RETRO – Dark-hearted RTS fans! You’ll be finally able to descend into your hellish catacombs, with an army of goblins you will take over the underworld! Finally you can make those damn heroes pay, after they killed your best friend Sarevok in Baldur’s Gate’s damned city. You can again be a megalomaniac, and use an army of monsters to defeat the pitiful heroes’ forces.
After two years, we finally get the sequel to one of the most fun real-time strategy game called Dungeon Keeper – where it is good to be evil… Out of all the entertainment forms, probably videogames bring out the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality’s bad side.
In first person shooters, we shoot the monsters into Swiss cheese, in racing games we knock out the other drivers, and in RTS games we use our army to destroy other enemies, and there is nothing better than to use a fireball in an RPG to burn a rival mage.
Our violent acts are allowed because we are the good guys, and our enemies deserve their fate.
The Touch of Evil
The 1997 Dungeon Keeper, however, took the old hypocritical view and threw it out the window. In this fantasy themed action-real time strategy game, we do not control the pure-hearted heroes, but the maniacal evil force, the ruler of dungeons. It is easy for evil… we would think. However, Dungeon Keeper proved the opposite of this.
Our first objective was the build tunnels and different rooms, and if we were not able to mine enough gold, then the size of those rooms would be small.
As our monsters do not join us out of pure sympathy, we needed to make these lairs…”Monster friendly”. If they did not get what they want, the monsters would rebel, or simply just leave us.
On the other end, we have heroes and rival „keeper” armies trying to ruin our life – our amassed gold, and labyrinths have led the enemy to our lair. If we are prepared enough for their arrival, then we can only kill them, or even capture them. However if we do not have the proper defenses, and traps, then the story will end badly… or good?
Five years of waiting – worth it!
The first game was the most anticipated game of all time: three years before its release it was announced that the game would be done soon! Even though a lot of people became skeptical due to the long development time, when Keeper was released it was a huge success. The 3D graphics engine, and the concept that we could „take over” any of our monster’s head seemed to be a magnificent concept.
The AI of the monsters and behavior was the best at the time: finally, we did not control mindless obedient robots, but monsters with personality, and free will, that allowed us to control them – if they let us.
Yet the long development time had its drawbacks. The graphics were too pixelated and reached the level of Doom. Even though it was great to control the monsters in fights, or just enjoying the view of our empire from a monsters perspective, it was still too pixelated. In fact larger battles resulted in giant blots of mess. It took nearly a year to apply a D3D patch, but by then everybody moved on and completed Dungeon Keeper. The other problem was that the complexity of the levels, and the difficulty settings.
The game was too easy for 2/3 of the game, and because of this, the fights were too boring. Near the end of the title around the 14th level, the enemy was relentless with massive forces, but this did not mean it was truly difficult. You just had to click like hell to win the final levels. Lastly as a joke we got to capture and control the Avatar from the Ultima series – which provided a bit of compensation for some of the rushed ideas for the game.
After a year an expansion pack was released, that added levels that were great, complex, and should have been in the base game. The combat was much more challenging, but not because of the enemy hordes. Instead, it was more tactical, compared to the original game’s missions.
Are you a good looking Horny?
Impatient fans of Keeper were left to wait for a sequel for a while. When it was released, the most noticeable difference was the graphics engine. While in Bullfrog’s older games such as Synidcate Wars or Magic Carpet, the graphics were only rendered in 2D. However here the graphics engine is now finally fully 3D!While in the first game it was only sub-3D, and Populous: The Beginning had the entire graphics re-written, some of the units still ran around in 2D bitmap „clothing”.
The 1997 Dungeon Keeper however took the old hypocritical view, and threw it out the window.
In Dungeon Keeper II the entire game, including the monsters, every inch of our empire is rendered in fully 3D graphics, with lighting, and fog effects. While the first game had trouble running larger battles, the second game is now able to render everything correctly, and without a hitch even on the most basic PCs.
