After playing Two Point Hospital recently, I found myself with a hankering for other older simulation games of a certain style. A certain Bullfrog style. And so, after going through their back catalog looking for something to catch my eye, I found Dungeon Keeper.
Originally released in 1997 for PC, it was the last game Peter Molyneux worked on for Bullfrog before leaving to work on bigger things. It’s also an absolutely beautiful game for the era, with a lot to look at and a lot to do.
First thing’s first.
The premise of the game is that you are an evil demon overlord of sorts. And, unfortunately, the world around you is absolutely delightful. This isn’t ideal, as you could imagine, being an evil demon overlord. So, naturally, you set about to disrupt the peace by constructing various evil lairs, with each lair construction being its own stage and each lair being near a positively delightful town that you fully intend to ruin.
Each dungeon begins at the heart. Which is, essentially, your heart and what you must defend to win the level. From there, you can create treasure rooms to store your gold and… Treasures, which is then used to fund building more rooms. Because even demon overlords suffer to the shackles of capitalism, I suppose! The player uses imps as the main workforce, who will gather gold, build rooms, and set up traps and do various other tasks while the player continues to build more rooms and plan their lair out further and further.
This can go as in depth as the player wants, with the ability to create lairs for all kinds of monsters, hatcheries to birth chickens as a reliable food source for your various monsters, libraries, temples, training rooms, torture chambers… The game offers the player a lot of things to play with to create the ultimate dungeon.
The other factor when creating a dungeon to keep in mind is that your monsters don’t work for free. They have to be paid, and kept happy. Unhappy monsters will vandalize your dungeon or just outright leave, weakening your overall forces and leaving you more vulnerable to attacks. And there will be attacks.
As an evil overlord, there are always going to be heroes opposed to your dastardly deeds. Heroes will attempt to breach your dungeon and destroy the heart, which is where your building and abilities as a dungeon master come into play. Setting up defensive and offensive options are equally as important. Making sure your workforce is happy and leveled up, and making sure you’ve taken full advantage of layouts and every opportunity offered to you is of the utmost importance.
The game does a brilliant job of introducing concepts to you gradually, like most Bullfrog games of the era. It starts off slow, letting the player ease themselves in and is very forgiving of any mistakes made. Which I did, a lot, because it had been a while since I’d last played. Where other games might keep track of monetary points to every last detail, like Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper instead focuses on the monsters and creatures at your disposal. They can all be leveled up to learn new skills and all have unique interactions with each other and work together in different ways.
It creates a lot of nuance and makes sure the player is always thinking strategically about the best ways to utilize everything at their disposal and in later levels, this becomes more and more crucial as the heroes become stronger and if you make a mistake, they will take advantage of it and you will lose.
Dungeon Keeper is a unique simulation title that’s a shining example of what Bullfrog were capable of as a studio, from the dark humor to the in depth gameplay mechanics. It really makes me sad games like this aren’t as prevalent anymore, though I can only hope Two Point Studios will pick up where Bullfrog left off and make a reboot of the title in a similar vain to Two Point Hospital.
It’s a lot of fun being a horrible demon, honestly.