Like finding a stash of 20 year old crack
Played through GOG Galaxy client. Images sourced from GOG.com
Is it worth playing TODAY?
Absolutely. Dungeon Keeper Gold provided me with 51 hours of addictive, challenging and strategic gameplay. 19 years old and near perfectly functional on modern systems. There’s a considerable amount of depth to building and maintaining dungeons, and to selecting and training minions. Working out dungeon strategies and the optimum minions, then proceeding to defeat the enemy keeper provided many moments of intensity and satisfaction. DKG is also bursting with personality and humor.
When is it not worth buying?
When you can’t justify the price. Otherwise, the game itself is worth the time investment. The current price of 5.99 it about as far as I would go for a game this age.
You play as an evil lord surveying a lush green fantasy kingdom of towns, villages and castles. Your advisor explains how disgustingly pleasant it all is and that it demands conquering.
Each area of this kingdom represents a dungeon keeper level. Victory is obtained by destroying the enemy Keeper’s dungeon heart or by killing the Lord of the Land – sometimes both.
A typical level/map starts you off with a Dungeon Hearth to protect, a portal for summoning minions and some Imps. Imps mine gold, tunnel into new areas and create rooms. The type of minions that appear depends on the rooms created. There are alternative methods to attracting minions but this is the bread and butter of your force.
A few more details
Efficiency is key. You need to build the relevant rooms to attract the appropriate minions for the job of fighting and destroying your enemy. The pool of available minions is shared between the keepers, so you need to act quickly to attract more than your opponent.
The right the type of minion attracted is important. What minion can effectively counter a wizard? Will I use warlocks or dragons for research in the library? Is a fight taking place in a cramped area where I can hit many enemies with a Bile Demon’s poison gas?
Minions need to be trained for battle and a choice needs to be made as to the cost of a minion versus its usefulness. It’s easier and quicker to train an Orc (a reliable fighter) than it is to keep an extremely powerful Horned Reaper – who is not only expensive, but will rebel and kill other minions if not kept satisfied.
The sweet bits
Dungeon Keeper provides a constant trickle of dopamine as every action is rewarding in some way. Outlining rooms for your imps to create is satisfying to see and hear, as well as the act of them carving it out of the ground. The overall sound and visuals are designed to make you feel that you are constantly progressing towards a goal.
Time just disappeared when playing and I found myself in the same dungeon for 2-3 hours without realising it, seeing minions get stronger and my dungeon become more secure.
The final battle of each level, where my minions clashed with the opposing force after hours of preparation was always nail biting. I looked on and supported, acting as a demi-gold – throwing lightning at enemies and healing my creatures.
Not so sweet
The graphics have aged, a lot. However, creatures and machines are detached enough from reality that you will eventually buy into the look. Sprites and characters aren’t exactly clear, but you will get over it – I was so immersed that I stopped seeing ‘graphics’.
I highly recommend enabling high resolution (alt+r). The game is so pixelated without this setting that I nearly quit during the first level (prior to discovering the option).
As I would recommend with a lot of games this age – read the manual. A considerable amount of the mechanics are explained there. The ingame tutorial barely scratches the surface of what is available.
There was also an odd mouse glitch which caused the camera to endlessly pan to one side. To fix this without losing progress I had to switch to Low-Res mode (where the cursor would luckily fall onto the save icon), Save my game and reload.
The approach to defeat some of the later levels gets a bit obscure. Especially the final dungeon for which I had to refer to a guide. There was one key tactic that I would have never figured out. I had spent hours on the map not knowing that a choice made in the first 30-40 minutes had already doomed me.
There aren’t any stand out characters or story to drive game play – but the creatures and enemies are bursting with charm. Watching the overworld slowly get turned into a hellish landscape as you conquer each hold was enough to keep me going (I was always eager to hear my advisor’s stupidly evil rants on the next location).
Most importantly Dungeon Keeper Gold ends. The compulsive and addictive mechanics are not exploited to keep you playing endlessly (like the mobile version). It’s 20 levels – after which I was happy to walk away.
The positives far outweigh the negatives. Dungeon Keeper Gold is the definition of a classic. Addictive gameplay, unique tone and humor, and solidly designed in every aspect.
At it’s current price Dungeon Keeper Gold is an absolute gem.