[Disclosure: A review code was provided for the contents of this article]
The biggest challenge coming into this review is assessing exactly how many opening paragraphs I should dedicate to talking about Bullfrog’s 1997 epic, Dungeon Keeper. I’ve settled on one, because this review isn’t about Dungeon Keeper. It’s about Dungeons 3, yet what we have here is a game that is such a blatant homage to Peter Molyneux’s legendary classic that the similarities between the two do need to be addressed. As a fourteen year old with access to my first ever PC, I was a huge Dungeon Keeper fan, so whenever a game like Dungeons 3 comes out, I approach it with both caution and excitement.
Obviously Dungeons 3 is the third game in a series that most people won’t have heard of (myself included) so in light of this review I’ve been doing a little bit of research. It seems like the original Dungeons was intended as pretty straight replica of the original Dungeon Keeper, with the second game introducing a few new features such as a real time strategy element that pitches the forces of the keeper against his or her enemies in an overworld setting. Dungeons 3 is a refinement of both the underground and overworld aspects of the game that feels quite good to me, albeit with a few (largely forgivable) rough edges.
The game features four tutorial missions (which could easily have been condensed into one), a lengthy campaign that features both solo and cooperative play over twenty missions and, thanks to some elements of procedural generation and an unlockable “nightmare” difficulty mode, there is potential for replayability. It’s worth noting that I’m reviewing the PS4 version on a PS4 Pro, but the PC release has been out for a while and doesn’t suffer from some of the control issues that I’ll mention here (assuming you use a mouse and keyboard and not a control pad.)
I might as well mention now that the PS4 version has some considerable drops in frame rate and every single session that I’ve played has ended with a crash to the PS4 dashboard. I really do mean every single one, as in, I’ve never exited the game voluntarily. Thankfully, regular autosaves do minimise the impact and I imagine a patch will fix this, but it is nonetheless frustrating as loading times are also a slight issue on console, weighing in at a few minutes per level.
Once in a game, I felt as if I was simply playing an updated version of the game I used to love so much, albeit with some very subtle changes. Players use an army of magical minions to dig out their underground layer and plan rooms to house their expanding army and to trap, slow down and ultimately kill any invading do-gooders. The interface on console is fairly logical, but it isn’t fast, so a number of button combinations are used to shortcut common actions such as “picking up” all your creatures so that they can be deployed rapidly to face invaders. Rooms, traps and other buildable features are organised sensibly and whilst they begin as a carbon copy of Dungeon Keeper (lairs and hatchery’s) Dungeons 3 does begin to show its uniqueness as you progress further into the campaign.
One feature that Dungeon Keeper never tinkered with is that of an overworld for players to corrupt and conquer and it’s a feature that Dungeons 3 takes full advantage of. The overworld aspect of each level runs in parallel to the core, dungeon management bit and players can switch between the views at will. When the keeper drops his creatures onto the dungeon exit, they appear in the overworld ready to be commanded in an RTS style, which is a nice distinction from the indirect control that you have when underground. Objectives tend to be variations on go here and corrupt that or destroy something else, but there is enough of a story veneer that I didn’t feel aggrieved and in fact, some missions introduced variation that would be lacking in even a top-tier RTS.
The balance of mining, expanding and fortifying your base, researching new spells and traps and then setting up a decent defense, whilst at the same time expanding in the overworld feels just right to me. For example, in order to research most of the important features of the game, you’ll need a resource called Evil, which can only be harvested by corrupting points in the overworld. Capturing those points requires at least a reasonable force to send above ground, so there’s never really an option to simply hunker down and have an easy life. Whatever plans you might have, a constant stream of heroes will invade your dungeon over the course of each mission, so again, you can’t just send your whole army to the overworld without first ensuring you have sufficient defensive plans in place.
Whilst Dungeons 3 has some technical rough edges in terms of its execution (on PS4 at least) the core gameplay is good, black-hearted fun. It has a script, plot and narrator that enhance the overall experience and the graphics, whilst suffering from some slowdown, look really good both above and below ground, capturing the right balance between fun and malevolence. I wasn’t able to find another player to test the cooperative mode, but even without it, I really enjoyed playing Dungeons 3 and I’m already planning to work through it again on the hardest difficulty setting. Dungeons 3 is the successor to Dungeon Keeper that I’ve been waiting for, so I have no reservations about suggesting you:
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