Deep underground something is rotten and festering and it’s about to rise up and choke all the good out of the land. That something is you and your hordes of underlings as you scratch away at the roots of the world luring in heroes and torturing and murdering them for their trouble. Dungeon Keeper places you in the role of the bad guy and in the process set the ball rolling on games that show you just how good it can be to be bad.
A god game at heart, you have to build your dungeon from scratch to lure in different types of monsters to work for you. You start out with a few imps who will dig tunnels, claim squares and collect gold. It is up to you to direct them to dig out rooms and then fill the rooms with different types of tiles to attract other monsters. You’ll need a treasure room to start to pile your wealth and then a lair for monsters to sleep in. They also need food so a chicken hatchery will be next on your list. After that you can decide what else you need.
Training rooms are used to level up your monsters, Libraries are used for research and workshops construct different things. Each also attracts different monsters such as warlocks and trolls. You can also build rooms like prisons where enemy units can be starved to death in order to have them rise as skeletons or torture chambers to try and attract dark mistresses or try and turn enemy units and heroes to your side. There’s a wide range of monsters to attract and they all serve a purpose. Some will also attack other monsters so it’s important to think about who you want in your dungeon.
The ultimate monster is the Horned Reaper who is a huge, red scythe wielding demon prone to going crazy and killing everyone and everything whether they are friend of foe. They can only be summoned via sacrificing creatures in a temple. If you do get one it’s normally best to keep them out of the way as much as possible until they are needed.
There are other things at work here as well. Monsters need food and will also require paying. Certain creatures like dragons need to live by lava to grow strong and Bile Demons will eat you out of house and home so you’ll need to balance how many you can cope with at once. It’s a great little eco system to manage and trying to balance everything is always fun and rewarding.
Dungeon Keeper is rich with a dark and twisted humour gleefully narrated by an evil booming voice that tells you what is happening in your dungeon. There are little touches everywhere which keep it tongue in cheek and the right side of psychotic. The stupid town names and descriptions of the locals always raise a smile (who doesn’t want to destroy a town that worships fluffy bunny rabbits?), and things like being able to slap your monsters to make them work harder are also highly amusing.
Most importantly, the mechanics of the game are pretty much perfect. The opening levels give you enough time and space to get to grips with everything while also allowing you to deal with unwanted hero intruders. New features are added gradually and it never becomes overwhelming for the player. The maps are varied as well with hidden treasures to find and different types of opponents to take on. Sometimes you’ll be trying to lure the lord of the land in while other times you may be facing off against rival dungeon keepers. It never stops being fun and you’ll always want to press on to the next stage.
Overall, Dungeon Keeper has never really been bettered. The sequel is good but not quite to this level of perfection and the game has influenced titles like Overlord but the thrill of the original is still something unique. It’s one of the best strategy/God games that has ever been released and remains fun from the very start to the final, screen filling, battle. If you’re into the genre then it’s a must play and the ageing graphics aside, it still plays and feels as good as it always has.