Dungeon Keeper 2 (1999) is a sim management strategy title from the inventors of the God Game, Bullfrog. You are basically a Dungeon Master in a real time 3D dungeon, fighting off heroes, elves and other goody two shoes who are trying to rid their once-peaceful realm of your loathsome presence. Your objective is to recruit monsters and wandering evil, train them up, give them a good slapping (wretched underlings! Take that!), build a few torture chambers, prisons, traps and a few temples to some rather unsavoury Dark Gods, and viola! A very cool little title. Nothing quite like watching squads of your little Imps tunneling through rock and mining all that lovely gold for your Treasure Rooms. There's little difference between the first Dungeon Keeper (1997) and this one; DK2 is effectively DK1 updated into a more detailed and sophisticated version. Being released in 1999, the detail in DK2 is noticeably cruder a few years later, but its definitely got what it takes. Whether its single or multiplayer, its a fine distraction! You'll find very close parallels in structure and style to Startopia. While essentially made for Windows 98, I was happy to see it finally install on Windows 2000 after the fourth service pack.
There's a very strong strategic element in Dungeon Keeper, but at its heart is the management and simulation genres and a strong blend of the God game. You can sandbox your very own pet Dungeon with or without enemies just to try things out on your own time without having to engage in the usual pressure of combat. The dry and witty references and narration can keep you going for hours. The voice over is excellent, setting the tongue in cheek tone and wry mood perfectly. In good Populous style, your Hand of Evil mouse pointer can smack, grab or drop creatures anywhere, cast magic on the deserving and undeserving equally and lock doors. While rooms have to be fairly square to work properly (so you can't get that carried away with building really weird dungeons, unfortunately) you can equip your dungeon with doors, nasty traps and other suitably evil equipment if you build a Workshop. Some people may feel a bit hard done by the fact that you can grab and drop creatures all over the place rather than have them run all the way - and you can beef up security around a weak point like the Maginot Line, only to have your foes tunnel in from somewhere else entirely.
Still, Dungeon Keeper 2 is an excellent blend of innovation and playability, and has a few surprises in store. While its set underground, there's no up or down: your dungeon and your battles are all in 2D and built at the same level, although its using a 3D engine. You can possess individual creatures, changing your omniscient Godly view to the limited perspective of your minion.
Running around the dank corridors and grottos of your underground realm is actually lots of fun. While you're there, you can conduct your own sneaky scouting or even round up a gang of monsters and personally lead a charge against your foes.The view you get in first person mode changes depending on which creature you possess. Your Imps burn around at breakneck speed - but at knee high; Dark Elves are much taller and have Infra-Vision but are very slow; and Giant Flies have fishbowl perspective and can fly everywhere. Like all good RPG characters, each species of beastie at your command gains up to ten character levels through experience, and each has their own special skills and abilities. Experience is gained by working out in your Dungeon's Training Rooms or in actual combat.
One of the best features are the Imps themselves, and they're probably the best little workers in many an RTS game. Conjured up by magic, they do all the hard work in the Dungeon from digging out tunnels and mining gold, claiming or capturing new territory and rooms, carting items and scavenging the fallen. Imps progress through character levels like all the other denizens of the Dungeon. As they increase, their speed and effectiveness increase. At the higher levels Imps even get to teleport! Where possible, Imps can fight off other monsters, although they're not that crash hot as fighters and frequently run in terror from most things. They'll grab stunned enemies and incarcerate them in your Prisons or scavenge corpses for your Graveyard. Best of all, they'll snatch your stunned monsters from a battlefield (when possible) and drag them all the way back to their Lairs where they're tucked into bed to recover from their injuries!
You build up your forces in two ways. The first is to claim a Gate, an ominous looking bottomless pit through which creatures emerge to occupy your Dungeon. Who or what crawls in depends entirely on what's attracting them: you need to build specific rooms to attract specific creatures. Gates have a low population cap though, and you need to increase your population with more "advanced" facilities. Torture Chambers convert enemies to your side with a bit of physical persuasion; flinging stunned enemies into your Prisons and waiting until they starve to death turns them into giggling, fearless Skeletons; and completely dead enemies can be scavenged and risen again as Vampires from your Graveyard. Simple Level 1 creatures enter your dungeon; its essential that you train them up in Training Rooms to gain levels before being unleashed in combat. Training Rooms only go so far, and further levels have to be gained through combat, or through some in Dungeon entertainment in the form of a Fighting Pit.
The sim management of the game comes into its own when you start managing your menagerie. Creatures are actually little characters, with names, moods and wants. They must be housed, fed, paid a wage and generally looked after. It costs gold to train them and develop rooms. While you have a lot of leeway ordering them around and slapping them about with your Hand of Evil, they will get upset if you push them too far when they need to rest or sleep. They can also react fearfully if a combat situation gets out of hand and sometimes flee. Running out of gold can be a serious problem too, and if things get too sour you can find disgruntled creatures disappearing into the bottomless depths again.
The God Sim angle comes through with the magical powers you wield as Keeper. In true God Game fashion you have a reserve of Mana as well as gold, and a simple mana economy to maintain. Your own power as a minor deity is strictly limited to the territory claimed by your Imps. No spells can be cast, nor creatures dropped over any unclaimed or hostile terrain. To gain spells, you need to have Warlocks studying magical tomes in a Library. The bigger the Library, the more spells you can stash there and the more Warlocks you can recruit. The amount of mana your Dungeon generates is totally dependant on the Dungeon's floorplan and how many floor squares your Imps can claim. There is a mana income cap of 500 squares, where your mana simply won't increase any faster regardless of how many more squares to claim. Mana is also drained by any traps you've built in your Workshops, and too many of them will eventually overtake your mana production and cause a serious drain. While its hard to actually do this in the time of a typical game, it does restrict the number of little surprises you can pack in your Dungeon. Currying a little favour with the Dark Gods by sacrificing the odd hapless creature in Their Dark Temple goes a long way too...
After all those sanctimonious titles where you commit grievous carnage in the name of goodness and light, its a refreshing change to commit grievous carnage without needing to be so hypocritical. Dungeon Keeper 2 is essentially a 3D upgrade to the original Dungeon Keeper, and what's more, its developers are still maintaining and adding to it. Patch 1.6 added a whole suite of elite versions of all the characters that you can attract to your dungeon, and 1.7 added a new monster and a new trap for it. This title has a similar structure to Startopia and is heartily recommended.
Last modified Mar 1 2004 by Lindsay
Last polished Mon, Nov 7, 2005 by Lindsay Fleay