalypso for the inclusion of the Dungeons 2 DLC as a complete game package, which gives you around thirty hours of extra content to enjoy. While it adds more maps and challenges which are always great, the addition of a third faction is even better, and if you really just can’t get enough of Dungeons 2 after playing through all of this solo content, there’s even an online multiplayer mode to dig into with up to three other people.
Since Dungeon Keeper fans have been aching for a true heir to that particular throne for many a moon now, many of them were disappointed that Dungeons didn’t really assume that mantle, playing more like Adventurer Slaughter Tycoon than Dungeon Keeper. With Dungeons 2, Kalypso seems to have taken fan feedback to heart and definitely made the sequel a closer fit to its inspiration, but with enough differences that it feels fresh, both compared to Dungeon Keeper and the original Dungeons. While it could still use a little more bite and strategy, Dungeons 2 is a very positive step in the right direction, and I’m excited to see what Kalypso does with the series should it become a trilogy.
As it stands now, I would mostly recommend the game to fans of management simulations rather than strategy aficionados, but if you can enjoy a game on sheer personality alone, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with Dungeons 2.