Developer: Heuristic Park
Release Date: February 15, 2006
For every brilliant, genre-defining RPG, there are around 10 average but fun romps, and one or two truly abysmal works. For every Final Fantasy VII, a Quest 64. For every Knights of the Old Republic, a Dungeon Lords. Ranging from glitchy, blocky, generally bad graphics, to gameplay which feels overly simple yet nigh incomprehensible, to all sorts of lesser issues that could have been fixed by taking one look at the game versus any other Action RPG released in the past four or five years, Dungeon Lords is an disappointing title, failing in every area where its competition succeeds.
The first thing you will notice about Dungeon Lords is the sub-par graphical quality. The polygon models are proficient for 2002 standards for the character, and a good bit less for everything else. In spite of the relatively simple models and having well over the recommended requirements, my machine still offered a low framerate when anything other than the character and dungeon were on the screen. Plants look like two-dimensional objects thrown together, and graphical glitches mar the game, with the camera getting stuck behind walls or under your character's head. Also, consider that there is no splashing of water, that arrows stuck in your body disappear with no fadeout or anything similar, and that your character and his foes can and do stand on thin air. White this isn't an example of good graphics, it actually works in your favor from a gameplay perspective.
Unfortunately, it is one of the few things that does work favorably from a gameplay standpoint. Dungeon Lords is a third-person-shooter control scheme, which sounds good in the context of an Action RPG. However, the scheme is twisted off the norm just enough to be frustrating to fans of either genre. There is no tutorial, a very poor in-game manual, and significant issues with collision detection that can cause your attacks to fail even after you master the basics. It seems that creatures can block your attacks at any point in their attack animation, while you can only block if your shield's up and the collision detection engine senses it as in the way. Communication with NPCs does not consist of your having any complete lines; you can speak only in keywords. The mini-map offers no information beyond itself, a big boon to the enemy creatures and their unsophisticated, yet effective, tactics.
Removing traps and picking locks consists of a simplistic mini-game, and the connection between the skills and how this game is made any easier is never explained. However, locks can and will be made conveniently unpickable at the creator's convenience. Mages do not, in fact, start with any spells, leaving them utterly vulnerable in the first several areas. When you do die, no load game option – or any other option – is provided as the creatures that killed you run off and get stuck on the walls. The in-game manual reveals that the "R" button revives your character, at the expense of permanent stat loss. These kinds of design decisions should not be in any PC RPG, or most console RPGs.
A few other subtle yet telling details hint at how little the developers thought to work on the game engine. For example, you can stand on a fire with no injury whatsoever; your attacks are incredibly repetitive and swing right over the monster's heads, while still dealing damage. Monsters seem unable to walk around the smallest objects without immense luck, and if they are standing on a moving object, cannot be knocked off. Players get nine race/gender combinations (only Humans and Elves have female characters), each of which has a sum total of three appearance options in four areas, an amount which pales in comparison to the array of customizations presented in competing Action/RPG games such as, say, Dungeon Seige 2. These and other lesser issues produce an overall gameplay quality comparable to some of the mid '90s "Hey! This is 3D!" games than anything representing some of the evolutions in the Action/RPG genre presented by, say, Baldur's Gate.
Aside from the packaging, Dungeon Lords has a few things working in its favor, just enough to make you realize that this game is, in fact, professionally developed, a fact that can make the myriad issues seem even worse. The head's-up displays are well-drawn, and the inventory and character creation/leveling interfaces are smart and easy to work with (an "undo" option would have been nice), even if the game's system itself is incomprehensible. The game is easily one of the most stable PC games I have played in a while, not crashing even when I was hoping that it would. If you can get over the limited communication system, the plot is reasonably well told and generally leads you straight from action to action, with little downtime. Finally, the game's encounters are scripted in, allowing you to somewhat figure out areas tactically, which is about the only thing that will keep you from trying to throw your keyboard if you chose to play as a Mage in the first areas.
The Collector's Edition of Dungeon Lords offers a fairly large array of new options as you get further into the game; as I have not played the original version, I cannot say how much of this content is really new, or how "good" it is relative to the original. However, the fact that some of the core issues were not fixed on this second go-round causes it to feel like a cheap attempt at getting some extra cash from the fans of the first release.
If this has not been stated clearly enough, Dungeon Lords is riddled with an incredible number of basic issues, turning a reasonably good, if generic, concept into a nigh-intolerable game that shows potential to at least be fun, but falls short on almost every important scale. A few strongly dedicated Action/RPG players may find the game playable, however, I strongly recommend against spending the time and money to try.