One of my earliest memories in gaming was waiting for my older brother to stop playing Dungeon Keeper on our old PC so I could play it myself. He and I adored it, and are amongst the thousands of people who are still waiting for a worthy remake. The thousands of dungeon marauding fans like ourselves were not waiting, however, for a calamitous iOS/Android remake which tears the soul of the game out by the roots and replaces it with a hollow port which has room for little more than your credit card details.
And yet, here we are.
For those who never got the chance to play the original Dungeon Keeper, you are placed in control of your very own dungeon which you expand and nurture as your minions dig out rooms and tunnels. As your lowly band of worker imps carve out the skeleton of your dungeon, they discover patches of gold (or in exceptional circumstances, the infinite gem block) which are then sent to the coffers and used to pave your rooms and make your little slice of hell all the more inviting for other denizens of the underworld to join your war on the good kings of the realm. With spells, traps and a horde of ugly sinners, you have everything you need to destroy your enemy’s dungeon heart and rule the underworld.
All of this seems to have gone to the dogs though, as EA have put their Mythic Entertainment studio to work on a mobile port – and the resulting release has left a sour taste in the mouth of gamers and critics alike.
First and foremost, the user rating system is nothing shy of a debacle. The Android version of the game presents you with a most challenging decision – rate the game as 5 stars, or forever be doomed to recommend what you would do to make the game better, whilst your puny sub-five star rating is cast into oblivion.
In an interview with TabTimes.com, the game’s senior producer Jeff Skalski expressed his confusion at the supposed malcontent surrounding the game, citing the App Store’s 4/5 star rating and the Google Play 4.5/5 star rating. The Metacritic ratings are far less amicable however, with Metro’s David Jenkins going as far as to land the game with an ice cold 0/10.
Beyond the questionable rating system, the game has also been criticised on its use of microtransactions. Rather than your blindly loyal imps carving out a room in a matter of seconds, the mobile version sees this process take hours. This can be sped up with the in-game gem currency, but obtaining them comes down to a weekly event raid or handing over real world cash. These gems can be bought in large bulk, with the 14,000 gem option costing an eye-watering £69.99.
Skalski defends the structure of the microtransactions, saying that it falls in-line with typical mobile play patterns with varying levels of commitment from player to player. Perhaps not an unfair statement to make, but arguably not one that will assuage the many fans who have waited well over a decade for a revival of a cult classic.
Worse yet, with this being the latest instalment in the franchise for nearly 15 years, it becomes hard to see how the title will advance from here. Indie tribute War For The Overworld, which is available for early beta access on Steam, might go some of the way to placating fans who understandably feel at a loss, but ultimately the future looks bleak.
If you haven’t played the old Dungeon Keeper games, you really should. Mythic have said that they hope to expand the game with new features and new ways for players to obtain gems, but that in itself seems like an identification of shortcomings with the design. Besides, they’ve targeted the market they want – unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem to be the fans.