A Week with Dungeon Keeper Mobile

Before I actually get to my write up for the mobile version of Dungeon Keeper let’s have a little history so people can understand where I’m coming from. I’d gotten Dungeon Keeper 1 and 2 as a bundle pack in the bargain bin at target right around college. This was actually while dungeon keeper 2 was still relatively new. I don’t mean ‘new’ new, but ‘within the same generation as the hardware I had’ new. Both were played, conquered, played again, hacked to bits when I figured out how to edit creature values giving me imps that could shred a horned reaper, and I ended up losing my copies thanks to loaning them out and just never getting them back.

I enjoyed the writing, pacing, challenge, and was disappointed when I learned there would be no dungeon keeper 3. Many years passed and I sorta just left these games up in the dustbin of old memories til I heard about GOG and the fact they had both games for sale.

Fast forward to last christmas when I got a Nook HD, spent a few weeks with it stock, enjoyed it, put cyanogenmod on it, and enjoyed it more. Then just on a lark I go see if the Play store has anything like dungeon keeper in it since it’s a click driven game so the basic formula should translate well. I see Dungeon Keeper itself on the play store… but not for my country. Oh well go through the internet I scored an apk anyway to try out anyway since what could it hurt right? Turns out it not only worked, but it was in english, and they gave me some beta tester perks. That was a very classy move on their part since they could’ve had it detect that I am connecting from a United States IP range and ‘nope not allowed in your region. Sorry.’

History Lesson Over.

Dungeon Keeper
Publisher: EA
Developer: Mythic
Platforms: Android, iOS

Having spent a week with Dungeon Keeper Mobile, and more importantly spent that week looking at the articles and forum posts I’ve come to a few conclusions. To preface all that though I must stress that I found Dungeon Keeper Mobile to be a fun tower defense game that has a lot of potential and I want to congratulate Mythic for creating something I have enjoyed wasting time on. This goes double given I have vision problems that make keeping up with action somewhat problematic when one mass of color merges with another unless I sit and get nose tip to glass to the tablet.

That said I have some things I would like to address that could be done better and might still be fixable. Highest of these is complaints at device freeze up and or large scale combat lagging to the point of unplayability. For the time being I have not experienced this but I don’t want to take my experience as average on the matter since I’m running cyanogenmod which might behave very different than what comes with other devices. It could be as simple as a UI that uses too much ram and the user doesn’t realize they can change it to something lighter weight, or just one of those quirks. It’s still embarrassing and more than a bit frustrating when it happens to you for whatever reason, and doubly so if you shelled out $99 on gems to spend. I’d feel justified in being irate and at the point of screaming at everyone even remotely related to the project.

Everything has those kind of glitches though. I remember Tribes 2 was the next best thing to unplayable back in the day and it got fixed eventually (sadly the damage was already done to the game’s reputation.) More relevant though is Square’s problems with one of their final fantasy games literally being unfinishable due to a bug that cropped up at the halfway mark and Square’s been in games since the 80’s, charged people up front for the game rather than going with a freemium model, and still had a game crippling bug that needed crushing.

Unfortunately we’re staring right at the ugly heart of what is going to kill Dungeon Keeper and has turned off a vocal portion of its potential playerbase. Microtransactions.

I’m not going to lie, sugarcoat, or apologize here even though I like the game when it stops making me wait since I’m broke and haven’t fed the piggybank to get to do things Right Now and actually play. This is not a game I can honestly recommend and it’s completely down to how it pushes micro-transactions in your face. If it were a case of a terrible game trying to be a money siv I’d sit back and laugh. Were it some studio that’s new to gaming I’d say they were just trying to cash in on candy crush, or in this case Clash of the Clans, and call it a night hit ignore and move on. The rub here is if you set the mascot-coming-out-in-the-tutorial-telling-you-to-spend-money to one side and actually sat down with a built dungeon and a full payload of critters and spells? It is a fun game. Even when I lost so completely I didn’t make a dent in the other guy’s lair it wasn’t ‘oh well he paid a crapload of money and I can’t compete against that’. It genuinely has the feel of ‘oh hell that’s an awesome layout how the hell did he do that I need to watch the replay to figure out if i can crib off that.’

