Dungeon Keeper 2 review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Real Time Strategy

Dungeon Keeper 2 game image

Bullfrog’s original Dungeon Keeper (released in 1997) was an incredibly fresh and entertaining real-time strategy game let down by a couple of gameplay and AI-related flaws.

The sequel (which came out in 1999) set out to address these issues, while providing a few new gameplay twists and some gloriously detailed and colourful visuals.

Become an evil bastard

For those of you who didn’t play the original game – Dungeon Keeper 2 cast the player in the role of an evil bastard whose sole purpose was to contrive the most devious and deadly assortment of subterranean dungeons. Apart from constructing the dungeons themselves, you also had to try and attract a motley collection of creatures to your underground lairs. Each of these beasties had its own revolting personality and a major challenge of the game was keeping them all happy and willing to carry out your fiendish orders.

Dungeon Keeper 2 featured a variety of playing modes consisting of campaign, skirmish and ‘My Pet Dungeon’ for single-player, and support for Internet, LAN or modem play for up to four human-controlled competitors.

Great single-player component

The single-player campaign of Dungeon Keeper 2 sported a more developed storyline than its predecessor and players were treated to some great in-game cinematics at the beginning and end of each level. The campaign consisted of about twenty or so levels (not including the special hidden ones), which gradually familiarized the player with the variety of new rooms, traps, spells and creatures. Each level was won when the player captured the enemy’s level gem. This was triggered by a predetermined event like destroying a rival keeper’s dungeon heart or killing a designated hero.

Summon old ‘Horny’ himself…

The Horned Reaper played a pivotal role in Dungeon Keeper 2 and towards the end of the game the player could summon him if they had the required 100,000 units of mana. The latter was a resource which was integral to the casting of spells and operation of traps. While Horny could only be summoned for short periods of time, he was indestructible and dealt out immense damage – so he had to be used wisely. If there were no enemy creatures around when he appeared, he would quickly turn on your own forces.

Like the original game, Dungeon Keeper 2 featured loads of dark humour and many of the creatures exhibited some amusing and/or disgusting character traits and habits. Pick up a Warlock and he would chuckle away exclaiming things like “Hmmm, aha…,” drop a Bile Demon and he would often let rip with a tremendous fart and so on.

To attract certain creatures and keep them happy you had to provide the relevant facilities. While specialized rooms like a casino would usually have a positive effect on the overall morale of your creatures, certain characters like the Dark Mistress required something a bit different. In the case of the latter a torture chamber doubled as a recreation room.

Improved 3D visuals

While the first game was not unattractive, it lacked any sort of native support for 3D acceleration until a patch came out some months after the initial release. Dungeon Keeper 2 was built from the ground up with 3D acceleration in mind and it showed. Spell effects, creature animations and dungeon textures were beautiful to behold and the game supported 32-bit display modes in resolutions of 1024×768 and beyond. Apart from the in-game graphics there were also a plethora of very slick-looking (and very amusing) animated cut-scenes to further flesh out the storyline.

While the Possession spell of the first game was a bit of a fizzer because of the blocky graphics, its potential was fully realized in Dungeon Keeper 2 courtesy of 3D acceleration. Using this spell you could take direct control of any of your creatures and enjoy a leisurely stroll through your newly constructed dungeon or do a bit of scouting and fighting.

Gameplay exploits

Dungeon Keeper 2 was not without its flaws and attempts to remedy the original game’s creature dropping weakness with a new stun feature (where creatures were momentarily stunned and vulnerable after you dropped them) probably wasn’t enough to deter this tactic. In fact the computer itself adopted this tactic time and time again in the game’s single-player modes.

Dungeon Keeper 2 also suffered from a very old real-time strategy problem first seen in Command & Conquer – using either wooden or stone bridges (it was sandbags in C&C), the player could move around the map and eventually right up to an enemy dungeon or keep (providing there was water or lava on the map of course). You could then sell off parts of the bridge to effectively disconnect it from your own dungeon. I repeatedly exploited this flaw, leaving one piece of unassailable bridge out in the middle of a lake or lava flow. From this point I could make continuous assaults on the enemy without any risk of having enemy imps take control of the bridge or get into my dungeon. In one of the later missions, where you have to capture three of the king’s sons before they escape through a Heroes’ Gate, I was also able to lure them onto bridges and then sell these bridges off behind them, trapping them.

Dungeon Keeper 2 was a sequel after all, so the great gameplay twist of playing a badguy had lost some of its impact. Those who played the original game found that apart from a few gameplay tweaks, some new rooms, spells and creatures Dungeon Keeper 2 was almost identical to its predecessor. However, the sumptuous 3D graphics, lashings of black humour and varied playing modes were in themselves worth the price of admission.

Review Summary
Score: 93%
Info: I enjoyed the original Dungeon Keeper but its gameplay seemed to lack a cohesive structure and focus. When the sequel arrived in 1999 I loved the improved visuals and more defined player goals. I first reviewed this game about 13 years ago, but I’m still happy to recommend Dungeon Keeper 2 to anyone with a passion for quirky, innovative real-time strategy – slathered in a lavish coating of Bullfrog’s subversive humour.
The Good: Wicked sense of humour. Dazzling (for 1999) 3D visuals. Quirky units have loads of character. Involving gameplay.
The Bad: The game is vulnerable to some glaringly obvious gameplay exploits similar to the old Command & Conquer ‘sandbagging’ tactic.

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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