Bite Sized Reviews: Dungeons 4

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Bite Sized Reviews: Dungeons 4

While I play a ton of different games these days, it’s easy to get me back to the old days. Age of Empires, Dungeon Keeper, Fable, Black and White, Empire Earth, and Impossible Creatures were the games of my childhood. Dungeon Keeper’s awesome base management as an evil overlord always impressed me with its creativity. As fellow old gamers might notice, several of my childhood games were made by Bullfrog Productions and their spiritual successor, Lionhead Studios.

Eight years on, I still miss Lionhead. They and their predecessors Bullfrog made some truly unique games.

Dungeon Keeper’s design inspired a few creations by fans of the management genre during the 2010s, culminating in two primary options. War for the Overworld had a successful Kickstarter and an overall successful development, despite a botched launch from Early Access in 2015. With its extensive mod support and different modes, it feels the most like a definitive successor to Dungeon Keeper. Just the idea of carving my own dungeon realm from scratch while destroying my enemies reignites my inner young gamer.

The other title that scratches the Dungeon Keeper itch is actually a series: the Dungeon series. I played the third version several years ago and found it rather enjoyable. What intrigues me about the Dungeons games is how they offer a twist on the dungeon management idea. Unlike its rival War For the Overworld, the Dungeons series favours more basic RTS mechanics, training units and using heroes to venture out of the dungeons to take over realms. The dungeon carving mechanics are still present, but they play more heavily into the Action RPG genre. This isn’t a bad thing, and after a couple of iterations, Dungeons 3 ended up being a solid hybrid of Dungeon Keeper.

Dungeons 4 launched last November, and it’s only recently I’ve found the free time to play it. Huge thanks to the publishers at Kalypso for providing me with a review code! While I came away from Dungeons 3 feeling reasonably satisfied, I still found War For the Overworld the superior iteration. Dungeons 4 always looked interesting, but after the six-year gap between versions, I wondered how it would measure up in the current industry. The narration and writing in this series are always over-the-top slapstick that breaks the fourth wall. Hilarious in doses, but this can get annoying over time. How would it measure up?

As luck would have it, fairly well. Dungeons 4 surprised me. While I wasn’t expecting a bad game by any means, I had concerns about how it would stack up against the massive number of great 2023 titles. Dungeons 4 feels like a heavy refresh of the third game, it just adds and improves on the original formula. The extensive campaign has the same slapstick appeal of the series, with the Ultimate Evil priestess Thayla returning with excellent narration by Kevan Brighting. The humour and writing are pretty much the same as expected. While it’ll win no prizes for deep, meaningful characters, the game is built for goofy fun. It has its moments and even as someone who prefers more serious stories, I burst out laughing several times.

Gameplay-wise, Dungeons 4 continues the trend of its ancestors, favouring action over deep emergent systems. Build up a dungeon with nifty traps and magic to fight the annoying Good Men, summon minions, and send them out into the overworld on the offensive. It’s a nice mix between an action strategy game and slow dungeon management, although on the simpler side. Not a bad thing, as some games are just about having fun and Dungeons 4 leans heavily into that. It’s meant to be a goofball, sending legions of creatures to batter down enemies. With the lengthy campaign and skirmish mode, it offers a decent amount of content. There is a coop mode as well, but I was unable to test that out. Perhaps in a future update?

Performance and optimization were somewhat of a mixed bag. After struggling to run it on my ageing laptop (no surprise since it is a GTX1060) I switched to Geforce Now. Even with their beefy computers, I suffered several weird frame drops and a couple of issues with the UI but otherwise played out decently even with massive amounts of action on screen. Overall not too bad, but it could be better for a 2023 game. The graphics look nice though, with colors that stand out and sell the manic overlord death simulator Dungeons 4 sells.

As with all of my bite-sized reviews, I could talk about this for a while. Let’s wrap up! With the time I put into the game so far, it leaves me wanting to play more. The humour and constant fourth wall messages might be grating for some people, so if you aren’t into that humour in games, this is not the game for you. If you prefer deeper management games, Dungeons 4 might not be for you. However, it is a solid mix of management and action RTS in its own right. It may not be the deepest game out there, but it keeps things interesting throughout to make me invested. There’s a map editor in beta, with plans to roll it out in the coming months.

We don’t get games like this very often, and after a long drought in the Dungeons saga, Dungeons 4 brings it back swinging. It could do with some more performance patches, though.

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TheThousandScarAuthor/Blogger/Cartographer/Streamer/Narrative Game Writer/I play far too many games. |

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