Facebook games are a terrible plague, on the whole. Fatuous, childish, over-simplistic, silly graphics, very limited gameplay – they ran the whole gamut of boring nonsense, back when I started using Facebook last decade. Mind you, that was when the rash of zombie games (‘You have been bitten by some bloke at work you barely know!’) was at its peak. I don’t use Facebook very much these days, so I hadn’t looked at any of the latest generation of add-ons that come with it.
Dungeon Overlord models itself on the venerable and esteemed Dungeon Keeper, a classic management game from back in the day. You are the evil keeper of a foul dungeon, stocking your lair with traps, minions and horrors. Your ultimate goal is to crush all the fluffiness out of the world, replacing happy elves in thatched bungalows with an acid-stained, charred wasteland full of abused goblins wherever possible. It’s the same goal that rises up in my filthy heart whenever I look out of my bedroom window at the local community centre across the road.
The steps on your road to global horrification will be many and frustrating. First, establish your internal economy by mining iron, crystals and gold. Then build a series of rooms to store these resources and attract creatures to your lair. Then train them up and upgrade everything, researching new abilities with the help of warlocks in the library, until your single dungeon is a network of linked catacombs, replete with hordes of wicked beings ready to trash the rest of the world.
I’m actually pretty impressed with this. This doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly come round to online social browser games, far from it. The painfully slow progress forces you to play at an extremely casual speed. You really can’t play for more than a couple of minutes before you’re faced with a series of two-hour waits, but that’s fine. Simply queue up the orders you want done, and go and do something else (hint: choose Skyrim). There’s no clear way of winning or losing, other than measuring your progress against friends or the wider online world – not to my taste, but perfectly reasonable. And as my previous incursions into this field have indicated, these games aren’t fond of pushing boundaries. This follows the formula religiously, as all the browser games I’ve ever played do.
However, Dungeon Overlord succeeds in being welcoming to play, amusingly animated and fairly addictive. I’ve got an addictive personality, so I’m easily hooked on things. And gaming is one of the world’s only markets where being addictive is viewed as a positive thing. Cigarettes? Bad. Gambling? Bad. Heroin? Bad. Addictive games? Amazing! Yes please, hook me up and take my social security number! Someone will almost certainly clamp down on this sooner or later, it’s only sensible. Thank goodness that’s not yet.
The graphics are nice – your dungeon is neatly animated, with goblins dashing about fetching and carrying things and other minions wandering around eating and working. The sounds are evocative of underground evil, although you need to turn the music off unless you really really love Halls of the Mountain King from Pier Gynt. And there’s a decent amount of complexity and ‘oo I’ve almost levelled up’ feeling to warrant further investigation.
My main criticism is the waiting times, here. Upgrades and training take start at the sort of 5-10 minute time and rapidly increase to many hours. I suppose that stops it getting too addictive, in that you are forced to go and do something else for a while. And that keeps the game casual, fair enough. But you can skip these restrictions by paying dungeon marks, the purchasable in-game currency, an idiotic waste of anyone’s money. I disapprove quite strongly of this sort of angle in Free to Play games, it’s fundamentally miserable. ‘Here’s some good gameplay, but if you want to get on with it, give us cash,’ it seems to say. Which is fine as a business model, I get that, but very mean-spirited in terms of providing free-to-play fun. I got a free load of marks to review the game, and I very much think I’d have lost interest without the advantage they brought. You do at least slowly earn these marks as you play the game, though, and the tutorial quests merely point out how the system works. As these game go, this one is pleasingly gentle about how often it swipes at your wallet.
Dungeon Keeper was a real favourite of mine back in the day, and this game has all the hall-marks that made that one such a winner. If this could be played as quickly and smoothly as DK, I’d recommend this game wholeheartedly – you could have your dungeons rise and fall much more rapidly, sometimes winning, sometimes getting wiped out. I know that’s not the aim here, though, this is effectively the same game as the ‘build your farm’ types, just with a vicious fantasy streak to it.
But the gameplay is fun enough to be worth a look. I get the same delight from having my orcs pillage a settlement as I used to in DK. I’ve been cheerily tuning back in over the last week to keep my dungeon ticking over, and I can’t see why anyone else wouldn’t enjoy doing the same.