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[Review] Dungeon Keeper for Android – It was Good to be Bad

Couple of days ago EA soft-launched 3 games on the Play Store available only in selected countries (for now). One of those game is Dungeon Keeper, a sounding name that older gamers will surely remember as one of the greatest strategy / management / God games ever created and now, now we get to play it on our mobile devices. Or do we?

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Your minions are vandalizing your dungeon

Peter Molyneux was one of the founders of Bullfrog Productions and father of the original Dungeon Keeper game released back in 1997. His vision to create something unique, truly remarkable came to an end when their publisher, Electronic Arts, acquired the company in 1995. Peter’s last work before his departure from EA in 1997 was exactly Dungeon Keeper and since he left during the development stage of the sequel (DK2), he didn’t get a chance to actively participate in the project. Thankfully DK2 turned out to be as good as the original and 16 years later, both of those games are still being played and adored by fans around the globe.

If you happen to be one of those fans, stop reading here. This is not the game you are looking for. Turn around and slowly walk away.

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Dungeon Keeper for Android, well well well…. what do we have here. MOBA. That’s what we have here. This game has absolutely nothing to do with the original one (except, perhaps the name and theme). I suspected this might happen, oh well… Dungeon Keeper Mobile ladies and gentlemen and this is what you get.

Your dungeon is full of yogurt

As soon as you launch Dungeon Keeper you will be greeted by the tutorial mode that explains couple of things you need to know before you start playing, what to build and how to manage the resources. Your very own dungeon is actually a 35×35 tiles board where you build your base, train creatures and excavate resources. There are no maps. The board of 35 tiles down and across is the only underworld you will ever see in this game, whether you attack some other player (everyone gets the very same board layout), complete a mission or defend your base. That’s it, there is no exploration, no hidden secrets, no heroic white knights digging their way through and definitely no Dark Mistresses that you can slap around.

Your dungeon heart is also your portal, but you don’t attract creatures, you summon them (read buy) with gold, a lengthy process that takes plenty of time unless you decide to speed it up by spending gems, but more on that later. In order to be able to summon a specific type of creature, you will have to build the appropriate room. The Workshop for example will allow you to summon trolls, the hatchery will unlock the Bile Demon and so on. Unlike the original game, each room has specific space requirements that can’t be ignored, forcing you to carefully plan your dungeon layout if you don’t like the idea of rearranging everything later. Traps are important part of your dungeon as well. Building solid defenses around entry points (mines) will be crucial to your survival on later missions. One of the first spells you unlock , the “land fill” spell, allows you to close empty tiles and create mazes around strategic points that you can reinforce by traps and doors to slowdown invading forces. Keep in mind that some of the rooms also have built-in defenses that shoot on nearby enemies and can help you repel the attack easier.

Am I boring you yet? Good. Everything you decide to build or upgrade requires either gold or stone. Those are the non-premium currencies that you can excavate from your mines. That’s right, imps don’t gather resources, they build rooms, traps, upgrade rooms and traps and dig dirt tiles. Mines produce certain amount of resources and they work non-stop regardless if you are running the game or not, but are affected by the resource cap depending on their level. Level 2 Gold mine for example can produce up to 1500 gold before it stops excavating until you launch the game and move the gold to your treasury (that also has a level based resource cap).

It is payday

Gems are the premium currency. What do you need them for? Well, let me put it this way. Absolutely everything you do, every action you take, every room you build or upgrade, every trap you lay or even every tile you dig has a timer attached. Gems are used to speed things up so you don’t grow old waiting for them to finish. Summoning Imps also requires ridiculous amount of gems. The resources the game provides to new players will be enough to summon 3 imps that will work around the clock building or upgrading stuff you need, or digging their way to one of the 4 mines located on each corner of the map. Why is this such a big deal? There are 3 different type of dirt tiles you can dig through. The ordinary land mass that takes couple of seconds to remove, the medium rock that takes 4 hours and the solid rock tile that requires 24 hours to penetrate. As you can assign only one job per Imp, you get the idea why you need more.  If you get lucky, you can find small amount of gems while digging tiles and completing achievements, but that amount is so insignificant that will literally take weeks before you gather enough gems to summon your 4th imp. On the bright side, you can chain-slap your Imps to make them work harder. The “buff” grants them 2x efficiency bonus and reduces all Imp-related timers by half for 60 minutes.

