Playing the bad guy has always been enticing, and arguably the most recognisable games to revel in the joys of being evil are the fondly remembered Dungeon Keeper games by Bullfrog. The dungeon building genre has seen a mini-resurgence in recent years with the likes of War for the Overworld and the prior entries in the Dungeons series itself, how does this third entry compare?
Dungeons 3 sees the return of the Dungeon Lord as he turns Dark Elf Thalya into his avatar of destruction as you are once again tasked with dungeon building and stopping those pesky goody two-shoes above ground from ruining your day. For the most part this plays out as you’d expect a dungeon building game to. Carving out rooms to satisfy creature demands whilst laying traps to hinder those meddling heroes and researching newer ways to wreak havoc.
This third entry takes what Realmforge Studios accomplished with Dungeons 2 and streamlines both dungeon building and overworld portions, the traditional “dungeon keeping” aspect is essentially how you create and build up your army to accomplish the overworld portion of each mission. The overworld is a more substantial element than in the past, with missions usually including bonus objectives to accomplish alongside the main task.
Starting with the dungeon gameplay, like other games in the genre you have basic minions, in this case Little Snots, who perform basic tasks like breaking down walls, building rooms and taking gold to your treasury. You utilise these fellows to bash out a layout for a variety of other rooms that confer different benefits, from basics like providing food and rest to more interesting things like turning heroes into undead minions or upgrade research.
Initially your job is to to dig out resources, gold and mana, to allow the Little Snots to do their job, marking out areas to bash out is simple and placing rooms is equally so. In the dungeon segments you have limited control of your minions, only having the ability to pick them up and drop them around your lair. Your task is to enlist an army of creatures with the ultimate aim of protecting your lair’s Dungeon Heart.
The game features a research tree, with a plethora of upgrades, although it takes a few hours of play to have the majority of toys available to play with. Unlike the Dungeon Keeper games you don’t encourage new creatures to appear by meeting specific criteria, you simply have to purchase them from the research tree and add them to your creature pool. This feels like a missed opportunity but it works fine and it does stop the dungeon gameplay from seeming like a carbon copy.
Most of the twenty missions in the campaign see you creating the basic niceties as you race to getting a basic army together so you can start exploring the overworld. This adds a degree of urgency to the beginning few minutes but it does feel strange that progress is reset each time. Once you’ve prepared your army you venture out into the world above.
In the overworld the game plays very much like a traditional Real Time Strategy title like Warcraft 3, you have much more control of your troops here. This feels slightly odd logic-wise as you’d expect to have more control in your lair but for gameplay purposes it makes perfect sense. Above ground you usually have multiple objectives as well as hero camps to destroy, demolishing these decreases the amount of hero dungeon invasions you are subjected to so are well worth taking out. In addition to those there are also “Islands of Good” dotted about which when destroyed convey the games most important resource, pure evil.
Pure evil is used for the majority of advanced rooms and units in the game making obtaining it early essential. When you take an island you get an initial burst of evil but each island you own trickles more into your coffers over time. This gives the game an interesting dynamic where you need to flip between dungeon and overworld performing different tasks to complete the main mission objectives. This can become quite tense and overwhelming when you are being attacked in both areas at once and gives the game a really unique feel, being aware of what is happening on multiple fronts is really unique.
The missions are also varied enough that you don’t feel like you are just doing the same thing over and over. One mission might see you simply destroying some hero encampments, but another will see you escorting a Pit Fiend across a map whilst he’s in the middle of a tug-of-war style battle, at the same time keeping any heroes at bay from your dungeon and taking on other threats in area.
The game’s story however is pretty generic, the Ultimate Evil/Dungeon Lord wants to take over the continent but has limited power without corporeal form, they solve this by possessing Thalya, a Dark Elf sorceress. This ultimately puts you at odds with her foster dad, the paladin Tanos and his mates, Grimli the dwarf and Yaina Overproud the mage.
And if you couldn’t guess from reading that last sentence, this sets the stage for a raft of non-stop fourth wall breaking moments and self-referential humour which whilst initially funny can soon become tiresome. It’s a potpourri of pop-culture references that drowns the player, from Lord of the Rings to Dragonball Z to Star Wars through to its main target and inspiration Warcraft there is barely any time without some kind of reference.
This is a huge shame as it undercuts any investment you could potentially have had in its world: none of it matters as literally everything is an attempted joke, from place names to characters to situational references. This type of humour works in moderation and if it was just the narrator (whose delivery and voicework is exceptional) with the odd reference it would be fine, but it denies the games world its own chance to exist.
The game itself is a great deal of fun, it’s the most polished entry in the series so far and it looks and sounds great. The duality of the gameplay makes it stand out from its inspiration and it does some clever things throughout its missions. If you can stomach the constant jokes and lack of confidence in itself you’ll find a solid, interesting and fun dungeon builder here.
Dungeons 3 (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
A fun, interesting dungeon builder that lacks confidence in its own identity. Clever mission design with an interesting overworld/dungeon dynamic is overshadowed by an over reliance on pop-culture parody.