Review by BloodGod65

"No Rest for the Wicked"

The original Dungeon Keeper was an excellent game, fun to play as well as innovative in a goofy and simple kind of way. The game hasn't really evolved for its sequel, adding only a few new elements and tweaks along with a graphical overhaul. All of this makes the game feel more akin to a sweeping patch rather than an entirely new game. Oddly enough, this isn't as damaging as one would imagine simply because the game is still so fun to play. On the other hand, anyone who has played the first Dungeon Keeper will have already seen most of what this game has to offer.

Dungeon Keeper 2 once again places players into the shoes of an evil, subterranean dweller known only as the Dungeon Keeper. The original game missed a golden opportunity in terms of narrative, only providing the barebones outline of a plot that basically amounted to “The Keeper wants to invade the world above”. Unfortunately the sequel doesn't go far beyond this. The Keeper once again intends to invade the world above, but he faces a unique problem. The King of the Realm has held off such incursions for as long as anyone can remember through his possession of Portal gems. These gems are basically magical keys that allow their holder open access to the realm. The King has given these Portal gems to his many loyal soldiers for safekeeping and it's up to the Keeper to hunt them down.

The concept behind Dungeon Keeper 2 is nearly identical to its predecessor (though that's not a bad thing) – In each level, players must build a dungeon consisting of various rooms which lure in minions through portals, then train them and finally invade the abode of the goodly heroes and slay the holder of the Portal gem. However there have been numerous minor tweaks to the formula which are, invariably, for the better.

The Dungeon Heart remains the soul of the dungeon, and still serves as the life source of the player. The Heart can be damaged by enemies and if it is destroyed the entire dungeon falls, so it's likely to be the most heavily defended area in your dungeon. The Dungeon Heart also has a new purpose – treasury. In the original Dungeon Keeper, players had to immediately build a treasury so they could mine gold. If the starting gold reserves were spent before a treasury was built, it was then impossible to mine gold and the level was effectively lost. Now, imps can transport gold back to the Dungeon Heart. Eventually, players will still want to build a treasury because the Heart can't hold a lot, but it is sufficient for the initial buildup of any dungeon.

Imps remain a vital part of the dungeon as they perform nearly all non-combative tasks, both major and minor. By highlighting dirt, they'll dig it out and reinforce the walls and floor allowing for rooms to be built. Highlight a gold vein and they'll chip away at it and take the plunder back to the Dungeon Heart or treasury, where it will be added to the dungeon bank account. Imps also haul away the bodies of fallen heroes and minions, and in the case of the latter, they'll take them back to their lair where they'll recuperate. Finally, Imps now gain experience simply by doing the things they normally do, rather than having to spend time in a training room.

When enough gold has been mined, the dungeon can really start to grow. The two most important rooms in any dungeon are the lair, which gives minions a place to sleep and the hatchery, which provides lots of fresh juicy chickens to feed them with. At this point it's also a good idea to build a training room, so incoming minions can start getting tougher right away.

Once you're satisfied with the way everything is set up, it's usually a good idea to tunnel towards the nearest Portal, so minions can start arriving. As before, the minions that come to your dungeon will do so based on the rooms in it and some need specific rooms to appear. Minions also expect a salary, so you'll need to continually seek out gold veins to keep paying them.

But there's only so much you can do with a lair, hatchery and training room. The library and workshop are two more important additions for any dungeon. Libraries are where Warlock minions will research new magic spells and upgrades. Most of the spells return from the previous Dungeon Keeper, but there is one major difference this time around; gold is no longer required to cast spells. In the first game, gold served as a sort of be-all resource that determined what you could build, what spells you could cast as well as paying minions. Because of this, juggling the use of it could be quite tricky at times. Bullfrog has eliminated this problem with the introduction of a more traditional mana system. The Dungeon Heart produces mana at a constant rate and can store up to two hundred thousand units of it. Players can increase this rate by claiming more territory.

The workshop functions much like it previously did and lures in mechanically inclined minions who will produce traps for the player. The key difference is that players can now choose what the workshop will build. First, you'll choose the door or trap and place it somewhere in the dungeon. At this point the item will be represented by a transparent blueprint. Then minions will build the item and Imps will transport it to the required location.

