Developer: Heuristic Park
Release Date: May 4, 2005
Dungeon Lords pays homage to the RPGs of yore: evil wizards, princesses on the lam, and one savior to bring the world back from the edge of destruction (that would be you). So if you want a twisting plot similar to Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights, look elsewhere. If you're after an old-school dungeon crawler that's heavy on combat, though, Dungeon Lords could be just your speed.
The back story of Dungeon Lords is explained when you start a new game, but the gist of it is that it's a time of darkness in the world since one good wizard was defeated by a wizard of the malevolent variety, a princess ran away from home, and you are the hero destined to save the world. It's fairly run o the mill, but it is penned by D.W. Bradley, who wrote some of the later Wizardry games.
You start off creating a character and have a variety of choices of races and classes. There's the jack-of-all-trades human, the brawny but not brainy Urgoths, the lizard-like Zaur, the impish Thrall, a werewolf-like species called Wylvans, dwarves, and elves. The initial class choices of adept, fighter, mage, and thief may seem underwhelming at first, but more advanced professions pop up as you progress throughout the game.
Most of your time in the game will be spent in various dungeons, hacking up goblins, zombies, headless ax wielders, trolls, and the like. You'll find yourself jamming on the mouse buttons most of the time, either to attack or to block oncoming attacks. There's also the option of a few acrobatic moves to dodge with, but since enemies attack in fairly large groups, I found myself jumping away from a dagger-wielding foe, only to become fodder for archers in most situations.
All the fighting will pay off as your level steadily climbs. When you level up, you're given advance points in order to upgrade your stats and your skills. Strength, dexterity, and vitality will increase the amount of damage you do, how often your strikes make contact, and how much punishment you can take before you need to down another healing potion, respectively. Leveling up your skills will also noticeably increase your ability to survive, opening up combos for melee attacks and increasing the powers of your spells or the success rate of your lock picking.
When you happen to die, you can revive yourself in two ways: either you have an item in your inventory that will snatch you away from death's hand, or you can press the R key to revive yourself, marginally lowering your stats. This helps keep the game fun, with you not having to worry so much about pacing yourself between waves of enemies.
Sounds good so far, right? Well, now for the drawbacks: there are parts of Dungeon Lords that just feel unfinished. Right out of the gate, character creation is extremely limited. In the manual, it shows ways to change the face, skin color, hair style, and hair color of your character. None of these even show up in the game, and they weren't addressed in the first patch, either. Another omission is that of the game's automap, and trust me, you need one. Many dungeons and some towns are fairly confusing, with some areas looking just like others. Being able to check where you have been in order to figure what area still needs exploration would've been very helpful. Both of these omissions aren't that bad, but the manual and the in-game help menu say they're there when they clearly aren't, leaving you to feel cheated.
The sound design is also a bit disappointing. There's really no music to speak of, allowing for stretches of silence which take you out of the game. When talking to NPCs, what they say in text often doesn't match up to their verbalizations, making it confusing as to what exactly that quest they gave you entails. Even as you walk away, they'll sometimes get caught in a loop of greetings and farewells until you move onto another part of the map.
Graphics are mixed bag in Dungeon Lords. The enemies have a nice amount of detail and animate well and realistically (undead trod slowly, while goblins hack you up with Ritalin-deprived glee). NPCs in towns didn't seem to get the same treatment, as they're a little blander and have stiffer animations. It also seemed like each town was populated by the same two or three character models.
Dungeon Lords has a control setup just like any good FPS, with the WASD keys controlling movement, and camera movement and attacking being delegated to the mouse. It doesn't handle anywhere near as tightly as a good FPS, but this is forgivable, since aiming and the success of your attack is stat-driven instead of aim-based. However, the controls just feel very floaty. Your character doesn't handle very well, as they seem to hover an inch or two off of the ground and when they move, it looks like they're ice-skating. This can sometimes make fine movements (like navigating a narrow bridge while dodging arrows) a chore.
The game offers multiplayer for up to eight people via LAN, direct IP, or an integrated GameSpy browser. Multiplayer just allows for more than one person to work together in the campaign mode. I had trouble finding games via the browser and when I did, none of them accepted my connection.
Stability-wise, Dungeon Lords was a dream. Even before the patch, I never had any issues with it crashing or locking up. With the patch, I imagine that they fixed whatever rare bugs there were.
In its present state, I can only recommend Dungeon Lords to RPG enthusiasts looking for a dungeon crawler with an emphasis on level building and item collecting who don't mind drawing up their own maps as they go (because you'll need them). Hopefully, Heuristic Park will release another patch that adds the automap and character creation options that weren't delivered in the box. Until then, I'd recommend this one only to fans of the genre.
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