Dungeon Keeper is a difficult game to review. This is because any criticism of this remake of Bullfrog's 1997 PC success can not help but slide down the slippery slope to become a critic of free games in general, and that's when people start banging the table and raise their voices. Everything is going a little Jeremy Kyle.
It is, at least, easy to see why EA revived this beloved cult classic in this way. Check out the original Dungeon Keeper today and be amazed at how many of your ideas have been reborn in mobile games. It was one of the first "tower defense" games, for example, to turn the convention of games upside down and turn the player into an evil tyrant, creating the most perfectly evil lair to catch and kill the enemies that enter your corridors looking. To save the world.
You did this by using an army of imps in expansion to excavate new rooms, which you could then use to house traps, treasures and nurseries of monster breeding. The more you expanded your labyrinth, the more things you discovered. The more you discover, the more new things you can build. It was an almost perfect feedback loop of routine and invention.
And, thanks to what is due, EA's Mythic studio has revived that game style with great precision. The point of view is higher, the artistic style is more caricatural, but almost all the features of the 1997 game remain in place.
The big difference is that whenever there is a crack in the game, EA has hit a wedge in the form of a payment wall. Here are four coins in play, three of which are in the game: gold, rock and mana, and the inevitable gems that can be purchased with real money. Everything you do has an immediate cost counted in one of the first three currencies and a countdown timer that can be eliminated with the fourth.
Of course, Of course, the economy is stacked in such a way that you will always be directed towards the gems. Progress is impossible without updating its different rooms, and to do that it needs gold or rock, whose reserves have a finite ceiling that must be raised by updates. Updates that require gold or rock. By constantly increasing the required amounts, the game creates an ingenious but relentless domino effect. You need to level up in your workshop, but for that you need more rock than you can store, but updating your rock storage means saving more gold than you can store, but updating that … and so on. The bone of the head, in this case, is connected to the wallet.
To give an example of how this system has been crudely implemented, upgrading your Dungeon Heart (the heart of your lair) to Level 3 requires only a few thousand rocks. Taking it to Level 4, the cost skyrockets to 50,000. The domino effect of the improvements needed for your dungeon to contain so much rock is ridiculous. Scroll through rooms and traps that have not yet been unlocked and you will see the price of items heading north of seven figures.
The game makes it easy for you, at least, by adhering to the classic dealer's mantra that the first test is free. He began with an area of soft ground from which to dig his first rooms, and the diaphragms cross it with a familiar facility. However, fill that space and you must begin to extract the outer edge of the map, formed by veins of gems that take between four hours and a full day to excavate a single square. Making space for a basic 3×3 space suddenly becomes a task that can literally take the whole week. Meanwhile, the number of gems extracted from each square can be counted on the fingers, while each gem transaction costs hundreds.
"What we have here is the shell of Bullfrog's pioneering strategy game, hollowed out and replete with what is essentially a Clash of Clans clone."
But here I go, reviewing the free-to-play business model instead of Dungeon Keeper. However, it is difficult not to do it when that business model is the only thing that stops the game. The tragedy is not that EA has put micro-transactions in a beloved game, although it certainly hurts, but it has done so in a way so remote and predictable.
Let's be clear, once again, because it involves a constant repetition: the free game is not automatically a bad thing. There are many examples of great games (hardcore PC games) that use micro-transactions, and they do so while building a base of committed and dedicated fans. League of Legends. World of tanks. Team Fortress 2. There are clearly better templates to follow.
However, what we have here is the shell of Bullfrog's pioneering strategy game, hollowed out and filled with what is essentially a clone of Clash of Clans. Every function, every mechanism, every online feature has been tested and proven by the Supercell money machine and EA is behind, drooling like a Pavlovian dog. That's what it stings: it's not that Dungeon Keeper has gone to play for free, but that it has been done in such a heartless way.