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Dungeon Lords

Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: Heuristic Park
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: RPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

From the legendary work of D.W. Bradley of Wizardry fame, comes Dungeon Lords, a throwback hack and slash reminiscent of Elder Scrolls and Diablo. In a recent interview with RPGgamer, he had this to say about his newest creation; “We've built Dungeon Lords from the ground up to include all the classic elements of a great RPG, while striving to make it accessible to all sorts of different players. We’ve created a huge world with thousands of interactions, and spent a lot of time balancing puzzle intricacy and innovation so that there’s something for everyone.” Unfortunately for Bradley, somewhere along the line his vision had some serious flaws in it, and Heuristic Park failed to find them before this sucker went live. A bummer indeed because it shows some promise…

The look and feel of the game is distinctly medieval fantasy, but overly murky and blocky. Everything is in 3D, but pales in comparison to even the earlier Morrowind game in art direction and clarity. Environments are somewhat varied but mainly, you will be trudging through the bowels of ancient ruins or sewers in pursuit of glory. Oddly enough, the rooms you wander into are very sparse; did they have a depression in this ancient land? Did a termite infestation eat all the furniture? The models and creatures could belong to any fantasy title around, and sadly the main character's movements are pretty jerky. Graphical effects such as water and lighting are fairly decent though, as well as a few cool looking weapons that glow and such. It’s just too bad the rest of the interface couldn’t pull through.

Soundwise, a complete underwhelming drudgery of smacks, hisses, growls and grunt assault you, as you battle your way past hordes of creatures. Although, while creeping through the forests I was a bit anxious to find my torch…some creepy, slimy things no doubt lurking in the dark… The music is redundant fare yet again, thankfully not bordering on annoying. Its saving grace is the excellent voice work that helps absorb you into the plot.


Gameplay:

You begin your journey as the “chosen one” (*groan) with a wide choice of characters, from the massively hairy urgoth, a lithe elf or your standard homo sapien, all of which can range from fighters to mages in your usual RPG classes. I personally liked the large demigod urgoths, some fierce melee fighters especially when wielding a monstrous two-handed axe. A unique feature to Dungeon Lords is the ability to adapt your character as time goes on through a skill system, rather than the standard level system. You can upgrade gradually as you go, instead of in brief “level-up” moments (DING!). With many different hybrid characters possible, such as a healing fighter who wields blades or a wizard with heavy combat skills, the combinations are endless. In practice, it seemed more prudent to focus on melee with the never-ending wave of enemies, rather than the slower and more fragile mage archetypes. That’s too bad too, because some of the magic attacks were gorgeous. Just remember, if you want to advance at a good pace, stick with the sharp, heavy objects.

Combat itself is similar to Elder Scrolls, yet again but adds some combo elements. I much prefer this style of combat over the slower “point and wait” systems used in the majority of RPGs. But at times, it can be maddening trying to swat that bat or stomp that oozing slime - truly some sluggish controls here. Combat is decent enough and with the varied magic and ranged combat (bows), each player can hone his or her special style. Thankfully, a quick health potion or two should help keep you up, but if you should fall, only a minor penalty is enacted on your character; this adds to the simplified game play. And as usual, there is a handy auto save feature, something I can almost always count on for PC games. Thank you for not making me waste my time.

Surprisingly, there is a multiplayer feature, and get this - co-op play! This was a pretty interesting experience. Outside of a few MMORPGs, I hadn’t done much questing with people and Dungeon Lords added a nice layer of playability here. Only question is, who gets the girl when you rescue her? Rock, Paper, Scissors? Draw Straws? I have a sneaking suspicion that the nearly immortal, 8 foot tall, hulking urgoth may have a bit of an edge…


Difficulty:

Where do I begin…. while the action itself isn’t that taxing…the huge assortment of bugs and other issues really chalk up the difficulty here. First off, there is no ingame map whatsoever. They did ship a printed map…but many of the dungeons are immense mazes, so good luck with that, chums. Nothing frustrates me more than getting lost. If you can get past the navigation issues, you should be ok if you’re quick on your feet and handy with your potions. To add to the laundry list are graphical bugs, chests devoid of treasure and a host of other issues that somehow crept past the dev team. Thankfully though, you won’t lose track of what your supposed to do. The game is pretty linear, which is a blessing and a curse for many gamers. Personally, I thought it could have used more free-roaming elements, but the novice RPGer should appreciate the streamlined quest.

Game Mechanics:

As I said before, the controls for an action-heavy game like this are overly sluggish, so prepare yourself for some awkward death moments. Early on, I was continually harassed by the slimes and bats, so much so that I fled into a corner flailing madly with my sword…only realizing a few minutes later, nothing was ever there. The interface is pretty standard: health bars, inventory screens with appropriate slots, character information, etc. I did find the system hard to navigate at times, because a lot of windows/information can be accessed at once and you need to keep on top of your inventory management to survive. It’s played in 3rd person view, surprisingly without a first person option, so I always had that detached feeling as I played, like I was a puppeteer instead of the hero itself.

Overall, Dungeon Lords had a lot of good things going for it, and could have used several more months to solidify the controls and squash those pesky bugs. Thankfully, they are patching like most PC games out there routinely do, but it remains to be seen if a handful of tweaks really rescues this sub-par dungeon crawler. Best to stick with the Elder Scrolls series for your fantasy action/RPG (hmm FARPG?) cravings.


-Tybo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Tyler Whitney

Minimum System Requirements:



Operating System: Windows® 98/ME/2000/XP, Processor: Pentium® 1.2GHz Processor, RAM: 256 MB RAM, CD-ROM: 8x CD ROM Drive or better, Video Card: GeForce2 MX or better
 

Test System:



Windows XP, 1.83 ghz AMD 2500+, 512 MB of RAM, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB

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