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Dungeons 2
Score: 93%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Realmforge Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1, 2 - 4 (Online Multiplayer)
Genre: God Games/ Real-Time Strategy/ Editor

Graphics & Sound:
Don't expect ultra realism. This is not that game. No, this is a storybook come to life and narrated by an English narrator in a very Shrek-esque manner. This is not a fairytale like you heard when you were a child. No, this is a fairytale about Ultimate Evil winning. Which is comforting, since you're the Ultimate Evil in this story.

The graphics in Dungeons 2 have a very cartoonish, storybook-like quality to them and, while the models aren't photorealistic, they have some nice detail to them and some amusing animations, as well. Each of your minions will have its own acknowledging motion they will make when you hover over them, from your Orc's salute to your Goblin's waving at you. Probably my favorite unit, however, has to be the lowly Snot... a snaggletooth grunt with a backpack and a pickaxe who is responsible for mining your gold, digging rooms out of stone, filling back in areas you want filled in, moving treasure to your treasure rooms, dragging your nearly dead to hospital beds, rebuilding traps... if it's grunt work you need, these are the grunts to do it. Not getting things done fast enough? Give 'em a slap and they jump right to it.

Dungeons 2 only takes itself seriously about one thing: Not taking itself seriously. There are visual references to other "Realms" of entertainment, from mission names ("A New Hope") to an abundance of Tolkien references, to the fact that the mission in which the undead are introduced ("The Living Dead") just happen to be in the North on the map, which features a large, icy wall. In addition to mentioning other works of fiction, there's a city whose name is a play off of a mint brand, a major enemy whose name parodies Kratos (God of War) and a financially-oriented mission where money from the government is transported along the street which fronts the walls of the castle... you know, Wall Street. When referring to the realm in which the game takes place? It's merely referred to as the unnamed Fantasy Realm.

The creature sound effects are well done; the selectable Evil Laugh (press down the Left Analog Stick) is fun and the spell sound effects (such as healing or a Bard Buffing your enemies) are identifiable and help you to keep track of what's happening, even if you haven't yet seen that a nefarious Bard is afoot.

The soundtrack is done well, with tension-building orchestral pieces that are befitting a fantasy game such as Dungeons 2, but the absolute most noticeable sound element in the game is, without a question, the narrator. Think of something from the Bard's Tale or Little Big Planet and you're getting close. The narrator is perfectly snarky and plays a large part in the we-will-reference-everything-we-can-think-of motif of the game. The narration is self-aware and breaks the fourth wall constantly. This narrator will mention things that haven't yet happened and then say not to mind that, as if it were from the script (and more often than not, it is). You can expect to be verbally abused for taking too long to do whatever the current game objective is... in some very creative and amusing ways. Unless, of course, that sort of things annoys you, in which case, you can turn it off in the Settings. Just sayin'.

Personally, I just let him talk and found the banter to be amusingly entertaining... most of the time. It was more than a little annoying, however, when at the end of one of my attempts at one of the later dungeons, he announced that I had overcome the last of the Overworld enemies... only moments before they finished decimating my dungeon. It was extremely chaotic toward the end, with me tossing out fallen creatures and summoning more at the final standoff. It felt like it was really close, so when he said I had done it, I thought I had. And, um, just no. Still, unless you are easily frustrated, I would keep the narrator with his full script. He's a laugh-riot.

In Dungeons 2, you play the part of the Ultimate Evil (insert evil laugh here). After a very brief level of rampaging into the Overworld in corporeal form, you are ambushed and banished by the Alliance of Goody-Goods, your essence being scattered and sent into the depths. Not to be defeated, you rise from the depths, your ghostly form taking a seat upon your throne and using your hand - the hand of Evil - (insert evil laugh here) being your only corporeal force in this realm...

Well, there's also your denizens: an increasing variety of under-dwellers, who will do your dirty work... as long as you have enough gold to recruit them and beer to keep them sated. Of course, if they grow disgruntled with you, you can always grab them by the scruff of the neck and throw them down the hole into the depths conveniently located in your throne room. Mwahahaha!!! ...cough... cough!

