The Devil is in the Details: A Closer Look at Dungeon Keeper

Since I didn't feel my first write-up was up to standard, and the fact I tried writing it on a tablet (no I do not advise you do that unless you have a physical keyboard,) I decided to write something a little lengthier on the new Dungeon Keeper game. After all I'm a fan of the older games, and the lead producer seems to be a fan of the series. While I would have wanted a full on third installment that would follow up on escaping the underworld and going to war with the surface what's here is pretty interesting on it's own merits.

On the face of it, and what many people claiming to be fans are complaining about, Mythic and EA took a franchise and slapped it's name on something not relevant. To the Pit I say to that. It's a fun game, but one where you have to trim your expectations to meet the platform. At it's heart this installment to the Dungeon Keeper franchise is a pick up and play game intended for you to spend a few minutes here or there instead of an hour or two per level like in the prior two games. 

This post is made up of a series of observations I've had during my first few days playing through. Some of what I have to say isn't good, but on the whole I have a very positive feeling about this game outside of the fact I've historically had spotty internet connectivity and it requires an online connection. I would recommend anyone who likes either Dungeon Keeper or Tower Defense Games in general to pick this up and give it a spin.

The Good

They got Richard Redding, the voice of the mentor in the   first two games, to lend his voice for the Mentor. This is something I cannot stress the importance of. Sure he's just the Tutorial Guy that occasionally makes snide comments on different actions, but he is the voice of dungeon keeper. The years have been kind and his voice sounds as joyously malevolent as ever to the point that for awhile I wasn't sure if they'd gone back and taken clips from the older games.... and then I heard what had to be new material (creature descriptions!)

If you can't understand why I'm listing this as the first 'good' point that's alright. It comes from the man's delivery as well as the writing... but mostly his delivery whether it's commenting on your success, failure, new items, or if you're trying to get too much work done for the few imps you have. This guy is a huge reason why this game can stand apart from the thousand and one other fantasy themed games.

That and the fact you're pillaging and looting. Granted the Goodly Heroes from past games are no longer there even in the single player campaign but we'll get to that later. Pillaging and looting is pretty fun even when it's against other dungeons. After all the underworld only has only so many resources right? He (or She) who can punch everyone else enough to keep them in line deserves all those shinies right?

The tutorial does a good job of explaining the basic mechanics and gives you a good grounding in how things work. Fortunately it doesn't end with the potted 'this is your first quest to get you feeling pretty good about thing you just downloaded' either. As you progress the mentor/Reaper will chime in whenever you pick up a new spell/room/trap/thing you can do you couldn't before with an explanation. Good job Mystic. 
Be it ever so humble...
Imps are slappable. That may not seem like much given every creature used to be slappable, but there's just something cathartic about swiping across the screen and knocking the little buggers cross eyed. Considering how much it costs to buy the little biters I'd better be able to slap them around like they're red headed rented mules.

This brings me into the in app purchases thing. You can get everything outside of some boosts for free, though several happen only in response to losing/winning player matches. Everything has a timer and you can either wait for that timer to run out in a few minutes or a few hours or whatever.... but if you're impatient you can drop green gems, which are purchasable with real money or can be earned in game to make that timer go away and get your goodies right now.

The Bad

Like I said earlier you don't have any heroes to murder or torture even in the single player bits of the game. I can understand this is partially to save on space, but even if it was just a model swap and the units/rooms behaved the same it would have spiced things up more than a little since part of the appeal for the original games was that you were the overlord of the dark dank dungeon heroes traveled into. Here It's strictly Evil vs Evil, which saddens me for a number of reasons.

With the forces of Good and Light gone there goes any real story. While it's easy to miss the minions do have subtle movements hinting at possibilities for animators to abuse. Then again Animations, Voicework, added models and so on add to the amount of money needed to develop and space the game takes up on your audience's device. 

Shadowrun proves you can tell a compelling single player story on a touch device, but I've no illusions at the developers suddenly throwing in Knights and Sorceresses and Dwarves, and whatnot just to appease little old me. It's too late in the dev cycle and even with updates down the road I expect it's mostly down to balancing creature against creature against traps against cost and time. 

