Dungeons 3's writing style: humour through references, none of which are subtle.
Dungeon Keeper is one of my favourite games, so any new spin on the formula is always going to catch my eye. And that's the rough gist of Dungeons 3: an RTS that mixes dungeon management with a simplistic RTS action above the surface.
But rather than blending two of the most iconic strategy games of the '90s and early '00s, it ends up working better as an introduction to RTS games in general, helped in part with a humour that's best suited to younger gamers.
The general premise of Dungeons 3, and Dungeon Keeper-like games in general, is that you're in control of an underworld base. You don't control minions directly per se, although you can order Snots (workers) to build rooms, traps and tunnels.
The centre of your dungeon contains a massive heart, attracting waves of NPC heroes keen on destroying it and walking off with their gold. Beyond that, it's more or less the Dungeon Keeper formula with one small twist: you can send your minions to the overworld, where you have direct control of their movement and abilities.
For the most part, however, it's what you would expect from something echoing the Bullfrog classic. There's lots of digging in the first few minutes, finding gold veins, building basic rooms for troop recruitment, and slowly researching your way through the tech tree.
As a strategy game, Dungeons 3 is a pretty slow affair. Singleplayer missions (of which there are 20) can take half an hour to an hour a piece. You can play the full campaign in co-op, which is nice, although given the pace of the action you'll encounter a good amount of downtime.
Regular multiplayer games are slow, too. Rather than seeing which player can invade the others dungeon, you're instead locked into a battle for domination of the overworld - which basically comes down to who controls various resource points. There's some NPC hero camps you can attack for bonuses, but they'll mince your army early on if you're not paying attention.
Fortunately, you're not forced to multitask a great deal. You'll often run into roadblocks in your dungeon, having the money to build more rooms and troops but lacking the extra resources necessary for expansion.
Even a regular 1v1 multiplayer game takes a fair while. But while it would be nice if the game was sped up a tad, that's not its biggest issue.
Strategy games like these don't tend to find a huge multiplayer community, so you're really playing it for the campaign. And while there's something comforting about the campaign's structure - it's very reminiscent of late '90s, early '00s RTS games - it's beset with a bizarre, odd writing style.
It's best described as humour by reference. The game frequently name drops, with some slight alterations, other games, films, fantasy franchises, and leans on that as a sense of humour. It doesn't sound that bad in principle, until you hear it in practice:
That's pretty much part and parcel of what you'll get every mission. It's almost like Dungeon Keeper for kids: a game that wants to buy into the idea of being Evil, without actually being Evil or revelling in dark humour.
It's weird considering the main target for Dungeons 3 would be Dungeon Keeper fans - fans who would be well into their adult years. And it's hard to play the missions without the narrator - the same bloke behind The Stanley Parable, in fact - and the grating split personality of your dark elf heroine. The moment-to-moment action is slow enough that it needs something to fill the cracks, but most people will have grown out of Dungeons 3's safe, cartoonish humour.
And when you frame the game in that light, an awful lot more begins to make sense. The mechanics are pretty simple for a strategy game. You're not expected to do a great deal of multitasking early on: StarCraft this is not. And the overall aesthetic is bright, easy on the eye. It's almost like someone took inspiration from Warcraft 3, but wanted to go one step cuter.
(Speaking of which, one of the mages introduced in the campaign is Yaina Overproud. Zero points for guessing what that's a reference to.)
As a Dungeon Keeper game, Dungeons 3 is missing a lot of fun elements that really made Bullfrog's game stand out. You can pick up units and slap them around, but you can't possess them and go into first-person mode, which is a shame. The focus in the end is really more on the overworld, rather than your dungeon, since the battles you need to win take place there.
There's some aspects that seem unfinished, too. The font that appears on-screen for damage and XP seems like a placeholder, and many of the UI elements take up more space on the screen than they really need.
A lot of important information isn't communicated quickly, either. There's a lot of unused space in the unit tab near the minimap, and important information like unit stats or abilities are smaller than they should be given their importance. I found the odd pathfinding quirk with units in the overworld, although any StarCraft veteran can deal with that simply enough.
Dungeons 3 isn't really the modern mix of WarCraft and Dungeon Keeper it initially seems, then. And the narration style will turn off a lot of people real fast.
But as a strategy game, it works, if a bit on the simple side. And there's enough action in the campaign to keep kids occupied for a few weekends - although adults will want a game with more charm, and certainly a lot more wit, to justify a shade over $50. Dungeons 3 is available on consoles, and there's a Linux port as well.