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Review: Dungeons 2

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Sent to the torture rack

Dungeons 2 is a heart-breaker. It has a lot of charm, some ambitious ideas, and a genuinely fun dungeon builder buried somewhere deep inside it. If it focused on its strengths, I could see it being a great, laid back entry in the dungeon-building genre.

Unfortunately, it also has a terrible UI, a totally unnecessary and aggressively anti-fun real-time strategy mode stapled to it, and a bevy of small annoyances that add up to a game that is just difficult to enjoy. 

Dungeon 2 (PC, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Realmforge Studios
Publisher: Kalypso Media Digital
Released: 
April 24 2015 (PC), May 24, 2016 (PS4)
MSRP:  $39.99 (PC), $49.99 (PS4)

The best parts of Dungeons 2 follow in the footsteps of Dungeon Keeper and similar games. You play the part of a big bad overlord of doom who relentlessly micro-manages hordes of goblins and orcs to build a profitable and deadly dungeon (think Sauron with an MBA). You carve out tunnels, set up breweries and treasuries to keep your mooks happy and employed, and of course, construct the most devious gauntlet of traps, guards, and horrors possible to disembowel any would-be do-gooders who might try to stop you.

All of this is presented in a flippant, comical tone, which is largely carried by narrator Kevan Brighting, who you may remember from the Stanley Parable. Clichés of the RPG fantasy genre are lanced. Evil cackling is wrung for all its worth. And the fourth wall gets knocked on so often it practically has dents. Not all of the jokes hit their mark, and occasionally the narrator's more long-winded speeches can bog down the pace (not letting you proceed from an area until the narrator finishes a spiel you've already read in the subtitles), but for the most part, it is a noble attempt.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the game's interface. Calling the controls “clumsy” would be a compliment. They're an out-and-out disaster. I can't think of another game where I had a harder time puzzling out basic mechanics, like assigning units to a task, or manually creating separate squads of units to move at a time.

The first several missions largely function as tutorials where the player is tasked with certain objectives (create this type of trap, train this unit, station guards here, that sort of thing) but the game is almost maliciously opaque about how to accomplish these goals. A simple objective like “take a squad of orcs out of the dungeon” would become a 15-minute nightmare of trying to search through the vindictively meager help menu trying to find a button or command to tell the orcs to GTFO (turns out you need to manually scoop them up in your giant evil hand and unceremoniously drop them at the door).

The lack of instruction is further hampered by the dearth of feedback in the game. There are few video or audio cues for when a command has been successfully delivered, and the sluggish units, who mostly wander about instead of snapping to attention, rarely give the impression that they are actually doing anything. Unforgivable stuttering and hitches layered on top of that lack of feedback only makes the experience worse. The game constantly suffered mini-freakouts every time I tried to pick up a group of monsters, slap someone, or quick change between the dungeon view and the overworld map, resulting in pop-in textures and dropped animations. Considering Dungeons 2 is a fairly simplistic looking game, it's hard to see what is so demanding on the PS4's resources to cause such consistent issues.


If that wasn't enough, it also seems like Realmforge Studios didn't pay much mind to the couch experience. I'm sure it plays better on PC, but from the couch, in my average sized living room, I often found myself straining to read the micro-dot text, constantly unsure how much money or beer I had at my disposal (which was uncomfortably reminiscent of my college days). Sure, this is something that can easily be remedied by scooching a little closer to the screen, but it shouldn't have to be.

Once you overcome all of those barriers, the dungeon building can be legitimately fun. There are a variety of clever traps to play with, some fun wrinkles when invading heroes start getting wise to your tricks, and there will always be something satisfying about building a treasure hoard around a blackened throne of evil.

Sadly, building a kick-ass dungeon is only half the game. Things break down as soon as the game asks the player to step out of the lair to participate in its simplistic, plodding, and unsatisfying RTS elements. Taking the orcs and snakemen out of the dungeon to go wreak havoc on the insufferably saccharine kingdom above should have been a highlight of the game, but instead it is a tedious chore.

A main source of frustration is how painfully slow the troops move. Shuffling along like inchworms, I would frequently reposition my troops by issuing a move command and literally going to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. The same lackadaisical movement also applies to the combat, with monsters and knights swinging clubs at each other like limp pool noodles underwater.


Dungeons 2 offers a variety of spells and tactical units to try and play at some semblance of strategy, but I found the most dependable and easiest to implement solution to every problem was to just amass a giant ball of angry monsters and roll it into the enemy. The whole RTS sideshow is slow, non-engaging, and frustrating. While it could have been interesting to marry dungeon management to a broader tactical goal, it doesn't work and detracts from what should be the core experience.

If Dungeons 2 was just a competent dungeon builder held back by a few technical bugs and some bad interface design, it might be something worth checking out. As a dungeon builder horrifically Frankensteined to one of the lamest RTS experiences I've played in years, its an unfortunate monstrosity that should be safely avoided.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Dungeons 2 reviewed by Nic Rowen

4.5

BELOW AVERAGE

Has some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst, but difficult to recommend.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Nic Rowen
Nic RowenAssociate Editor   gamer profile

(formerly known as Wrenchfarm) has been an active member of the Dtoid community since After toiling away in the Cblog mines and Recap Team workhouse for more + disclosures


 


 


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