Video games are for reprobates, but the odd didactic gem does slip through the net to feed the imaginations of the latest parolees. Dungeon Keeper is one such depraved batch of loveliness from a genre a lot of people would be surprised to find enlightening and fulfilling: strategy games.
There are iconic franchises such as Civilization, Sim City, the Sims and Settlers, but one title by Bullfrog Productions was released in 1997, caused a stir, and then disappeared from gaming lore. It’s a real shame too as this remains one of the most outright despicably fun and innovative games on the PC… we’re here to remember its brilliance. Mwahahahahaha!
We covered Stardew Valley the other week (essentially a farming simulator but with plenty of strategy elements – it’s a truly relaxing and uplifting title) and whilst Dungeon Keeper features similar elements, it’s a more demonic experience.
The player takes control of a dungeon as supreme overlord. You have a dungeon heart (literally – it’s a heart) at the epicentre and your task is to make your dungeon liveable for prospective minions – your staff, just in the form of the world’s most depraved and repugnant beasts from the unholy underworld.
You do this by mining the local vicinity for gold and then building rooms to acquire minions. Initially you have a batch of imps whom serve you unconditionally. If you’re unhappy with how slow they are, you can even give them a slap to get them to work faster.
Gather gold, design your dungeon, set up rooms you need, fortify walls to fend off heroes, and you’re all set to welcome nefarious minions to your vile base.
Sure enough, with the likes of a gym, library, and workshop, you’ll attract demons, wizards, and Jabba the Hut-esque monstrosities. Each species has particular character traits you have to cater for, but you also have to be wary of the heroes of the land who are intent on putting an end to your evil ways.
As a result, you’ve got to build a terrifying dungeon filled with traps and battle-ready monsters ready to fend off the do-gooders. Alternatively, you can head out to conquer rival neighbouring dungeons to steal their wealth.
Having to cater, train, punish, and feed this insane lot of vagabonds is hilarious. The wizards, for instance, want to be in the library, but they’re highly powerful when battling with moronic, morally sound heroes. This means you have to juggle between making them battle ready whilst slaking their desire for knowledge.
Then there are the psychotic horned-reapers who are more of a problem than assistance. Utterly out of control, they’re ridiculously powerful, suffer from ADHD, and will attack your other minions on sight. You have to build a quarter for them off alone and, frankly, they’re pretty much unmanageable.
You even have the option to become one of your minions and walk around your dungeon with a first-person perspective. This allows you to wander around and see your design work and attack other minions, if that’s the way you want it.
It’s this sense of character which adds so much to Dungeon Keeper – it’s brimming with charm and wit and features one of the most fantastically deep and devilish voiceovers imaginable.
Sequels & Awfulness
Unfortunately, the Dungeon Keeper legacy has been soured somewhat by what came after it – kind of like the Jaws franchise, you know?
Dungeon Keeper 2 was disappointing and EA (considered one of the most cynical and unpleasant developers and publishers by the gaming community) ruined the series a step further with a microtransaction plagued mobile game. Don’t download that one, please.
I Want to be Evil!
Don’t let subsequent disasters put you off the brilliant original. The great news is, despite being 20 years old, you can play the game on modern PCs. Simply put, it’s brilliant fun – addictive, joyous (in an odd way), mad, and so superbly put together. It’s an absolute masterpiece.
Strangely, Dungeon Keeper isn’t on Steam. It is available on GOG (Good Old Games), however, at a princely sum of a few quid: Dungeon Keeper. You could be playing it within minutes and commanding your minions like the despicable maniac you are! So what are you waiting for?