All of the original rooms from Dungeon Keeper return, so players will be able to build Prisons and Torture Chambers to hold enemies and coerce them into divulging information or even switching sides. Graveyards can store dead bodies, Guard Rooms can keep a constant watch on vulnerable areas of a dungeon and Temples can be built to make sacrifices to the Dark Gods (and attract the Dark Angel creature). There are also several new room types. The stone bridge has been added, which unlike the wooden bridge, can survive over lava. This seems like an unnecessary addition, given that in the first game wooden bridges could go over water and lava without any problems. Then there's the casino, where minions can use their gold for entertainment, returning some of it to the dungeon in the process. Finally, there's the combat pit. Because the training room can now only get creatures up to level four, they'll have to enter the gladiatorial combat pit in order to level up higher. In the pit creatures fight until one is knocked out, but they won't die. However, you can toss in some goodly heroes for the amusement of your minions.

When players have created a defensible dungeon, attracted and trained a bunch of vile minions it's then time to storm the hold of the Lord of the Realm and wrench the Portal gem from his cold dead hands (ah, I love being evil). Combat was a very simple affair in the first game and though Bullfrog has attempted to make it deeper, it's still fundamentally the same. All minions now have a combat role such as support, flanking, defense or attack which governs how they act in combat. Attack minions dive into the fight while defenders try to hold the line without pressing forward. Flankers try to attack enemies from behind and support fighters work from a distance. Though I like the idea, it really doesn't work much different than before because most fights just come down to dropping all your minions onto the enemy and watching them swarm. There is one added consideration in that minions become dazed when dropped. Each minion has a set recovery time, so you can't simply drop them right on top of the enemy. Even so, this is a relatively minor thing and doesn't affect combat in any drastic way.

The issue of variety remains in regards to the main campaign. Simply put, there is very little. Though there are often sub-objectives, such as finding and taking over certain rooms the basic premise is always to build a dungeon and then send creatures to kill off the heroes. Even when a scenario seems as if it will be different, they play out nearly the same every time. For instance, there's a dual mission setup that allows players to either assault a fortress head-on or try to sneak around back and kill the Lord as he escapes and one that has players destroying outposts before the Lord can march through and bolster his forces. Though they both seem as if victory will require some special strategy, they can both be easily beaten just using the same old methods.

There is a secondary game mode called My Pet Dungeon, but this is really more of the same. This mode consists of a series of levels that allows the player access to all the rooms, spells and traps to build a dungeon. The goal of each level is to meet a certain point level, which can be reached by doing all sorts of actions, from killing heroes to training minions. Heroes don't attack unless you want them to and players even get a “hero toolbox” which allows them to plunk down a hero directly into a prison or torture chamber.

Probably the most immediately noticeable area Bullfrog has improved is the graphics, which have been drastically overhauled. The color palette has been radically expanded (no more monochrome brown dungeons!) and there's a lot more detail. While the game is much better looking, it certainly won't win any beauty contests as the pixilation from the first game has been replaced by blocky character models and some flat textures. But this overhaul really shows when you use the Possession spell and transition to an on the ground first person viewpoint. Though the spell itself is still pretty much worthless, you'll actually be able to figure out what you're looking at in the dungeon, so it's pretty cool.

There are also quite a few cutscenes to watch too. These aren't story related, as you might expect, but rather short rewards for completing a level. These cutscenes do a great job of showing Bullfrog's offbeat sense of humor and show things like a Bile Demon using chickens as nun-chuks or a wizard turning himself into a chicken. Many of them are actually chicken related for some reason…

THE VERDICT
Dungeon Keeper 2 is better than the original, but only to a very miniscule degree. Some of the minor niggling issues have been ironed out so the game is a bit more user-friendly. In the end, it still doesn't feel as much like a whole sequel as much as a very comprehensive patch for the first game. Even so, there's no doubt that this is the better of the two.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/13/09

Game Release: Dungeon Keeper 2 (US, 06/30/99)


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