Dungeon Keeper

Dungeon Keeper

We had wonderful memories of this particular dungeon. Now those memories have been impaled on a big spike and left to bleed out in a dark corner.

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Back in the late 90s the EA-owned studio Bullfrog made a lovely (and pretty fantastic) strategy game called Dungeon Keeper. It took the traditional idea of heroes going into a dark and gloomy dungeon, facing all sorts of dangers, monsters and traps with hopes of finding treasures and wealth within - and turned it completely upside down. Instead of being a noble hero, you were the bad guy, the one who built and managed the large dungeon. You would expand, building facilities to attract monsters and demons, while keeping your workers on a short leash (a quick slap made them work faster) and putting defences up in preparation for the eventual moment when for a bunch of goody-two-shoes heroes broke in to try and steal your treasure.

It was a pretty original idea, the game was brilliant for its time, and it was one of the reasons that Peter Molyneux was then seen as a visionary and inventive game creator (rather than the somewhat more controversial figure he is today).

Dungeon Keeper

And this is obviously the legacy EA has focused on utilising as they tasked their Mythic studio with making a new Dungeon Keeper for mobile platforms. Or rather, I say "utilise", but a more apt description would probably be "chain it up in a dungeon and beat it to a bloody pulp with spiked clubs", because Dungeon Keeper 2014 has none of what made the original and its sequel so excellent, while at the same time managing to be the epitome of everything that is wrong with mobile titles, casual games and free-to-play.

If I didn't know better, I would have suspected EA of just trolling us all and deliberately trying to win the title of being America's worst company for the third year in a row.

I don't quite know how to say it, but Dungeon Keeper can hardly be described as a game. It's basically just a matter of waiting. For every second of actually doing something or making decisions, you'll be faced with several minutes of just waiting around. It's an anti-game.

Every action takes time. It ranges between a few seconds, such as when a single square of soft rock must be dug out, to several hours, such as building certain rooms or upgrading them. You can't queue up multiple work orders, so you run out of things to do after a few seconds - and then all you can do is wait until your workers have finished.

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But wait, there is an alternative to patience... You can choose to speed up a given task by paying with Gems, one of the game's four resources (the others being gold, stone and mana), which in reality there is only one way to obtain: namely, by unleashing the credit card.

Literally every single action you can perform in Dungeon Keeper is prompted with an option of paying Gems - meaning real money - to finish the task faster. You get a small handful of these gems at first, after having done the initial tutorial, but Dungeon Keeper is pretty much unplayable if you don't make with the cash. You get about 600 gems at the start - but if you want a third worker, letting you issue more construction orders at a time, it costs 800 Gems.

I'll say that again: if you don't pony up, Dungeon Keeper is essentially made up of a few seconds of gameplay followed by waiting for anywhere between a few minutes and several hours. It is virtually unplayable.

But what's worse, it only takes a short while to become apparent that the whole game is completely pointless. There's nothing to play for, nothing to work towards. Sure, you can expand your dungeon, make defences and summon monsters so that any invading players will have a harder time taking down your dungeon, possibly even holding them back and defeating them.

Or you can choose to go out and attack other players' dungeons (with your minions - that take a few extra minutes to summon - should you need fresh troops), but again there's little point. You may win some gold and stone, but that's it. Game-wise, there is not much fun in it and it's completely risk free. Even if your base is invaded and razed to the ground, it has no consequence - everything is rebuilt as soon as you log in again, and your mines keep gathering resources.

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At least you can close the game while you wait. All construction work, monster production and resource extraction, continues unabated while the game is closed, since it all runs online. On the other hand, the game insists on sending you a notification via the Android notifications every time something even remotely interesting happens. A building has been finished? Notification. A mine has collected all the gold it can store, meaning you need to enter and click the mine before it can keep producing? Notification. Everything triggers a notification, and it happens pretty insistently with sound effects and all, and there's no way to turn them off. The game has to keep luring you back, y'see.

But playing in this constantly interrupted way, you realise quickly that the game as a whole is completely pointless, payments or not. There is nothing to gain, no goal to steer towards, it's just empty repetition on empty repetition. You build things in order to wait until you can build more things in order to wait until you can upgrade something in order to wait until something else happens, and that loop just repeats endlessly. There is no development or sense of progress. Every action only leads to a new excuse for the game to try to lure money out of you, and not much else.

It's depressing and exhausting, while also being bizarrely addictive, as you keep coming back just to check how things are going with the same dungeon and collect the piles of gold and stone that have piled up in your mines - even though you are fully aware of how ridiculous, tedious and shockingly uninteresting the whole thing is. It is an exercise in futility. On top of that, the controls are clumsy and imprecise, meaning you'll often miss the object you're trying to select.

With some heavy bong-hitting, you might be able to argue that Dungeon Keeper is in fact a work of art, designed to make us think about how meaningless, monotonous and repetitive life can be, that it is an attempt to illustrate how useless and pointless gaming is. But being an EA product, that explanation seems a little too left-field.

So instead I'll repeat just what I wrote earlier. Dungeon Keeper is an anti-game. It sucks the joy of gaming out of me and it has no redeeming qualities, not in the slightest. Calling it greedy would be understatement of the year. The already tarnished image of free-to-play could hardly receive a more devastating blow than that which Dungeon Keeper has given it. It eats at my soul every time I play it. And that's why I'll uninstall, nay, banish it from my tablet as soon as I've finished this sentence.

Dungeon Keeper
01 Gamereactor UK
1 / 10
+ ... no... you got us... we can't think of anything
- Cynical use of free-to-play, horrible use of a wonderful IP, annoying notifications, too much waiting around
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Dungeon Keeper

REVIEW. Written by Rasmus Lund-Hansen

"For every second of actually doing something or making decisions, you'll be faced with several minutes of just waiting around. It's an anti-game."

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