Ahem. As you might expect in a strategy game, there are various units, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, starting with simpler and cheaper units and unlocking stronger, yet more expensive, units as you advance. In the same way, you can unlock additional types of rooms and even upgrades for these rooms, which will affect various aspects of gameplay, from your wealth to your magical potential (mana), to your ability to create (and maintain) traps to provide for a stronger (tower) defense of your lair. Even your units, themselves, can be upgraded, eventually, to grant abilities such as the ever popular Sneak Attack (for major damage when unseen) or immunity from enchantment effects... something that can come in handy when the enemy has units that can temporarily cause your units to attack each other.

Dungeons 2 - Launch Trailer

Campaign Mode follows the Ultimate Evil's return, as you not only return to the underground, but vow to take your revenge on the Overworld, as well. You will need to manage your lair, having your Snots mine for gold so you can hire creatures and build things, having Goblins build Toolboxes to build and maintain traps, making Nagas summon Mana and research spells, directing Orcs to fight enemies that trespass in your dungeon. All the while, you need to work toward building an adventuring party of your own to venture out into the Overworld and convert it from Goody-Goody to Evil, destroying cities and burninating the countryside.

I found that I, personally, tend to use a slower, longer-running approach, building my lair up to a quite elaborate and complex degree, with some intricate traps, meandering approaches to slow down interlopers, and well-stocked and well-developed rooms, from Breweries to Mana Crystal rooms and large Hospitals and Arenas. This isn't really the approach the developers had in mind, as the narrator repeatedly informed me - and it probably wouldn't fly in a Multiplayer game, as you'd have up to three other players coming in to wreck your beautiful lair. Further, this approach really slows down your increase of "Evilness," since that's a measure of how much you evilify the Overworld. No Evilness means you won't be upgrading your throne room to the next level any time soon, so bear that in mind.

Skirmish Mode felt more like a Survival Mode, but that might be due to my slow-to-conquer approach. I kept building my lair to be more and more elaborate and they kept sending more and more parties of adventurers to work me over. The few excursions I made to the Overworld were decidedly not in my favor, so I tried to build my lair greater... which is, eventually, doomed to fail. Still, there are various things that can be tweaked in the Skirmish Mode, so you can adjust the difficulty to your liking, select the map of your choice (from a pretty decent list of maps), opt to play as the Ultimate Evil or as Chaotic Evil (the demonic faction that appears later in the game) and set win conditions. Due to this flexibility, Skirmish Mode can serve as a Practice Mode if you're having difficulty in the Campaign or as a greater challenge, by simply upping the settings to something more difficult.

There are four Online Multiplayer Modes available, as well, in which two to four players each control their own dungeon and must venture out to the Overworld to increase their Evilness and delve into their opponents dungeons to take out their competition. When in their own dungeon, players will be able to see everything and control and build things as they can in their dungeons in the other modes. When in opponents dungeons, however, they will have limited control (as they do in the Overworld or other underground dungeons in the Campaign Mode), and will only be able to see what their creatures can see, in a fog-of-war type of visibility feature. I haven't actually played the Multiplayer, as the Online Multiplayer requires PlayStation Plus and I don't currently have an active subscription. While I'm not a big multiplayer fan, there is a lot of fun to be had in the Campaign and Skirmish Modes.

Ah, the difficulty of a game such as Dungeons 2. Well, first, I'd say it's a complex game. It's not overly complex for its genre, by any stretch, but Casual gamers are likely to get bored by the detail and the amount of time it takes to build things up. If you're primarily a fan of Fighting Games or Time Management games or you prefer something you can pick up, play for a few minutes and then put it down, this isn't likely to appeal to you. I found myself a couple of hours into building my lair in a single level, when it occurred to me that I was actively ignoring my body's need to relieve itself, rather than pause the game to take care of that urge. Perhaps I should point out that I am, in fact, not a two-year-old who avoids vegetables and refuses to go to bed, but a grown-a$$ man with a professional career and blood pressure medication... and here I was, refusing to momentarily stop playing a videogame to answer nature's call. Yeah. Not a game that can be put down easily. (Oh, and I'm still not doing the vegetable thing. Bleh!)

