Video Game Retrospective
The Grue�s Gruel
By: A Grue

TITLE: Dungeon Keeper 2!

Hello, one and all, and welcome to The Grue�s Gruel! This bi-month, we�re gonna peer into the forgotten and revel in the reflection of something so shiny, only a gnomish gemcutter could appreciate its beauty.

Have you ever wanted to be� bad? Sometimes the urge creeps up on us all, like when you�re checking out the different prestige classes in D&D, and you see the antipaladin. They�re bad guys, sure, but sometimes it�s cool to be bad. When you think about games that let you explore this simple idea, you probably think about Overlord, a game released four years ago in 2007 for the PC and 360. Or you might think about Dungeons, a game released on Steam for the PC. And in fact, if you�ve heard of the latter, then you�ve probably heard of the game it was trying to imitate, which will be the topic of discussion today.

Dungeon Keeper II is a real-time strategy game where you finally get to play the bad guy�but more notable is the fact that this game does it right. Released in 1999 over 12 years ago by Electronic Arts but developed by Bullfrog Productions, Dungeon Keeper II is a sequel to its titular predecessor, which was released just two years earlier. I can�t say that I�ve ever played the original, but that�s only because the sequel satisfied me so greatly, I dreaded the prototype�s ability to live up to its big brother�s standards. Fortunately, you do not need to play Dungeon Keeper to enjoy any of the content Dungeon Keeper II has to offer.

The focus of this dissertation today is a Real-Time Strategy, or RTS for short, which is a variety of game whereby the player occupies the spirit of a cursor or a disembodied hand which floats over the scenery and orders commands, but rarely intervenes in anything directly. RTSs are well-known for their fixed camera angles, army-building goals, and forcing their players to think tactically and take advantage of their situational missions.

Dungeon Keeper II is no different in this regard, and I�d even go so far as to say that it performs in those regards quite admirably, albeit the noticeably dated creature AI. However, this game also manages to eloquently integrate two distinct themes that separate this title from others that might try to imitate it. These two themes are the theme of evil, and the theme of humor. So inextricably entwined are the two that you can�t even start talking about one without bringing up the other, and I�ll delve into these both shortly.

The back drop behind this game is that you are an evil overlord who is trapped in the bowels of the Earth (or perhaps Hell itself?), and you are trying to break free to the world above (beyond). The only way to get there is through some magical (unnamed?) door, which is not only heavily guarded, but also requires a couple handfuls of magic gems to pass through. Apparently there is a very finite number of these Portal Gems, and you must possess all of them to travel to the surface world above.

At the beginning of the game, all of these magic rocks are taken and spread to the far reaches of the evil underground realm, with each one given to another stalwart hero of good, who are invading the evil realm in an attempt to vanquish all who reside there. It is your task as the Keeper to develop an underground empire, amass an army, fend off the encroaching heroes, and stay on the move through the realm�all while finding the powerful heroes of good who possess the Portal Gems and slaying them until you�ve recollected them all. It�s less complicated than it sounds, I assure you.

And this is where the humor comes in. The minions of evil that you recruit to your cause are quite silly, such as the Goblin, who is your first recruited warrior. An up close look reveals that he�s wearing a lopsided Viking hat, has a very goofy look on his face, and in combat situations, runs at the first sign of danger. This is true even if it�s an even fight! That is to say, Goblins in particular, for example, must (along with their other allies, such as Warlocks, Trolls, Salamanders, etc.) outnumber the enemies, or else they will always turn tail and flee. This can be an annoying hindrance, but plays into the tactical decisions the player must make in combat situations. And if nothing else, it can be appreciated for its comedic value.

And as far as ridiculous creature designs go, the Bile Demons you can get definitely take the gold medal home. These orange-skinned creatures are hideous and fat, and also have no legs. They�ve got a big nose ring, and two horizontal horns jutting out from the sides of their head. At the end of each horn, a spiked metal ball hangs from a chain. As if their design wasn�t ridiculous enough, seeing them actually attack with their weapons by swinging their head back and forth is probably one of the dumbest things I�ve ever seen in my life.

Imps are technically the first of creatures you gain command of, though they don�t fight for you. Instead, Imps claim land, dig out earth to make space for the rooms you�ll add later, and lastly, reinforce your dungeon walls. This provides light via wall-hung torches, and also makes it more difficult for enemy heroes and Imps to tunnel into your strategically built hideout. All of the Imps in this game make all sorts of silly noises, making it impossible to take them seriously. Yelps like �woo-hoo� when you drop an imp and �om nom nom� when you pick them up help underline how amusingly weak and pitiful they really are�though they do work without complaint and tirelessly do your bidding.

This all probably sounds like a bit much to take in all at once, but the game does an excellent job of pacing itself by starting you off with the very basics--including how to interact with the UI--as part of the game itself. You don�t have to learn how to play and then start playing, which is much appreciated. Instead, as you progress, you unlock new rooms to create, new traps to build, and new creatures to train for your army as you go along.

You even eventually unlock the ability to turn captured enemy creatures into allies, and thus adding them to your army, via use of the Torture Room. This sounds terrible until you hear the sounds the heroes or creatures make, whose cries sound more akin to forcing down a really unpleasant teaspoon of medicine than being tortured to death. Being very parodical of the stereotypical fantasy heroes, such as the �dwarf,� �wizard,� �knight,� and so on, the heroes each have their own diverse skill set, even though some of them overlap with creatures you already own (wizards don�t add much that your already evil warlocks don�t already have).

From my childhood memories of this game, however, one element sticks out the most: Horny. That�s right, there is a Horned Reaper--an invincible, scythe-wielding, fireball-spewing avatar of evil� and his name is Horny. When you gain the ability to summon him, he tears through enemies like they�re paper, and cannot take any damage, but can only remain on the battlefield for a limited time. Once he�s been summoned, you cannot control where he goes, so timing and placement for the summon are both crucial in some dangerous situations.

While much is memorable about this game, one of the most memorable things about this game, both as an adult and a child, is one of the last levels in the game. By the time you reach this level, you�re well-acquainted with everything that this game has to offer you in terms of unlockables, and now they�re just testing you. Before you challenge the king of the goodly heroes, you must first defeat his three sons. The princes each hold a Portal Gem as well, which is crucial to the plot. Each of these three princes are patrolling about the level with a contingent of goodly soldiers at their side, and have been ordered to alert their brothers to your presence in the event that they should find you here. If that happens, the other two brothers will run away to their Hero Gates, fleeing the level to their father�s side, and causing you to lose. To win, you must carefully infiltrate their base, block off each of the three Princes� escape routes, and do it all without any of them noticing you. This one in particular really tested the players� knowledge of the game so far, and was a lot of fun to complete.

There are many other things that this game did right, such as the amusing narrator who instructs you and occasionally just entertains you, and the careful balance of the storyline between silly humor and epic siege against good. However, some things are best experienced for one�s self. Dungeon Keeper II is abandonware, meaning that the studio has abandoned the project and are no longer selling copies of the game. Sad for the game, but good for the gamers! This game can be downloaded for free at this link. I encourage anyone who sounds even remotely compelled by this game to check it out!

About the Author

A Grue was raised playing games most have never heard of. And now he wants you to suffer just like he did. Suffer... like G did?
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