Developer: Heuristic Park
Release Date: April 19, 2005
Pre-order 'DUNGEON LORDS': PC
Dungeon Lords is the highly anticipated RPG-cum-action title from Heuristic Park and Typhoon Games. The main ambition here is to combine a tradition role-playing game with all of the intrinsic features of that genre (i.e., leveling up, maintaining inventory and questing, puzzle-solving and the like) with the no-holds-barred action of a fighting game. Pretty ambitious idea. Then, they added the expertise of legendary game designer D.W. "Wizardry 4-6 and Wizards and Warriors" Bradley. Quite a lineage, eh?
As the story goes, the great wizard, Galdryn of the Meadows, has been slain by a deadly conspiracy within the Circle of Mages. His chief ally, Lord Davenmor, now struggles to save his kingdom from the dark forces of the conspiracy and the onslaught of Lord Barrowgrim's army of marauders. Lord Davenmor has promised his daughter's hand in marriage to Lord Barrowgrim to quell the invasion, but her heart belongs to another and after learning of her father's pledge, she has vanished. Sensing treachery, Lord Barrowgrim has sent his army once more to destroy Lord Davenmor and raze the kingdom. Thus begins Dungeon Lords, Cry of the Kingdom Cracked, a tale of love, hate, betrayal, revenge, honor, and evil …
Yes, there was a time when yours truly sat around in a circle with a bunch of other guys who couldn't get dates, hurling 20-sided dice and pretending to be the baddest dungeon crawler of all time. Granted, that was about 30 years ago, but the desire to hack and slash all kinds of medieval baddies is still ingrained in me, even though I not only got a date, but got married as well. To be perfectly frank, my nom de plume, Alanix, is the name of the first D&D character I ever created. This was back when the information superhighway was a dirt road leading only to Compu$erve and GEnie.
I gotta tell you folks: this game had me talking to myself. At first glance, it plays a lot like Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. You have total control of your hero in an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective. Sidestepping, jumping, strafing - you name it, and it's there. But be warned: the learning curve is pretty steep, and I felt more like a pincushion than a mighty warrior for quite some time. The baddies come at you in hordes, and just when you think you have a second to breathe, here comes another slew of them.
Utilizing the tried-and-true WASD movement scheme, Dungeon Lords makes use of movement to enhance combat. No quick "walk up to a monster and just start clicking the right mouse button" here, gang. You better pay attention to each thrust, parry and strike if you want to keep your spleen and various and sundry other organs on the inside of your body.
I have to mention here the enemy design. At first, Dungeon Lords seems like you usual fantasy RPG. You are first introduced to a messenger who points you in the direction of a nearby castle, where you are then informed that the King's daughter is MIA, and the town is closed. Soon after, a little troll thingy asks if you want another way into the castle. You follow him, and have to fight a bunch of baddies coming from a secret entrance to the castle. It is here that, in the sewers, Dungeon Lords first flexes its innovation muscle. Remember all those "slimes" in every RPG from D&D through Final Fantasy (insert number here) and others, where it looked like you were fighting a giant Hershey's Kiss made of Jell-O? Not this time around, dude. The slimes that inhabit this introductory dungeon are truly gross thingies. They look like a pool of scum that gained sentience and decided that they don't like you.
Then come the bats. You have to jump while swinging to take these little blood-suckers down, and if you think that's easy while avoiding sentient pools of scum, think again. Okay, I think you get the idea that you're gonna be slashing at a lot of weird stuff that will be coming at you from all directions.
You are not going into this naked with no weapons, however. From the outset (at least in the preview build I am lucky enough to have), you have many weapons and armor and spells and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) to help you. Staying true to the RPG form, each piece of equipment carries a weight penalty, and your own stats must be high enough to make true use of them. The neat thing here is you can use anything at any time. In most games, if you aren't strong enough to wield a certain sword, its image will be ghosted in the selection/inventory screens. In Dungeon Lords, you need to keep an eye on penalties, but even a four-foot-tall weakling can wield a huge two-handed sword. He just won't be able to swing it very well.
Also at your disposal are a number of spells that can be bound to the primary attack button (right mouse button). In the early stages, these spells will help save your hide while you learn your way around this intense fighting game. Spells include, but are hardly limited to: fireballs, magic missiles, and other RPG standards, up to a Bard's Tale-esque summoning of creatures to come to your defense. It's pretty intense stuff.
The developers promise cooperative online play, which will have the potential to drive this game into the stratosphere, if the multiplayer maps and quests are as challenging as their singleplayer counterparts.
The enemy AI is among the most devious I have seen in a long time. They duck, jump, strafe, sidestep and otherwise annoy the hell out of you in more ways than you could imagine. Combine superior intelligence with massive numbers, and you are starting to better understand the challenge that waits when Dungeon Lords finally hits the shelves. I, for one will be putting it on my "Take a Close Look At" list.
If the multiplayer is as good as they are boasting, Dungeon Lords could become the number-one dungeon crawler out there.
More articles about Dungeon Lords