The constant making you wait for everything from buildings and traps which is annoying but acceptable… at first. I’ve heard level ten buildings take eight days to build. EIGHT DAYS. Oh and that thing you’re building? Won’t produce resources or function in defending your lair. So in addition to having to wait for it to level up you are actively being denied use of the thing being worked on.

Gets better too. Imps, the little guys that serve as your workforce and makes with the digging and building and stuff. After the tutorial gives you a second imp they end up putting up a toll booth on imp three on up. Sure you could mine out gem rock but it’s time consuming and at four hours for the 3-5 gem bearing rock or a whole day for the 6-10 gem bearing rocks. That’s a whole day where that imp, and at this point you only have two unless you plunked money down, can’t help build up the actual interesting things you want done.

Doesn’t sound bad yet? To get that day-long digging done you have to spend 256 gems. This is to dig out a thing that gives you ten. I could forgive them if it gave you half and would consider it somewhat reasonable since I’d have to weigh out when I could hit the ‘pay me to get job done now’ button since the gem cost goes down the longer you wait, but when it won’t give you even ten percent of what you would have to pay out up front? If it were the occasional block strategically placed so you can’t put rooms where you want it’d be annoying but tolerable. They completely line the outside edge of the map three blocks deep with these things, give you random day long blocks further in, and then pepper the rest with those four hour blocks. Each one giving you a tiny handful of gems you can’t even spend without saving up for something.

The worst of it is they didn’t need to do all that. Confine the microtransactions to instantly topping off your mana/gold/stone and buffs or better yet just charge up front and not bother with in-app-payments at all. It would’ve been great since there’s competent balancing that’s being refined and tweaked to take into account playstyles and how intended mechanics end up getting abused into account. Like I said before if it wasn’t in your face constantly with bouncing icons on rooms you are able to upgrade it would be a good solid fun game I would recommend to anyone wanting five or ten minutes to kill. Except when you’re on a hot streak raiding your neighbors it ends up turning into a half hour and oops.

Patience they say, and by ‘they’ I mean other fans that are older and more invested in the game at large. Patience and plan things. Let’s face it. I’m the sort of person they’d love to target. Generally stay at home sort so I can play in short bursts through the day between other tasks. Makes sense I’d be able to wait out timers and go casual right? Sure when it’s a couple hours that’s doable, but days? No. That’s not gameplay. That’s holding the promise of being able to play hostage while demanding your money and waving a countdown timer in front of you.

This is not an unfamiliar set of complaints reviewers have leveled at the game. Nerd Cubed made an outstanding video comparing the costs to the original games that are legally purchasable. There’s been a ‘Hitler Reacts to X’ video about it. Unfortunately all of these address the problem without offering a solution. I’m not a fan of Micro-transactions, but as said above they could have limited it to resource topping off and buffs without even changing any of the other game mechanics. Star Legends and the other Space-Time Studio games do this and other than the occasional easy to ignore thing about their ‘in game money you buy with real money’ it’s easy to forget about and move on. Legacy of a Thousand Suns on Armor Games/Kongregate/Facebook has a similar thing, except it’s a bit more annoying since there’s exclusive in-game things you need real money to buy (though you can earn the currency it’s slow as hell and by the time you earn such the thing you want isn’t on sale anymore.)

Let’s say that gets squashed though and everything starts playing nice without you having to pay an arm, leg, your first born, and your immortal soul. For the sake of argument let’s get that one out of the way. Next on my list of problems is a distinct lack of heroes to beat up. We are, after all, playing a malevolent being that recruits skeletons, trolls, Necromancers (that look surprisingly like dudes in armor and use a sword so… uh… Death Knight I guess,) and so on to do our dirty work. Yet there’s no heroic band of adventurers, goodly Army of Light or even a pair of bumbling hobbits passing through on to Mordor to beat up in campaign mode.

