Dungeon Keeper Undone

File:Dungkeep.jpgIn 1997, Bullfrog Productions released an interesting game called ‘Dungeon Keeper’.  The premise was to control the denizens of a dungeon and build up various minions to battle the forces of good.  The game included much dark humor and was generally well received.

A sequel was released in 1999 that had better graphics (screen resolution up to 1024x768), additional minion/room options, and humorous between-level cut scene videos.

Both versions of the game were incredibly fun and memorable.

…and then Electronic Arts (EA) attempted to revive the franchise in 2014.

Dungeon Keeper mobile by EA is loosely based on the original game franchise and was released as a freemium offering. The premise of building up the strength of your minions and improving dungeon rooms is still in there, but the quest lines have become very basic defense of your dungeon or offence on another (very similar) dungeon.  Additionally, players can raid another online player’s dungeons (randomly chosen- unless you retaliate for an earlier incursion).

The basic mechanics are pretty enjoyable; add rooms, level up abilities by spending mined/plundered gold or stone, and deploy defenses to make your dungeon more resistant to attacks.  The game includes a ranking system that shows an individuals standings vs. the other Dungeon Lords all across the Internets.

The game is run in real-time (i.e. if you disconnect, processes in your dungeon are still continuing on EA’s servers) and every construction/training/upgrade takes some measure of real-world time: Excavating a dirt block only takes 4 seconds, but mining a gem vein block will take 4 (for a normal vein) or 24 (for a hard vein) real-time hours; Training minions can run mere seconds to several minutes depending on type and level; Upgrading dungeon rooms requires from 15 minutes up to 48 hours (possibly longer) as the level of each room advances.

EA has decided that time is definitely money and has done all it can to fill its coffers with by plundering their players with micro-transactions. 

Upgrades to objects inside the game will require either stone or gold resources; both are readily available via mining, quests or raids.  Much rarer are the gems that are required to bypass the time required to perform tasks.  For example, instead of waiting 24 hours to upgrade a training room, I could spend 450 gems to have it completed instantly.  A player starts off the game with 550 gems and can obtain additional gems in-game by completing achievements (5 to 25 gems each) or randomly while mining dirt (3 gems) or gem veins (unknown amount). 

A player starts with one Imp minion that will perform all work in the dungeon (mining, building or upgrading rooms, deploying traps, etc). Adding a second imp is 100 gems; adding a 3rd is another 800 gems.  Based on current yields I am anticipating that it will likely take me 2-3 months to obtain enough gems to purchase a third imp- and that assumes I spend none of the gems on other upgrades/builds.

If a player doesn’t want to wait, they can trade real-world cash for the virtual game gems; EA’s ‘Best Value’ offering is 14,000 gems for $99.99…  That’s $100 to bypass a portion of the over-excessive time delays that EA has mine-fielded through the game with the sole purpose of annoying the player enough to part with said cash.

One example (that really urks the the Hell out of me) is removing a hard gem vein (normally 24h per block); based on EA’s ‘Best Value’, each block will cost about $1.78 USD to remove- which is about 1/2 way to a decent paid game in either Google Play or the iTunes store…

It is very important to note is there is no offline mode for Dungeon Keeper mobile- when you start the game, it logs into the EA servers.  If you cannot connect to the Internet, you are sent away.

Another aspect of the game that is moderately annoying is the player must always replenish their minions after a raid- regardless if they win or lose the battle.  Replenishing requires gold and (you guessed it!) time or gems.  An average minion summoning time for my current dungeon is about 15 minutes; after I conduct a raid/quest, I re-summon my selection of troops before closing out of the game.

The game also features prominent push notifications- such as the in-game narrator announcing that ‘your minions are ready for battle’- that will go off at the some of most interesting hours of the morning.  On the Android version, system volume appears to be ignored when making these announcements (save for full mute) and this can be ‘hellishly’ loud at 3am as I am notified that my ‘Library upgrade is complete’.  It was amusing for a while… a very short while.  It then took me some time to find how to disable these notifications: In  the Android version, select the in-game icon that looks like a ‘Play’ button on left'; then select the ‘Gear’ icon’; next pick the drop-down arrow (next to help & about at top) to select Game Settings; and finally turn off Push Notifications.

The gameplay itself is moderately enjoyable; the realization that EA tainted the gameplay time mechanics solely to annoy the player enough to purchase digital gems overpowers the enjoyment.  I really want to like this game, but after the first 15 minutes of gameplay,  it is about as entertaining as watching paint dry on an overcast day. 

My personal advice is if you have an extreme measure of patience, give it a shot- you will probably enjoy.  However, if you are a fan of the original series, you will likely feel like EA has slapped you in the face and told you to ‘pay up, bitch!’ after your initial enthusiasm fades.  Instead of wasting USD on digital gems, I would suggest visiting GoG games and consider purchasing the original Dungeon Keeper or Dungeon Keeper II for $5.99 each.  If the 640x480 graphics of the original game isn’t tolerable on your 30” LCD monitor, check out the fan made KeeperFX mod that brings the graphics up to near-2003 display resolution standards.  Additional fan-made maps and goodies can also be found in the Keeper Klan forums.