Me personally? I would like to see an expansion that you have to plunk Fifteen or Twenty dollars on to turn the campaign into something more like dungeon keeper 2's on the surface serious work that has all sorts of buried humor even if it's kept to the defend/attack tower defense mechanism currently in place... so long as the material is good.

Use the free game as advertising for the paid content. Best part? Multi-player is already there and at the core so you get an audience no matter what. Well... so long as the servers hold out. What's that you say? We're in the modern era of gaming where Online is Everything? 

Sim City

Little game, also published by EA, where the game was actually unplayable because nobody could access the servers. Happened last year and EA was just coming off of a 'worst company' 'award' given to them for things like customer support, employee happiness, and all that. I'm not a huge fan of Online ONly gaming. See also Shadowrun of the xbox 360. Actually I don't think you can because the servers are down and it has no single player component or a way to tell it where new servers might be located.

I'd mentioned in the last section I'm fairly comfortable with the role real world cash plays with one exception. Imps. Imps, as of this time, are stupidly expensive when you can get maybe five gems an achievement to maybe three or six off mining that takes up your current imps and keeps them from producing/upgrading/etc and that third imp costs eight hundred gems (they get more expensive from there.) This makes me joinin on the 'IMP PRICES ARE TOO HIGH' parade. 

Maybe make it so imps can be bought with a ridiculous amount of gold + time waiting so you can have your stupid expensive prices for people that want it right now but for those of us that can't justify spending about as much as we would on some other android titles (Final Fantasy 3 costing like $15) on a single bit of in game gear here can get, but it'll take a few days or so (plus with in game gathered gems you can speed things along once the price has dropped to an affordable amount.)

Why? Because as of right now imps and the multi-day bonuses are the only things you can't get without spending gems or waiting around. It sticks out like a sore thumb when the rest of the game practically is 'here have fun. You might be able to do more in one sitting if you drop money in the donation bucket but you'll still get to party.' As is the fact Imps, your workers in game, act as a toll booth with a more or less constant reminder 'haha you must put in the pot or wait for months to be able to get more of these little guys.' Sure there's only six but that's six different jobs you can do at once on a grid that's 35 x 35. It isn't like in dungeon keepers past where twenty would be considered a 'normal' workforce.

Personally I'd rather just pay fifteen or twenty bucks up front and be done with it. However since microtransactions are a Thing now I'm just glad you don't need to pay to unlock the ability to simply research rooms, or get a monster, or whatever. Then again I don't consider this a game you actually own.

Where is the 'Export Function'?

I'm going to start off by asking a question that cuts right to the heart of this. Where is the Export Function? I'm talking about that little button you can hit in your google settings, or twitter, or even on your kindle that you can hit and have a copy of all your data. If there is no Export Function or if the data that you can access and manipulate is locked and encrypted then that doesn't count since you aren't in control. I am not a fan of not owning the things I use, but for the moment given the game is free let's accept the fact even though it is installed on our devices we do not own this game.

Unfortunately we have no way of getting to our records off-game. No leaderboards, no history of events or recordings (Hey guys an 'export match to youtube' function might be nice.) If EA decides to pull the plug tomorrow (or whenever) we are screwed. 

Furthermore, and this is getting into nitpicky personal territory, I wish there was a way of exporting the models themselves or at least having a way of wandering the dungeon first person. Then again I'm a fan of mahinima (the use of game footage as film rather than the company) so I tend to want to see everything able to become machinima of some sort.

No Rest for the Wicked

All that said I still like the game. I want to see Mythic succeed and be able to use that success to do things they want to do. There's supposed to be a google+ hangout at some point next week interviewing the lead designer so I'm going to keep my ear to the ground to see what I can see and hope at least a few of the more reasonable sounding gripes can get adjusted. Sad am I that it is no longer a God Game where you can pick up minions and drop them into the fray or watch them drink and gamble their money away, but it is a fairly reasonably good game. I just hope they fix imp costs to be a little more reasonable, or at least come up with alternatives to obtain.
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