It’s a bit soul-crushing to think of how many beloved game franchises have been snuffed out long before their time.
Sometimes it’s simply down to poor sales. Or, in the case of certain AAA publishers, not hitting so-called ‘sales expectations’ – which is arguably different to not actually selling well.
In other cases, the intellectual property is lost in the shuffle when studios go under or are bought out. Take a look at Kotaku’s fascinating investigation into who exactly owns the rights to No One Lives Forever to see how much of a mess that can be.
Most frustrating of all is when executives simply have no idea what to do with the properties they own. Dead Space 3 is a classic example of a financially successful, beloved franchise losing its creative essence in search of a larger audience. They pushed away their existing audience, failed to connect with new players and essentially killed the Dead Space series in a single release. A tale as old as time.
The rise of the spiritual successor in the past decade has been a saving grace for fans of these ill-fated franchises. Thanks in part to the popularity of crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, there’s been an ever-growing trend of follow-ups to games which – for many reasons – otherwise wouldn’t get a sequel.
Not all of these are guaranteed to be smash hits, of course. For every Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there’s a Mighty No. 9 – proving that the presence of the original creators and/or a passion for what made the original games great isn’t a magic wand. But it’s admirable to see anybody try to capture that spark one more time; to take a solid foundation and fulfil its creative potential.
Enter Dungeons 3.
While the Dungeons series began as a love letter to the Dungeon Keeper games by now-defunct studio Bullfrog Productions, it’s awesome to see that it’s evolved beyond pure nostalgia.
While many key elements of Dungeon Keeper are here – resource management, subterranean base-building, elaborate boob-trapped mazes, a giant hand for a cursor – developer Realmforge Studios have clearly made great efforts to explore the creative potential of the classic Dungeon Keeper style.
Originally released in October 2017, Dungeons 3 and all its post-release content is now packed into Dungeons 3: Complete Collection. That includes the generously lengthy base game, as well as seven DLC expansions: Once Upon a Time, Evil of the Caribbean, Lord of the Kings, Clash of Gods, An Unexpected DLC, Famous Last Words and A Multitude of Maps.
I’m honestly impressed with the amount of content crammed into this collection. Just the base game has twenty campaign missions, each running between 45 minutes to upwards of an hour and a half. If you’re planning to work your way through everything the Complete Collection has to offer, you’ve got several dozen hours to look forward to.
The premise for Dungeons 3 is straight-forward, even for newcomers to the series. As the omniscient Ultimate Evil, whose gauntlet serves as your mouse cursor, you corrupt a young Elvish woman to do your dark bidding.
Thayla will be the leader of your campaign of evil as you amass hordes of goblins, orcs, banshees, zombies and more. Typically, each mission will require you to strategically plan out and maintain an underground dungeon before sending a war party to the surface world.
There’s an interesting dichotomy to the gameplay, and I think this dichotomy is the primary strength of Dungeons 3. You’ll need to not only create an intricate dungeon below the surface, providing all your army’s needs and taking advantage of resource nodes, but also completing objectives above ground. All the while, the enemy factions will send waves of troops into the depths your dungeon – so laying down traps and barricades is essential to survive.
While dungeon-keeping is somewhat similar to city-builders like Tropico (with a tower defense spin), the game controls more like a traditional RTS above ground. It took me a little while to wrap my head around having to pay attention to two different styles of gameplay, but they do flow well into each other.
The construction of different rooms in your dungeon will allow for the development of your units’ abilities, and in turn, their conquering of enemy structures and resource nodes above ground will allow you to improve your dungeon even further.
I was concerned that the above-ground antics would feel tacked-on and wouldn’t be as compelling as the dungeon, but they impressively complement each other. I fell into a satisfying loop of switching back and forth between the surface world and my dungeons, especially with the inclusion of a magic spell which opens a portal between the two.
As the game becomes more difficult, you’ll find that booby-traps are more of a method of slowing down and weakening enemy units rather than a full deterrent. Sending your army back to the dungeon through the magic portal is a great way to heal them up quickly and clean up any enemy units trying to reach the core of your dungeon. Once that’s gone, it’s game over.
The main objectives of each mission keep it relatively fresh, offering a different kind of goal rather than simply “build a big enough army to wipe out the enemy base on the other side of the map”. There are some clever twists: one mission has incredibly powerful soldiers holed up in an impenetrable fortress. You won’t have any luck waltzing up to the gates and trying to fight them. Instead, you’ll have to pick off mule-delivered food deliveries to the fortress to starve its population.
Another takes the player’s control over Thayla away, leaving you to optimize your army’s abilities to function without her as she remotely guides a huge demon across the map.
I really admire Realmforge Studios’ ingenuity in diversifying each mission. They’re often quite long, but by forcing you to change up your tactics and keep you on your toes, it never feels long in the tooth.
The only issue I really have is an entirely subjective one: the game’s sense of humour. It evokes a tongue-in-cheek, often meta tone which feels very much like a Terry Pratchett novel. That’s a good thing!
Unfortunately, it also relies a little too heavily on pop-culture references. It’s not uncommon to hear characters jokingly quote the likes of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings, and while I absolutely see what they were going for, the jokes often fail to land due to being too on-the-nose. Readers who dislike the Borderlands games for this reason will understand what I’m saying.
I would’ve loved to see the writers have a little more confidence in the original world and characters they’ve created. Post-modernism can be a great comedic device when used sparingly, but it can also get in the way of players investing themselves in your own creation. That’s more of a side-note than a big red mark next to Dungeons 3‘s name, though.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with this collection. It’s got charm, plenty of content and they’ve done a great job of freshening up the formula. If you’re curious at all about Dungeons, this is a great way to jump in and find out what it’s all about.
Dungeons 3: Complete Collection was reviewed for PC using review code provided by Kalypso Media.