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This is no wishing well keeper

Right, on to the battle part of the game. You have two options here, follow the “campaign” and complete missions one by one, or try to plunder other players dungeons. No matter what you decide to do, it always comes down to this:

1. Deploy your minions on one of the entry points (mines).

2. Watch them plunder or die trying.

The only thing that matters here is which unit you deploy first, a decision you will have to make based on the dungeon layout you currently attack. Trolls for example will try to destroy nearby traps before doing anything else, Bile Demons will hit the treasury, Skeletons will hit the dungeon heart and so on. Once you deploy your units, you will lose them whether you win the battle or not. You don’t get to bring back any survivors for some reason, so think twice before unleashing all your minions. There are also couple “defense missions” where you have to repel waves of enemy creatures (no, not real players). Those missions are the only reason to build mazes and traps on key points. Every damage you take is only temporary for the duration of the mission and you can’t really lose-lose. Completing missions or raiding dungeons will provide additional gold and stone (sorry, no gems) and bring you one step closer to the top of the leaderboard.

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Since you can attack other players dungeons, it would only be fair if they could do the same to you. And yes, they can, but you don’t get to actively defend your dungeon. All you can do is watch a replay of their attack and take sweet sweet revenge. You only lose small amount of Gold, Stone and Rank when someone raids your dungeon so nothing to worry about.

My god… its full of pies

Dungeon Keeper for Android runs on the Unity 3D engine and graphics are decent, to say at least. There are no major flaws, except the game feels kind of lifeless. Remember how we used to watch our minions roam around the dungeon, go for a training session or go grab a chicken from the hatchery when they feel hungry? Non of this happens here. All your creatures do is wander aimlessly or hang around their rooms. Even when you make an action like building a door, you won’t see the trolls rushing towards the workshop and hitting the anvil with their hammers.

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Controlling the game is easy as everything is touch-enabled and you aren’t really required to do anything special regarding unit placement, nor you can control them once they are off. The only technical problem I certainly noticed was the occasional “lag” when scrolling or zooming in. It’s not a frame rate issue as far as I can tell, but rather resource loading. Once everything gets cached up nicely, the game runs like a dream. This is probably the reason why your 3D rendered minions turn into 2D icons at certain points. I am sure EA will iron-out all those bugs and make the game less demanding in future.

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There is nothing left to research

Now you know how to play the game and what to expect, will you do it? Yes, it’s different, filled with timers and has little to no connection with the original game, but frankly it’s not that bad if you compare it to other MOBA games on the market. The game fully supports Google’s game services, including cloud save, so even if you get bored at some point and decide to uninstall it, your dungeon will still be there waiting for your return. You can even play the game without spending any real money if you decide to devote healthy amounts of time managing the resources on daily basis. What really bothers me though, is EA’s decision to defile the name of “Dungeon Keeper”. I mean come on, the game could easily be named something like “Dungeons” or “Dungeon Lords” and do equally good or even better, but noooo they had to try and lure old fans in hope to empty their wallets (Is nothing sacred?). And this is probably just the beginning. EA owns all Bullfrog licenses so plenty of games are waiting to be (re)released and my guess is that all of them will be freemium. We are probably never going to see proper Dungeon Keeper game for Android, or Dungeon Keeper 3 for that matter. All we have at the moment is an old game that slowly fades away with every new version of Windows released.

By Dejan B.

Imps are adorable Not what we expected
Theoretically, can be played for free Timers, timers everywhere
Play Services, cloud save Lack of details
  • Vasili Syrakis

    As a long time DK fan, I pretty much agree with everything in this article.
    I do want to add, however, that if you can deal with the timers, and simply put your imps to work and check them back later without too much annoyance, it does become mildly satisfying to build up a nice dungeon and ward off multiple attacks in a row. I also get a kick out of planning out my dungeon on a spreadsheet. Hmmm…….. Still, nothing beats DK1. I wish somebody would remake that to work over ethernet instead of IPX.