The biggest difficulty that Dungeons 2 would offer would be if you refuse to learn from what it throws at you and don't change your approach. I got halfway through the game before I hit a level that I failed and had to start over, but as I said, I put a lot of time and effort into cultivating my dungeon, making it into a thriving society before striking out and crushing the Overworld. It may be possible to conquer the Overworld in much less time if you select the appropriate resources and stay on the offensive, but that's not my style, so I can't really say for sure. The point is: there are a variety of different ways to approach the problems presented in the game; your job is to do what you think is right, but watch for things that aren't working (and change them) and things that work out really well... and put those things to work for you.

If you find a level to be too difficult in Campaign, you can play around with the difficulty in Skirmish on the same map. Skirmish is a good place to try out different ideas, such as using a lot of Exploding Treasure Chests to take out invading Goody-Goods. The allure of these traps causes adventurers to ignore their safety, running to and triggering the trap before their Bard can disable it, but these traps have to be rebuilt after being triggered, which means a constant need for Toolboxes, which means you need to keep Goblins laboring in your Tinkerer's Cave. (Which also means you need to have those things.) This can be a drain on your resources, when you only have a handful of Population Points to spend on creatures in the first place.

You can also decide how much time and effort you want to invest in your troops. You could research and build an Arena and make your creatures work out to level up and, perhaps, train your Orcs to make them Orc Chieftains, making them more powerful and build an upgraded Hospital to teleport the bodies of your fallen warriors back and bring them back to life. Or, you could decide that their lives are cheap and just keep chucking the lifeless bodies of your followers into the bottomless pit conveniently located in your throne room to free up some of your Population Points so you can hire more. Decisions, decisions, am I right?

Game Mechanics:
The balance in the game felt right, most of the time. One thing that is a downside of any games, such as Dungeons 2, that can last a long time and involve the building up of units and the management of resources is that, after a long investment of gameplay, you can find yourself in an irredeemable situation. I had this happen in one of the games before my first actually failed mission, and when I realized that I was at the point of no return, I quit and retried the level, rather than putting another hour into it and then failing. As the missions progress, however, the complexity increases, which increases the length of gameplay in a given mission, which heightens both the possibility of winding up in an irredeemable spot and the severity and certainty of not coming back from it.

As for the controls and underpinnings of the game, I had a few minor gripes. The largest annoyance has to be the fact that the method of selecting spells is via a circular menu, holding the Left Analog Stick in the direction of the desired spell and hitting (X) to select the spell. That same analog stick is used to aim at the target of that spell. This means that, even if an enemy is sitting still, to select Lightning Bolt and then aim at an enemy involves fumbling around with the Left Stick, moving out of the way (due to choosing the spell), then moving your cursor over the target. When you're trying to pull off about six of these Lightning Bolts in a row in order to kill an enemy Pixie before she heals herself completely and cut off a raiding party of enemies' endless supply of healing spells, being slowed down by this frantic fumbling can be extremely frustrating.

Another issue that caused me a bit of stress and grief is the save game system. I have never lost a save completely. That having been said, I have had multiple occasions where something didn't work when I tried to load my game and I had to load it again for it to work correctly. The first time, none of my units could move. Everyone just sort of paced in place and I could only move around the screen. I reloaded the game and it was fine, but I was afraid that I would have lost a couple hours of gameplay and wasn't looking forward to having to start over. The second time, my creatures could move around, but I couldn't mark anything for mining. Again, a reload fixed this. That issue might not have been specific to loading, as I had it happen another time, when it wasn't right after a load. I saved my progress and reloaded and everything was fine. So the only real complaint about the game save feature is the stress it caused.

The controls never felt intuitive to me. I found I was constantly opening the Room Build Menu when I wanted to cast a spell - or vice-versa - and, as I mentioned, casting spells involved continually moving back to my target. This never got better, really, I just got faster at fumbling.

Dungeons 2, however, is a case where a game has some issues, but the gameplay far outweighs them. I loved playing Dungeons 2 on the PS4, but I may have to try it on the PC to see if the different control scheme fixes the fumbling I've experienced in the PS4 controls, and whether control is any better on a mouse and keyboard.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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