Resurrection: Dungeon Keeper
Good to be Bad
Resurrection: Dungeon Keeper
Resurrection is a regular feature in which we reminisce about a game from way back when. This week Greg Giddens embraces his evil side in DUNGEON KEEPER.
‘THE BLOODY axes of war and famine have so far bypassed this quiet backwater, leaving the inhabitants totally unaware of the purpose of real agony and loss. Unbearably, most die of old age.’
The above quote tells you with no uncertainty what you are; evil. You are not misunderstood or misguided; you are the embodiment of dread, death and decay. You are the Dungeon Keeper, and being evil is seldom so much fun.
Bad to the bone
Indeed that’s Dungeon Keeper’s primary source of charm and allure, being able to play the bad guy and not fighting a losing battle. The black and white fantasy good and evil may be tried and tested but playing the bad guy is a path less trodden, and is the unique factor that defines Dungeon Keeper’s experience.
The quote is one of many delivered by the narrator as an introduction to a level. Your task is to build a dungeon on this land, fill it with wondrously evil creatures and fiendish traps, and decimate the heroes and fellow dungeon keepers, who dare halt your inevitable advance. With the evil agenda and a combination of god game, RTS, and RPG elements, Dungeon Keeper stood out as a unique and engaging title back in 1997, and represented yet another success for the seemingly unstoppable developer Bullfrog.
However, despite the sprinkling of multi-genre magic, the main experience remained – as with previous Bullfrog titles – in the area of micro management. You plan out the tunnels and caverns of your dungeon, before your lowly imps carve them out. You find veins of gold and ensure timely collection so to pay your greedy creatures of war. Finally, you actively place traps and pickup and drop creatures onto enemies to engage them in battle. Without your hand your dungeon would fall.
It plays into the realm of management games, safely situated within Bullfrog’s fan base. In some ways it was a missed opportunity not to add more than a dab of RTS elements, perhaps the frustration of creature control and the depth of strategy would have benefited from a more RTS based control system. For the Bullfrog fans, however, Dungeon Keeper represented more than just a great game with minor frustrations, it represented hope for the future of other Bullfrog titles. The hope was that Bullfrog could further develop the Theme and Populous series’ with innovative elements such as those found in Dungeon Keeper, and although some success was found in new titles of both series’ – as well as with the Dungeon Keeper sequel – in many ways Dungeon Keeper marked the end of Bullfrog.
Dungeon Keeper’s quality, however, is obvious. The refreshing setting and character of the title is as wonderful today as it was 13 years ago. Engaging the micro-management experience as well as designing and maintaining a dungeon is remarkably fun. The enjoyment is further enhanced by a dark humour you simply can’t get enough of.
‘The streets run with the blood of the slain. Screams of pain and the howls of anguish rip the night air like a vengeful siren song. This really is somewhere you can take the kids for a weekend.’
The narrator continues to share amusing messages of corruption and death as you approach and conquer each level, and in-game the laughter – or more appropriately, cackling – continues.
The design of many of the creatures is grotesque and inherently amusing. The Bile Demon’s girth as well as their offensive attacks with gas and middle finger retaliation after a slap makes them both hilarious and vile in good balance. Imps grunt when slapped and squeal with joy when picked up and dropped. Mistresses would be happy for you to slap them all day if it wasn’t such a drain on their health. There’s no denying the comedic charm – something Bullfrog was famous for – is present even in the shadows of your sinister dungeon.
Dungeon Keeper is a great game and a sorely missed series. Here’s hoping license holders EA revive it one day with a third game that fans, and indeed the series, deserve.