The creatures are much more detailed, lifelike, and in FPS mode you can clearly make out their facial features – they look so scary at times that a person might be too scared to be next to them. Some of the creature’s design is unbelievably great – The Black Mistress is sexier than Lara Croft, and Horny is so hideous that it is gorgeous to see. It is also great to see how our monsters conduct their daily lives: our mages flip pages, and our trolls work in the mines.
Our halls echo of bone music, and death wails…
Of course a greedy Keeper does not believe that a new graphics engine is enough: the audio has also evolved in the sequel. It finally feels like if we were walking in the damp, scary halls, that are full of monsters, and we can hear every tiny steps of them, and their suffering. The Black Mistress screams with such delight, that it is advised to play this game at low volume at night, otherwise the neighbors might think of something else….
The music is not CD track, but was digitally integrated to the sound effects, gameplay was also taken into consideration: if there is no battle, and we are only building the music is „peaceful”. However, if we are knee deep in blood, and fierce fighting is happening then the music picks up to the tempo of the combat.
Compared to the graphics the gameplay was not changed. Instead it was refined, and the old ideas were retooled by the creators. The controls are much simpler, there are fewer buttons to click, and the use of existing ones are easier. Certain functions need to be setup differently in the sequel: for instances capturing or killing an enemy is not hidden in a menu button, but instead can easily be switched on and off with the completed prison’s doors.
Of course a greedy Keeper does not believe that a new graphics engine is enough!
The most important feature added was from Populous which is the mana system: this time for magic we will need this and not gold. We get mana based on the size of our labyrinth, and the strength of the central „heart”. This changes the imp resupply system and the combat from the core.
No matter if we are rich (which can become a reality if we find a diamond location), if we run out of mana we will not have the strength to heal our units, plus we will not be able to raise more imps, and we will not be able to use magic. Of course, these changes are also in the multiplayer games, so this way rich players will not be able to automatically steamroll everyone else.
Those who missed an overarching storyline, will probably still be disappointed: the conquering of different levels are still not connected together in any kind of story. Bullfrog simply just added cinematics to all of the mission endings: A bunch of funny scenes all strung together to provide a sort of closure. Yet these cinematics are also not linked in anyway. Those who love morbid humor will love these. Still these small cut scenes are less complex than the previous ones.
If a more significant event happens (new first monsters arrive, a hero tells us a secret location etc), the camera zooms on to the event, and will not be controllable for a short time. This is also occurs when a mission ends, when a main boss dies, Horny appears out of nowhere, and with giant steps he goes next to the corpse, and takes the diamond filled with dungeon maker power from the body of the enemy.
The first game’s artificial intelligence was really good, and it would have been tough to make it even smarter in the sequel. The developers did not even try to do this, instead they refined it. Our monsters behave as they did in the previous game: if they get hungry, then they’ll find a chicken farm, if they get tired then they will sleep, and etc. Of course they’ll still become angry if they lack anything for an extended period of time, however instead of just being a bit of a rebellious monster, they’ll become enemies of the player.
Their icons will turn into gray, and we will be forced to eliminate them like any other enemy, or we can torture them in our prisons or torture rooms to get them to be our units again: It is not worth messing around with a keeper!. The enemy AI changed a bit, if we attack it too much, and feels feeble, they will retreat to safer ground. Though most of the times with not much of success.
A lot of people criticized the game about the combat being too easy: If the enemy was approaching, we just grabbed our army and threw it against the enemy – because of this the battles were not too tactical. The AI did not feel much of a challenge, and in the expansion pack, it was kind of unfair, when they used such a tactic against us.
Bullfrog promised to change this, but not much was noticeable (at least on the first levels). The only new thing was that when our monsters are being thrown, they get hurt, and get stunned, plus a bit of health is lost – yet this only seems like a minor annoyance, but still did not feel like I should not use the old feature.
The game also takes into consideration the unit’s size: in a small room they will not have enough space to move around efficiently: this creates interesting scenarios when we try to use giant dragons and fat demons.
Fly descent, and Mage quake?
