Dungeons 2 Preview (PC)

Though many have yearned for a proper return to the early days of Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper franchise (EA’s abortive mobile game notwithstanding), it’s largely been left to other studios to fill in the gaps and bring their own spin to that classic base-building formula. Although German developer Realmforge had a good crack with their original Dungeons, it’s clear that Dungeons 2 is a much different project altogether, taking beloved elements of the original title and matching them with a dual-tier strategy game that mixes RTS with tower defense, base planning and more.

To begin with though, let’s talk about those slimy, candlelit walls.

Evil. Efficient evil

Your role in the first phase of Dungeons 2 might be exactly what you were looking for from the original. Players are presented with a series of subterranean corridors and empty spaces, each of which leads conspicuously back to the throne room. Inside that room sits the lord of all evil himself, and it’s in his name that you’ll soon be creating minions and ferrying money, ale and weaponry to the various evil denizens of your lair.

Your aim is to expand and explore, to craft unique rooms and structures and work your way up the tech tree to provide access to a better range of traps and beasts. To begin with, you’ll want to create a few basic minions and get them excavating your walls. Dragging and dropping them to mine a quick path is a simple task, while specialist structures such as treasure rooms or breweries can then be plonked down onto the empty space with a selection of tiled blueprints.

It’s all about creating an efficient layout in which to farm the maximum amount of resources, but it’s probably worth noting at this stage that Dungeons 2 doesn’t at all take itself seriously. Everything is designed to infuse personality into your despicable army. Each of the goblins and beasts under your command is governed by personality traits of sorts, and they’ll need to be kept happy with beer, gold or discipline to avoid a potential revolt. Overwork them and they’ll be unhappy, but leave them to their own devices and they’ll potentially start squabbling.

To add a layer of unpredictability, from time to time you’ll also discover heroes wandering the hallways, or maybe excavate a little too far and provide a pathway back into the heart of your base for a camped group of bandits. Spider lairs can also be conquered and their fuzzy green occupants recruited, crystals mined to farm mana for an unknown creature to cast spells (unfortunately not available during our time with the game), and various other surprises stumbled upon deep within the labyrinth as you excavate.

Too cute. Destroy it. ALL

But as enjoyable as that base-building and evil-maximising is, it also slowly dawned on me that I had no idea what the end-game was supposed to be. Are we meant to be preparing for an attack? Will heroes soon descend en masse to test our defences? The answer was far more interesting than anticipated.

I mentioned earlier that Dungeons 2 was effectively a dual-tier RTS, and it turns out your dungeon is basically a war factory. It’s a resource and unit production system for an entirely separate series of quests that take place on an overworld map that’s far too cute for its own good.

Both these lands are physically connected, but separated into two radars that occupy the bottom corners of your screen. Your dungeon has an exit, and so traipsing your units up its stairs will initially lead to a pleasant meadow, fresh with flora and fauna ripe for corruption. Your goal up here is to gradually take over the world, spreading a Starcraft-style creep that plagues the land and turns its contents to a barren ash.

It’s a lovely little concept, ripe with possibility. Heroes dwell out in the open, as do various fluffy animals and townships ripe for pillaging and destruction. The units that were so good at performing menial tasks below are now turned into true RTS fodder, allowing the overworld map to morph a competitive playing field that can be booby-trapped and conquered with various combinations of flesh-eating ogres, mech-piloting orcs and bumbling behemoths.

Time to take it to the next level

The combat we’re shown is basic stuff if you’re looking at it from the perspective of any hardcore RTS, but it’s quite befitting the visual style. The developer has promised quest objectives, sieges and all sorts to discover in those lands, while there will be factions to conquer and bonuses to accrue by occupying strategic structures. Multiplayer should allow up to four players to play at once, allowing for chaotic modes such as capture the flag and territories to hopefully shine. Launching a siege on your opponents dungeon should be the ultimate humiliation.

And when the dust settles, it’s probably multiplayer that holds the most potential here.The fusion of RTS and base-building ideas that shoots through the core of Dungeons 2 marks it out as a title of huge potential, and I can think of no better way to experience those than by exploring the creations of other players and attempting to outperform them in both underworld efficiency and overland evil. Stick it down as one to watch in 2015.