There is no story or even suggestion of story once you leave the tutorial, which is a shame since Richard Reding returned to voice the Mentor and to give colorful advice and information on each item as you either gain them or click on the info button. I loved the story bits of the first two dungeon keeper games and even if you keep to the tower defense formula and limit yourselves to the classes you have now it’s quite workable to add in hero units. All that needs to be done is have ‘hero’ models for each room and creature. Shouldn’t be all that hard right? Well that and animation has to be done (even if it’s largely 2d images over the dungeon as dialog bits before the actual fight) along with voicework (each critter has grunts, squeals, attack yells, and so on in addition to actual voices for story things.) It can be done, and I would gladly pay ten or fifteen for a comprehensive campaign mode. I’d pay Twenty if it let us play offline and could directly play against other people via bluetooth since the servers won’t stay up forever and future proofing is something I want in a game since c’mon. The original dungeon keeper is almost twenty years old and it’s still playable. Where is this thing going to be even in five years, especially with the current bad press?

This is not a bad game. It is a game I’ve had a lot of fun with over the past week. It is, unfortunately, a gain bogged down by a bunch of baggage that makes getting at the fun parts difficult. The humor’s there. The potential for greatness exists. Sure scaling back from an RTS to Tower Defense seems a bit odd and possibly offensive to some sensibilities all on it’s own, but it fits the platform.

It’s an EA owned property so realistically I know such a drastic set of changes are not going to happen. However I want to believe because, again, strip the crap away and it’s fun. The community is forming up into a solid group that sees routine interaction with from the dev team. We’ve even got a wikia going to help fill documentation gaps. It’s hard to hold out hope given EA is a monster that hasn’t learned from the faults of Sim City last year or it’s several year running status as Worst Company.

I know it isn’t completely without hope because we forced their hand last year with Mass Effect. Granted yes a multi-million dollar three part franchise spanning five years and having a full roster of amazing voice talents and a literal galaxy worth of lore is far and away grander than any tablet game, especially a gussied up tower defense game, can ever hope to be. To do this though we, the fanbase and gaming community at large, needs to move past screaming at how bad this thing sucks and start offering solutions. Meet them partway. Give a little wiggle room and an olive branch because I am fairly confident Mythic was told to build along these lines and couldn’t really deviate. Even if they did there is a chance they had misjudged how crippling it would be to the actual gameplay bits.

We did this before. Granted the Extended Edition changes to Mass Effect 3 were not perfect, but they turned a trainwreck into something that could be walked away from no regrets. We can do this again. Just keep being vocal. Be articulate and show more than the back of your hand. Show them that we will be willing to back down if they back down from this overkill of ‘give us money for every little thing’ so they’ll see that they actually have a chance at making the screaming stop. As is from the looks of things there’s no pleasing the ‘fans’ so why try? It might not sound fair, but it’s on our shoulders to give them a reason to think trying is an actual option.

Now then, just to leave out on a positive note. Let’s party like it’s 1999!


Nerdcubed told the solution right away: play the original game.

Brilliant review.

More: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/03/dungeon-keeper-remake-snarls-c.html


I’m flattered at the inclusion in your writeup. I’ve already taken some flack for softballing Mythic, but if things are to change then it’s on our heads to ask for change and make it clear there’s more going on than just screaming ‘how dare you ask for money’.

I’m going to keep my ear to the ground and in their forum since I want this to be fixed. I want the franchise to have something for the new generation in addition to the gig rrelease of the old games.

Are you aware of War for the Overworld? It’s basically a nonofficial (and non-EA) updating of the franchise. So far I have enjoyed playing with it. It’s on Steam Early Access, so it’s not done yet, but it’s very promising.

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Aware of but haven’t talked about because I have a tablet and a laptop with an atom in it. That game will not run for me. Plus I have a tablet, barring some way to get the original working in dosbox I had hoped this would be close.

yeah - I think your best bet is going to be DK2 from Gog. It’s super cheap, at least!

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Now I need to get coders, art, and voice talent to make a mobile tower defense game that this should have been.

It’s EA. Is anyone really surprised by this? It’s making money hand over fist and they’re not about to abandon a business model that makes them money, especially in a tight market as this.

We can bitch and moan about how games like these are ruining it forevah, but the bottom line here is that casual fans bring money. It is a business, and businesses have to make money if they are to survive.

Perhaps the object lesson is less that EA will change in response to criticism (though others have argued that’s not totally pointless). Perhaps part of this is a lesson to other rights holders to not sell out their treasured IP.


Just so!

Unexpected? Hardly. Still disappointed though.

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