Genre : RPG
Developer: Heuristic Park
Release Date: TBA
Pre-order 'DUNGEON LORDS': PC
Dungeon Lords is the latest game by David W. Bradley, the designer behind Wizardry 5, 6 and 7. While David has some excellent games in his past, in the game biz you’re only as good as your current game. We sat down with the demo they were running at E3 to get a preview for how this game is going to stand up to his record.
The demo we received didn’t go into the story at all, but from the web site and the E3 talk we had a few months ago, there is a decent, albeit unoriginal, story. The great wizard Galdryn has been slain. His best friend, Lord Davenmor, trying to keep the invading army at bay, has offered up his daughter's hand in marriage to stop the invasion. The arranged marriage didn’t sit well with her, so she took off to parts unknown. Lord Barrowgrim, head of the invaders, isn’t all that happy about this and sent his army to raze the kingdom once more. Hueristic has billed this as a tale of “Love, Hate, Betrayal, Revenge, Honor, and Evil,” and honestly, I hope it’s not as clichéd as it sounds.
Dungeon Lords is a departure from the party-based RPG model that defined the Wizardry series, instead being more of a mix between Action and RPG. You control one hero from the 3rd person view, but for those looking to play in a party, the game does allow for co-operative multiplayer. One interesting thing about the multiplayer is the developers are toying with the idea of putting in a “friendly fire” switch, so if your buddy is in the middle of the skeletons swinging away, best not hit them with a fireball.
There are around 5-8 playable races in the game with three schools of magic. Not all classes are magic-based, and it is possible to multi-class. The exact detail of the classes is still being hashed out, but they are promising a lot of flexibility in how they work. As one of the developers described it, you won’t be just a “mage” or a “necromancer,” since the skills will be able to overlap and you’ll share general skills as well as having class-specific skills. As you progress through the tiers, you’ll unlock specialty classes with their own unique skills, like critical strike, kung-fu, etc. The advantage to this system is it doesn’t lock you into one path and lets you customize your character to your liking. While you can mix magic and thieving skills, you’ll be less effective at both, but be able to advance towards the Battlemage class and directly mix the two disciplines. They did caution that this is still being hammered out, so expect it to change as they iron out the details.
What really separates Dungeon Lords from other games in the genre is the combat system. In many ways, it has more in combat with an FPS or a console fighting game than an RPG. How it works is you use a combination of the mouse buttons and the directional keys to launch specific attacks. For instance, if I right-click and hit “up,” I’ll lunge, but if I hit “down,” I’ll try and use an overhead chop. You also aren’t locked to a specific target, and your attack will hit whatever monster falls under your blade. It took quite a bit of getting used to, but once I got the hang of it, it was a blast figuring out what attacks work well. You’ll be able to use attack combos, but those weren’t working in this build. If you’ve played Morrowind, it sounds like it’s the same system, but it’s a lot less “endless-clicking-while-hoping-the-monster-dies-soon” than it seems, and instead relies on what attacks work best. One thing I didn’t notice was you don’t see what the health of the monster is, so you have no idea how close it is to dying. As you defeat monsters, you’ll gain XP which you can then use to raise your abilities. Again, this build didn’t have any of the class-advancement features in it, so I wasn’t able to see what happened when you leveled up.
The controls are standard FPS fare, with the WASD keys controlling motion direction and attacks. The one thing I found cumbersome was how they divided up the different inventories. Items you equip, like swords and armor, went into one inventory window while items you use, like scrolls and spells, went into another window. Each of these windows has a different hot-key assigned to it. Until I got it figured out, I wasn’t sure where my looted items were going, making me think the looting system was broken. I really hope the final release combines the two inventories. There also wasn’t a map feature I could find in the demo, but screenshots I saw on the official boards do show a map, so it looks like that will be in as well.
The graphics in the game, while not cutting edge, get the job done well. The landscaping, especially the foliage and ground cover, looked good and the monster models were excellent and above par. There was one dungeon and the texture work was well done and helped with the immersion. The water was decent, but not as good as in Morrowind. The only complaint I had was the game felt a tad too dark. The build was set in nighttime, using your torch for illumination. While it helped with the realism, trying to see things outside of the light cone emitted by the torch wasn’t easy on the eyes, and the game could use the ambient lighting being cranked up a notch or two. The same goes for the dungeon view, where it was a challenge making out the corridor ahead and especially difficult when I looked up towards the ceiling. The demo just had one outdoor area with some outbuildings and a ruined temple so it was hard to get a feeling for how the overall art direction was taking shape, but it was a good sneak peek.
While the build didn’t have any quests or game play components beyond the combat system, I was surprised at how much it sucked me in. There were a few “how do I get past this point” puzzles that were fun to figure out, and while the story may follow a tried-and-true formula, if it’s well written, we can look past that point. The developers are stating that there will be around 50 hours of game play when it releases, and if they are as fun as the couple of hours I spent in the demo, the game will be a hit.
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