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Not knowing it's own genre: The Battle of Undermountain


As a 90's child I fondly remember Dungeon Keeper 2. DK2 was one of the first games that as a young child armed with cheatcodes I decided to beat fair and square. I was amazingly interested in the game and played it well, because I understood the concepts behind it. A multiplayer game of DK2 revolved around balancing your economy better and actively training your employee's faster than the competition can. This concept tends to go over most "casual" and FPS gamers that are used to playing games without utilizing the tactics and strategy required and having limited problems.

This same principal applies to most base-management strategy games such as Startopia, Dungeons: The Dark Lord, Supreme Commander, Halo Wars and much much more. These games end up resembling a samurai duel, with a quick decisive strike sealing or preventing victory. A intelligent strategy game veteran with any success in playing these games could easily tell you this, or subconsciously understands this ideal. However, the issue arises when the unwashed masses of flash gaming websites get their hands on a strategy title.

The Battle of Undermountain is a Real-Time Strategy Game with implied Tower Defense Elements. While it's hard to ever consider the game a proper Tower Defense title that's easily to the games credit, it does not try to copy/paste a generic tower defense game into the mechanics but uses them like a old traditional RTS would incorporating mechanics you would see in similar dungeon construction titles .

The game also tries to behave like an indirect-control management game such as the Majesty Series and Evil Genius but fails to understand the basic mechanics that make a concept like that actually work, such as individual AI. In Majesty and games of it's like all characters have a defined general set of laws for behavior, for example in Startopia every Alien had jobs only they would do, and behaved with other residents in a certain way, as well as change their behavior according to the individuals current needs.

This is simplified in Undermountain by completely disregarding this basic mechanic and simplifying character AI to either make an instant beeline for the closest reachable enemy, or make a beeline for the closest reachable gold pile/tagged block, or patrol when there is nothing to collect/attack that can be reached. The very second something within the players sight appears every unit that can react will immediately set course to perform it's duty with no individual character or concern for their own safety. It's pretty jarring since the game is clearly in tribute to the great management games of the late 90's.

And that issue is easily where the game's ideas are betrayed by it's application as well as somewhat betrayed by the game's base management design. The only parts of the map that can be dug out are randomly dispersed blocks of clay and gold among impossible to mine rock in it's own chaotic patterns. That's strange considering this game is once again in tribute to games where the main appeal is to create your area as you see fit within a large area instead of being confined to basic linear corridors. The likely reason is because of how base construction works in Undermountain.

Gold Stashes and Farms can be walked over, and serve as points your characters must routinely return to in order to deposit gold or eat. In contrast Bases, and Housing cause squares nearby to turn into "road" tiles in order to limit the areas you can place the building. Towers however do not cause roads to appear and will attack foes two tiles away doing a meager amount of damage. I can also understand the reasoning for this, to keep focus on the characters. However towers end up costing as much as a Dwarf Warrior, having nowhere near the usefulness of one. There are only a couple missions in single-player that actually call for the use of towers, and once again besides serving as defense against enemy miners straying into your base there is almost no reason to actually use them.

The game has both a Multiplayer randomized battle mode of play as well as a short singleplayer campaign designed to teach the player through trial and error how to play the game. Each has a very simple goal and linear solution. The multiplayer maps are all randomized jumbles, with no finesse or logic to the placements of rock and tiles that can be mined where the easiest method of victory is after your initial setup simply spam warriors and decimate the enemy once you meet in battle. Since units can stack on-top of eachother any sense of actual strategy that a game like this usually has in multiplayer is instantly vanished, leaving the game to be boring and without fine thought.

At the end of the day, Undermountains biggest problem as it currently is (1.0.2) is the lack of anything besides the original setup of an indirect control game. The games AI is terrible, the only way to beat many of the games levels is to simply block your castle off and make as many warriors as you can with the limited money available in the map and finally releasing them when you can't find another scrap of coin. According to the games menus it is possible to play as a giant ant colony and as giant worms, however I could not find a way to play as these two factions in either single or multi mode as I believe despite the game using a version number that implies the game is finished the game is not actually done evidenced by the unplayable factions and the "To be continued" upon beating the last mission.

What Undermountain needs is to give each of the games faction unique gameplay as well as giving the individual units some more personality and real AI. A real Dwarf Warrior would not blunder into battle the second he senses a foe but patrol around to collect petty coins. The Ants possibly swarming around and killing wildlife and dwarves for food to afford stronger ants. But all I know is I can never take a game seriously when it suggests giant monsters build their own bases. But the current way the game is very painfully reminds me of how much wasted potential the game has, but as it stands the game is many things but nowhere near actually finished. Unfortunate, for a second I thought we finally had a spiritual sequel to Dungeon Keeper.
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About Robert Cousineauone of us since 1:28 PM on 04.20.2012

My Name is Rob, and I am a amateur writer and gamer. I write blogs about pretty much everything under the sun from video-games, to tabletop rpgs, to old TV shows. My common online Alias is Necroscourge, and I subscribe to quite a lot of betas. I am also the Admin of the New World of Darkness Roleplaying Website Jagged Shadows
Steam ID:Necroscourge


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