Dungeon Keeper: Gutting a Classic

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dungeon Keeper was one of Bullfrog Productions' best series. This is the developer behind Syndicate, Theme Hospital, Magic Carpet and Populous. Bullfrog is a legendary name in classic PC games. These games were among my favorites and remain on numerous "best ever" lists year after year. Bullfrog was dissolved by EA years ago, but their intellectual properties have remained in EA's hands since. Recently, EA released a new Dungeon Keeper as a mobile game for Android and iOS, but in doing so have destroyed the good name of one of my favorite series.

Upon starting the game, Dungeon Keeper asks you to sign in to your google or apple account immediately. You can continue without it, but you'll have to cancel it twice before it will move on. Call me paranoid, but when playing a game on my phone, I prefer to remain local. Dungeon Keeper does not believe in local saved games for some reason and will not retain any of your dungeon's information unless you sign in.

Polarizing indeed. Enough to make me delete the game

The real issue with Dungeon Keeper becomes one of microtransactions. Microtransactions have long been a contentious mainstay of mobile games. The general Free-to-Play model heavily supports microtransactions. There are many games that implement these well, DOTA, Team Fortress 2, even Warframe. All of these offer additional content that slightly modifies the play experience, but doesn't break the game.

Dungeon Keeper shoves its transactions down your throat at every opportunity. You'll notice a few examples in the screenshots throughout the article, all of these were taken scarcely five minute into the game. Essentially, the game offers you jewels that cut the timers for construction and recruitment short. You are given what initially seems like a generous amount, until you realize that recruiting Imps to build things costs hundreds of jewels, so the most you can manage without buying more jewels is two.

In the early game, most of the timers are short and easy enough the wait through. Later in the game you'll encounter gem veins that can take up to 24 hours to excavate. At this point, buying the jewels to cut the timer short is a nigh necessity. Further play makes it harder and harder to progress without precious jewels.

What's even more insidious is the games own acknowledgment of it's issues. It actively makes fun of microtransactions as a controversial means of securing revenue even while pushing more jewels on you. As if it weren't already despicable enough. I don't know what happened to  the original games wit, but it's completely absent from the new version. Instead, it seems the joke is entirely on the player.

The original Dungeon Keeper was at times brutally challenging. You were constantly under threat of invasion, and without careful management of your rooms, traps and units, it was easy to find yourself overwhelmed. Saving often was a must since one bad move could mean the premature end of your game. The new Dungeon Keeper maintains no such stakes. Units don't trickle in over time, you actively recruit them (using jewels to speed their arrival, of course) and the invasions will never result in a game over. Instead you'll be told to repair some of your rooms and be offered jewels to speed the process along. The only stakes you'll ever find in this dungeon are the spike traps.

 Normally, I would link the game in question somewhere in this article. I will not be doing so this time, for obvious reasons. If you want to experience Dungeon Keeper the way it was, you can buy it and it's superior sequel on Good Old Games. Before the mobile game became a reality, there were rumblings of a Dungeon Keeper 3 in the works. The project was ultimately cancelled (in favor of the mobile game no doubt) but it has remained alive as an indie game called War For The Overworld. Don't even bother with EA's new offering, it's a waste.