It seemed like an excellent idea back in the day to control our monsters from the first person view. It was useful in some situations as we did not have a lot of imps, and worked really slow. However our monsters are able to mine faster, or even fight better in battles if we took control of a creature. Yet even though it was sorta useful, we still did not really need to use this view: the most comfortable way to control the units was from above. This is also true in the second game – even though the 3D engine is beautiful – the real strategist use the above view field, and the first person view is just there for fun.
C-sector in the Dungeon
A monster is only human, they also need some entertainment every now and then. Two new rooms are provided for us that allows our monsters to relax and kick back after killing, and other monotonous jobs in the dungeon. In the casino our monsters can unwind next to the roulette table, and they can also lose some of their money. Of course we need to uphold the facade, so every now and then some of them have to win. In order to get back the money that the imp lost, we can beat them up before they reach the exit, and all of the money will fall out of the imp.
The other recreational facility is less about money, but is more fun: our creatures (or enemies) can be thrown into an arena, where they can fight against each other. The best part is that while this is happening our monsters watching this level up for free.
By the end of the game the heroes will attack us with even larger forces- luckily we get newer monsters to our old allies, to stop the horde of good people. Such new monster is the Black Angel, who is not a motorbike gang member, but a member of the fallen angel race. The Black Angels are fierce warriors who can take care of medium level heroes with one or two slices, and they do not have to fight too much against tougher heroes.
They even have some magic in them, allowing them to summon skeleton warriors, though they do not need cannon fodder units as assistance.
Bandits are also a new groups they usually attack from behind, and steal money. They join whoever gives them the most money. A bit too money hungry though as on payday they can go to our coffers and take money away. So best not let them wander around the treasury! The black knights are basically the opposite of Paladins. They have sworn eternal allegiance to the darkness, and they like to leave their sword and armor bloodied to heighten their image in front of every other minion.
Looking for amoral, and megalomaniac dungeon master!
Dungeon Keeper II was made for those who like to live out their sadist fantasies, and are entirely power hungry (cheered for Tom in Tom and Jerry, and for Darth Vader in Star Wars). Let us be honest who is not tired of always playing as the good guys… When the dark side is much simpler and easier road?!
Good to be bad again!
For me, Dungeon Keeper was one of the most fun and exciting games. I played the original game back in 1997 for weeks, and then I was a bit pissed that the gameplay was a bit of a mess, and the pixel hordes when playing first person view. I ignored these as the game was still one of the best in its genres.
Of course, I understand the Warcraft fans, as they do not like it when their minions just roam around, be lazy, complain, and can even rebel at times. Those who like to wage war will probably be annoyed that their units are off sleeping somewhere
What I did enjoy is that my minions had carefully designed personalities and AI: I never felt that they were just foddered for the meat grinder on a virtual battlefield.
I love the style of the Keeper. The game’s message that „Being Evil is good” is an absolute hit, and it conveys the part that is –while hidden – is included in every RTS game.
First Person Evil
While I am an RTS fan and not an FPS gamer, I did only use the FPS mode to build stuff, or when I had some free time to enjoy the view of the catacombs, or when Black Mistress was roaming about. I did not even want revolutionary fixes from the sequel: Why fix what is not broken and (near) perfect? The graphics engine is beautiful and renders units quickly, and is better than most games on the market – even almost better than Quake 3. The levels are not really that challenging, yet they are more complex, and better designed.
Maybe the combat is a bit off since it still has the „throw” the units against the enemy mechanic: I think the unit selection from Warcraft or Red Alert clones would have been better – but since we are playing in small catacombs it probably would have been difficult to implement.
Based on the above I guess you could say I am a bit biased for Dungeon Keeper II: since I loved the first game, and the sequel sprinkled with a 3D engine was able to keep me in front of the monitor for days. For those who love the good old RTS games like Warcraft, they should try Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, but for those who are like me, will probably enjoy Dungeon Keeper II.
+ Addictive gameplay genius by Molyneux
+ Great atmosphere and humor
+ Still enjoyable
– The graphics were bad in 99 too
– Not too much a lot of improvements
– After a while repetitive gameplay
Publisher: Electronic Arts, Inc.
Developer: Bullfrog Productions, Ltd.
Genres: Strategy, RPG