There are some really bad games that exist; games that are offensive, games that aren’t finished, or iterative repeats of previous titles (I’m looking at you Madden and FIFA); and then there’s Dungeon Keeper Mobile. This game commits the worst crime a game can commit: to be exploitative and dishonest, while not living up to the legacy set by the original.
Peter Molyneux, creator of the original Dungeon keeper, is a genius of game design – not only creating great games, but managing to invent entire genres. Dungeon Keeper will always be remembered as a classic, one of the greats; and even though it might not be as good in the modern market, at the time of its release, it was a simply amazing game. So if I have one thing to say about Dungeon Keeper Mobile that could be taken as positive, it definitely moves away from its roots.
In theory, Dungeon Keeper Mobile should play like the original; you’re given a grid and you dig out squares to create space for rooms for your dungeon, exactly the same as the original. In fact, until you actually start to play it, what you’re presented with is a Disney version of the original.
The cartoon-like visuals set me back a bit when I first saw them; they didn’t really seem to fit with the Dungeon Keeper franchise. But I soon warmed to them, to the point where now I prefer the cartoon visuals, because they’re a good fit for mobile platforms. They look good on the smaller screen and really give Dungeon Keeper Mobile a modern vibe that the old games certainly don’t have anymore; but I can see how they won’t sit well with some people.
These new visuals are wasted though, because a major issue with Dungeon Keeper Mobile is how empty it feels. Whereas in the original games creatures would walk the halls of your dungeon and everything felt so alive, here they stay in their rooms and leave the corridors vacant. The result is a dungeon that doesn’t feel alive at all – in fact, it barely feels inhabited. I’m someone who loves to just sit back and look at what I have created in a base-building game; watching the base I’ve created teem with life is one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. Unfortunately, it’s an experience completely lacking from Dungeon Keeper Mobile.
While this feeling of emptiness creates the first crack, the glass completely shatters when you begin to actually play the game. From the get-go, something extremely wrong. Your first task is to buy an imp so that you can dig out blocks, but the currency you use to buy them can’t be gathered in-game; it’s a premium currency that has to be bought with real-money purchases. Luckily they give you enough gems at the start to buy a couple of imps, so you don’t really need to pay money do you?
Well if you don’t mind the most ridiculous and awful pacing I have ever seen, then no, you don’t need to pay anything. But this is a game designed to make you pay money, in one of the most exploitative ways we have ever seen.
When you go to dig out a block of dirt, an imp runs over to it and starts working. That’s when the timer appears. There is a timer that counts down how long it will be until a block is dug out. I want you to take a guess now at how long it takes for a block to dig out; really think about it for a second. In fact, if you were playing Dungeon Keeper Mobile then you could have 24 hours to think about it.
24 Hours!? Really? All timers can be bypassed by using gems, but to buy them you need to pay ridiculous prices, including one pack that can be purchased for $99.99. We can’t imagine a worse way to spend that kind of money. I can’t explain my emotions when I saw that, but they sit somewhere in between hatred and complete shock. I don’t think Dungeon Keeper Mobile was ever meant to be a good game; it’s a money making grab from EA, pure and simple, and it doesn’t deserve any of your time or hard-earned cash.
Sure, EA has made some questionable decisions in the past, but we normally expect them to be a bit more subtle about it. Here, the pacing is structured around getting as much money from the player as possible, and the publisher has compromised the basic experience in the process. Micro-transactions begin to interfere with a game when they screw with pacing and progression, and in Dungeon Keeper mobile, that’s exactly what they are designed to do.
As far as actual gameplay is concerned, Dungeon Keeper Mobile won’t get your blood pumping. You’ll have to defend your own dungeon from attacks as well as attacking others to complete missions, but neither of these aspects really require much player involvement. When you attack dungeons you have to spawn in your units, which are determined by the buildings that are in your dungeon – but after you’ve spawned them in you have no direct control. This may well suit the most casual of players, but just watching your units fight doesn’t really count as gameplay to us – you’re little more than a passive spectator.
If your dungeon is invaded, your rooms act as turrets and you can spawn in minions, but at least you can tap the screen to drop attacks on the invading foes, which makes you feel a part of the defense – though it’s little compensation for the boredom to be found throughout the rest of the game.
Resource gathering suffers from similar problems: you just have to sit around and wait for extremely long periods of time for the two resources of the game to be gathered underground and out of sight. Because of the huge waiting times, it takes far too long to be able to get to the later buildings and units, making the whole game a boring experience in waiting and time wasting. Unless, of course, you want to spend real money – something which the game likes to remind you of on a disturbingly frequent basis.
All of this and more have led to many fans of the franchise venting their anger at the publisher, only for EA to respond by saying they’re playing it wrong. It’s obvious that Dungeon Keeper Mobile was designed to be played for a short period of time each day, but for EA to have the audacity to tell gamers that they’re “playing it wrong” is almost hilarious. The game has been designed to exploit, and even has the nerve to put a joke in the tutorial about the game not being pay to win.
The only redeeming quality about the game is the graphics, which we’ve mentioned, and the sound design, which we actually enjoyed. The soundtrack is ominous and fittingly spooky. Oddly, it’s reminiscent of Crysis 2’s . orchestral score. The announcer however, isn’t quite as good. While the quality of what he says is high, he speaks far too often. He doesn’t need to announce literally everything that happens; some visual prompts would have been enough.
Dungeon Keeper Mobile is what happens when you build a game around micro-transactions. It messes with nearly every facet of the game, until the few remaining good features are hidden away behind the travesty that is the in-game store. I hope that the backlash teaches EA a lesson about what they can get away with, because good sound design is the only thing that stops this from being the worst game I have ever played.
If you want a good Dungeon Keeper experience, go and play the original or its sequel; both are on GOG.com,and they only cost $5.99 each. They’re both excellent titles and you’ll get infinitely more enjoyment from them than you will from playing this sorry excuse of a game – and you won’t feel as though you’re being exploited in the process.