"Now, here's where we grab the hero and throw him in the torture chamber to harvest his soul energy," says Benjamin Rauscher of RealmForge Studios during our press demo of Dungeons.
Wait ... what? Did he just say "torture chamber" and "harvest soul" in the same sentence? Well, now my interest is piqued, and yours should be, too.
In Dungeons, the upcoming strategy/sim, you play as a very evil guy, the Dungeon Lord, who's been duped by his evil girlfriend and dumped into the lowest level of all the dungeons, and he must work his way back to the top of the heap. How do you climb back up the dungeon lord ranks? You build super-cool dungeons that entice adventurers and capture those foolhardy heroes to steal their precious soul energy, which enables you to build more dungeons that'll impress the other dungeon lords. You'll also have to defeat various bosses who populate the underworld.
You start a round as the dungeon lord, and you're given a mission. The sample level we saw was about a zombie king who was doing his best to harass you by flooding your dungeon with monsters such as skeletons/zombies, while adventurers were raiding your lair. A goblin gave us a quick overview of what was up, and away we went. The interface is pretty streamlined when compared to RealmForge's previous game (M.U.D. TV), making it simple to pan and zoom around the dungeon in an eye-in-the sky mode as you select from an inventory of items that range from simple wall torches to green-glob-monster-spawning pentagrams.
Once the mission starts, you must send your goblin minions to dig out new corridors and rooms for you. Once you've got a room set up the way you like it, you can add prestige items ("pretty things") that decorate the room and make it appealing to certain types of adventurers. If you want to attract the typical adventuring hero — he's probably into treasure and a good fight — you'll want to leave gold and other goodies lying about, guarded by fierce (but not too fierce) creatures. The hero gets a chance to fight without getting killed, and he's attracted to the gold. If you set up your monsters and traps correctly, you'll knock out the hero rather than killing him, and this makes him much more valuable.
Why's a living hero valuable? In the world of Dungeons, you need soul energy to keep building your labyrinthine creations, and soul energy is easily harvested from living heroes. Dead ones provide some soul energy, but a living hero can be thrown into the torture chamber (rack 'em, boys!) and slowly siphoned of his rich and juicy life force, thus providing, in a "Matrix" sort of way, a living "battery" to power your creation construction.
Later in the game, you'll see champion-class heroes, who can rescue captured heroes; this sounds like it'll make for a great game of back-and-forth as you capture, torture, build, capture, fight, etc. The game plays out a bit like a tower-defense game with a twist: You need to find a way to attract the "mobs" (heroes, in Dungeons' case) and then capture, but not kill, them.
In the mission we saw, a zombie king kept harassing us by sending skeleton armies to raid our dungeon. This is where we saw the dungeon lord head out to kick some butt. As you're building your dungeon, you can manually move the dungeon lord around, and that proves to be quite helpful. He's a powerful fighter in his own right, so you can use him to engage in direct combat with heroes and other pesky invaders, like those skeletons. You have direct control over the lord, and thanks to an RPG skill tree, you can level him up to add new skills/powers and boost powers you already have. Rather than force you to sit around and draw up your latest dungeon, you can mix it up with the baddies if you want to. Just make sure those annoying adventurers never make it to the Dungeon Heart because if they kill that, your game is over.
As far as the overall production quality goes, the demo we saw was fairly early but certainly looked good. The dungeon lord stood out because he looked suitably evil, and his goblin minions had some great animations as they scampered about, digging tunnels, carving rooms and dragging downed heroes to the torture pits. The camera works pretty well, though the automatic switch to a very tight third-person perspective when the dungeon lord leaves his zone of control can initially be jarring. The sound in the demo was fairly minimal, though the dialogue seems to be pretty comical by design.
There's a lot going on within Dungeons, but the 30-second pitch is pretty appealing. It's like being the Dungeon Master in a tabletop fantasy RPG, where you get to watch the adventurers react in real time to your creations, and you get to gleefully crush their spirits.
With its mix of humor, strategy and simulation gameplay, Dungeons looks like it will be a lot of fun for fans of Dungeon Keeper and its ilk, and it should be a great addition to an underserved genre. It's nice to be the bad guy for once.
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