Sunday, May 17, 2015

Back to the Dungeon

When Bullfrog (why, oh why, did they have to be swallowed by EA?) released “Dungeon Keeper,” I was quite in front of the line to buy it. When they released the sequel “Dungeon Keeper 2” later on, I was snatching that one up ASAP as well. I like good games which combine different genres (building, strategy, and a little resource management in the DK games) and I like being evil.

Because that is the main selling point of DK, you see. Instead of playing the hero who enters the dungeon and raids everything (as in basically every RPG), you play the keeper of the dungeon, a floating hand, who is building the dungeon and keeping the workforce happy. Your job is it to overcome other keepers and defeat the heroes to take control of the realms, one after another.
The game comes with great humour and the second part really makes everything better, unlike with many other games over the years. You might lose one of the strongest monsters of the first part (the Horned Reaper, also known as Horny), but for that you gain him as a special creature you can only call at certain points. It’s probably for the best - Horny was an extremely strong monster and made the game too easy.

The principle of DK is easy enough to understand. You start out with nothing but the Dungeon Heart (the source of your powers) and a few Imps (your workers). You have to excavate space out of the soil and turn them into special rooms. The rooms all have a use, of course. You also need to find a portal, so creatures can enter you dungeon.
The Lair will serve as sleeping spot for your creatures (they become unhappy without a sleeping spot in the Lair). The Hatchery offers tasty chickens for your creatures to eat (some creatures will get extremely upset without food). The Library attracts Warlocks who will research your spells and make them better (and the Warlocks are good ranged fighters). The list goes on, of course, but those are the first few rooms you can build in the game.
Certain rooms attract certain creatures. Without a library, no Warlocks. Without a Guard Room, no Dark Elves. Without a Torture Chamber, no Iron Maidens (they’re pretty powerful fighters and good at ‘encouraging’ caught enemies to switch sides). Some rooms also create creatures (Prisons create Skeletons, Graveyards create Vampires) from captured or dead enemies.
You can possess your own creatures, which allows you to lead a group somewhere they can’t or won’t go otherwise. It also allows you to expand your dungeon tiles in a certain direction (by possessing an Imp) or to explore the dungeon in the way you want to (by possessing a suitable creature, preferably a Firefly).

The first half of a typical game is building up first the dungeon (excavating and defining rooms, finding and mining gold), then the army. Training creatures in the Training Room (also available early), having spells researched or optimized in the Library, exploring the surroundings, trying to spot some secrets somewhere.
The second half of a typical game is finding your enemy (or enemies) and smashing them. Strong creatures are better against foes, battle makes them stronger. (The Training Room can only train your creatures to level 4, the Arena later allows training to a higher level, but only in battle your creatures can reach the top level, 10.)
To protect your own Dungeon Heart (if you lose it, you lose the game), you can build several traps and you can create doors to block off small openings (one tile wide). Guard Rooms are usually manned by Dark Elves who will alert you to any kind of intruder and attack them immediately, so it’s a good idea to build them at the border of your territory or in an area where there’s a Hero Gate (those are gates through which heroes will enter you dungeon).
Enemy rooms can be taken over, enemy tiles will be converted into yours by your Imps. You can take over a complete dungeon from a rival Keeper, if you manage to destroy the heart. That will allow you to expand your own dungeon cheaply, since you don’t need to pay for the rooms you take over. Rooms are not attacked, so they won’t be destroyed in the battle for dominance. Sometimes the fortress of the lord of the realm will also have rooms you can take over.

“Dungeon Keeper” and “Dungeon Keeper 2” are available from GOG by now, set up to work on modern machines. I grabbed them from there the moment they were released again. And recently, I’ve gone back to the dungeon, to teach those pesky heroes with their morals a thing or two about angering the Keeper. Although I think, it might be even worse to anger Horny, he has a huge scythe, not just a big hand.