Jumping into a game series on the 3rd iteration is usually a stupid idea. Going straight in at Mass Effect 3 for example would leave the player lacking a considerable amount of context around the universe, characters and story leaving you with nothing more than the gameplay from which to forge an opinion. Hence when the Editor-in-chief asked me to take a look at Dungeons III, my first thoughts focus around how to do a review justice when i’m missing two thirds of the narrative. Thankfully In this case developer Realmforge Studios has developed a series which focuses on putting together a deep strategy and management simulation first, and as such this game is very much accommodating for players getting to the party a little late.
First up, Dungeons III is an RTS come management game clearly inspired by Bullfrog’s – god bless their soul – Dungeon Keeper. Narrative wise, the game does pick up where the second finishes but in a very non-contiguous fashion. You reprise your role as ‘The Evil’, but things start fresh on a new continent requiring you to rebuild your forces from scratch with the goal of defeating all that is good in the world. It’s a simple tale, serving as little more than a framework to interlink missions for the games campaign. The quality of the dialog and delivery help to elevate it into something much more than the sum of its parts thanks to the games narrator, voiced by Kevan Brighting best known for narrating The Stanley Parable. Alongside bringing satire to the games main tale, he also serves as your guide dropping patronising hints and humorous explanations that helps to keep things engaging for the player.
Gameplay tasks the player with managing things on 2 fronts, the underworld and the overworld. The underworld is where the management and simulation aspects of the game reside, both of which are well considered and enjoyable. Here you are tasked with building and managing a Dungeon. Tunnels can be excavated, rooms constructed and resources uncovered and mined. Workers must be recruited alongside combat units which need to be fed and accommodated. A research tree can be used to unlock access to new room types and units once the requisite resources have been acquired, and defences in the form or either manual or automated traps can be constructed to protect your workers and dungeon’s heart – a giant crystal residing at your dungeons centre and your enemies single win objective – from parties of heroes raiding from the world above. Progression is tied to resources, and the 2 main resources – Gold and Evil – exist exclusively above or underground ensuring that to progress beyond the basic units and rooms you’ll need to launch your own raiding parties above ground.
In the overworld, the RTS elements of the game come to the fore. Your powers, which in the underworld allow you to cast offensive and defensive spells, are limited to simply commanding your units to move and attack. Army sizes are capped – 25 in total – and as such you’ll need to vary your armies makeup to suit each objective. The 3 different armies from the second game have now been collapsed into one, allowing you to field daemons, monsters and the undead simultaneously offering more variation than previously was possible. In isolation, the strategy elements play OK, but lacks scale and depth compared to other strategy games in the market. Challenge comes from effectively managing this limited resource to battle on 2 fronts, shifting units between the over and under worlds to press attacks or sure up defences all whilst ensuring the background economy is ticking over and resources remain well stocked. You can ill afford to take your eye off any single thing for too long, and failure to keep on top of things can quickly cause things to snowball out of control forcing you to restart.
Content wise the game offers a generous 20 mission long campaign, with each roughly an hour or 2 long depending on your play style, and each mission offers enough variance to feel unique and challenging. Objective rushing is possible with careful micro-management of forces, but the game also accommodates taking a more slow and considered approach. Each mission offers the player some additional challenges – tied to achievements and trophies for the collectors amongst you – alongside support for 2 player co-op. Skirmish mode allows you to pit yourself against varying levels of AI and a 4 player multiplayer mode allows you to pit yourself against others for the ultimate challenge.
Criticism from the second game has been heard, the Hand of Evil and cursor have now been combined – i’m really not sure how this worked otherwise – alongside improvements to precision. General controls felt good, although the lack of explanation around buttons and the varying use of the right or left sticks in menus will confuse you from time to time. Press through however, and what awaits is a charming and engaging simulation with plenty of depth and challenge enriched by the humorous dialog of the narrator, who’s satirical speech persistently lightens the mood even when things aren’t quite going to plan.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Dungeons III and will continue to enjoy it in the years to come. It’s well packaged, with pleasant graphics and audio alongside some excellent dialog and gameplay. It’s also been very well optimised, scaling well across the console variations providing a smooth and responsive experience on the base, S and X variants of the Xbox One. For fans of the previous games, this offers more of the same with further enhancements. For those like myself who are new to the series, the game is certainly worth a look if you are looking for a challenging but causal management come strategy experience.
Dungeons III was provided to us by Xbox/Kalypso Media for Xbox One. It was reviewed on a Xbox One S and X.