Dungeons 4 transforms you into a ludicrous villain, and I thoroughly enjoy it
In a dungeon-based strategy game where you assume the role of the villains, one thing you can be certain of is that humor takes center stage, overshad...
In a dungeon-based strategy game where you assume the role of the villains, one thing you can be certain of is that humor takes center stage, overshadowing the evil aspect. While you have control over bloodthirsty monsters and may push your adorable minions to work harder, there is a mentor who shares witty jokes in a soothing voice and amusing dialogue breaks to lighten the atmosphere.
Dungeons 4 represents the latest installment in a series of games that pushes this tradition to its utmost extreme. Right from the start, it becomes evident that the type of evil depicted is "cartoonish" in nature. The tutorial levels playfully mock the game mechanics, with the narrator openly acknowledging your character's abilities and encouraging you to employ them in eliminating the virtuous beings.
While Dungeon Keeper finds its humor in boldness and sarcasm, and Evil Genius goes completely over the top, Dungeons offers a plethora of references and fourth-wall breaks. This creates a significant contrast between the gruesome slaughter committed in the pursuit of evil and the trivial conflicts among the voiced characters, yet it proves effective. If these games were played without humor, they would become unpalatable and edgy. Creative director Christian Wolfertstetter believes that such an approach could work but would appeal to an entirely different audience.
Instead, Dungeons 4 skillfully alternates between the absurd and the gruesome, akin to a trapeze artist on a particularly unfortunate day, effectively catering to its established audience. At the heart of the game's humor is Thalya, who serves as the closest thing to a protagonist and the main general of your evil army. She menacingly threatens the do-gooders of the surface lands while engaging in childish conflicts with her stepbrother, Tristan, who acts as her nemesis and foil. This dynamic works remarkably well, as Dungeons 4 stands out as a rare dungeon-builder that features consistent characters who evolve throughout the story. Emphasizing comedy was the right approach, considering that the darker and more caustic games succeed by maintaining a distance from the carnage. In this case, you directly control Thalya and are subject to her personal objectives. Portraying her as a villain reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon was the correct decision.
This will all sound familiar to those who have played Dungeons 3, and that's intentional. Dungeons 4 refines the mechanics of its predecessor, utilizing new code and past experience. The gameplay mechanics haven't changed significantly - there's still a division between real-time strategy (RTS) gameplay on the surface world and classic dungeon-building strategy underground, with a wide variety of rooms to construct and creatures to recruit. It strikes a good balance between the two aspects, and monitoring both sides of the world simultaneously is made easier with constant updates about intruders and similar events. In many ways, it feels like an expansion pack and an improvement to the previous game, and that is definitely a positive aspect.
I especially appreciate the focus on the distinctions among the three types of creatures you can recruit: horde monsters, demons, and the undead. Each category has unique requirements and attributes. If desired, you can prioritize the development of one group at the expense of the others, granting you the freedom to create a personalized strategy. Personally, I leaned towards demonology whenever possible, as I found their creatures more enjoyable to utilize, particularly during extended journeys in the surface world.
However, there are still a few issues in the system. In some levels, there are restrictions on how far you can progress in terms of research, but these limits are not clearly communicated, leading to frustration. I often found myself repeatedly clicking on the upgrade buttons, thinking it was a bug rather than being hindered by arbitrary barriers. This is a minor complaint primarily rooted in the fact that the early levels serve as an extended tutorial. Fortunately, the rest of the game operates much more smoothly. While Dungeons 3 felt slightly unbalanced to me, Dungeons 4 has improved significantly, and I am confident that it will have a lasting appeal.