Bullfrog’s classic dungeon design romp returns in freemium form. You’re going to need some serious gold for this one.
Dungeon Keeper: On the plus side
Dungeon Keeper is a classic of the strategy/management genre with a deliciously dark twist. Rather than the hero of fantasy lore, you’re instead the bad guy tasked with equipping a dungeon full of traps and vile beasties to bring those pesky (and always suspiciously shiny) heroes down with. This is more complicated than it looks; you’ll need somewhere to store that gold hoard, food for your minions and defences that can stand up to more than just one hero at a time.
The mobile reimagining gives the whole concept a much-needed coat of paint along with touch controls that are relatively self explanatory for anyone who’s used a touch device in any capacity. Getting real time strategy to work well on touch screens is no mean feat, and Dungeon Keeper does this very well indeed.
The other aspect of Dungeon Keeper that classically marked it out was its dark sense of humour, and that’s remained intact. Want to get your imp minions working harder? Give them a slap and watch them go comically boggle-eyed. Too many foes coming in too fast? Use an emergency spell to turn them all into chickens. It’s well handled, with a decent mix between the comedy and the core gameplay.
Dungeon Keeper for Android is a freemium title that relies on three currencies; stone, gold and gems. The first two are your classic building and recruiting resources, uncovered as you play, but gems are the freemium aspect, primarily used to speed things up. This is a very standard freemium play; you can simply wait out the amount of time it’ll take an imp to break down the rocks to make your new dungeon room, or spend a few gems to make it happen instantly.
Dungeon Keeper: On the minus side
At first, the gems issue doesn’t seem like much of a problem, because your initial allotment of gems is pretty generous. The issue is that when they run out, you hit an absolute brick wall of timing. Some tasks don’t just take minutes to complete — they take days.
It creates a pressure situation where the only way to keep playing in a satisfactory way is to pay for some gems. That can be an expensive proposition.
Dungeon Keeper also wants quite a few Android permissions when you install it, if you’re worried about that sort of thing.
Dungeon Keeper: Pricing
Dungeon Keeper — which is currently only available in the Australian Google Play store in a move that appears to mirror what EA did with Plants Vs Zombies 2 — is a free title to download with multiple IAP tiers, starting at $5.49, and swiftly moving upwards.
Dungeon Keeper: Fat Duck Verdict
Dungeon Keeper was, and is, a great game. This is a very solid implementation of a classic game with controls that work well, and plenty to keep you busy if the core idea of running a fantasy dungeon has appeal, especially with the prospect of both raiding other’s dungeons and protecting your own to play around with.
The issue is that it’s a poor fit for freemium economics. Not so much on EA’s side — I’m sure the bean counters there will be salivating at the prospect of lots of money for gems — but for the gamer.
I don’t have an issue with freemium when it’s done right, and EA has shown it can create good freemium experiences, as it did with FIFA 2014.
That game has a full unlock option, and it’s what’s sadly missing from Dungeon Keeper. You could keep playing — but you’ll have to keep paying — and the gem economy creates the classic “you can pay to win” scenario that removes a lot of the incentive to pay in the first place.
If anyone at EA is listening, I really do think this is a top-notch game, and one that I’d happily pay a one-off premium price to play freely. Being constantly reminded that I need to drop money in the slot to play is considerably less compelling.
For what it’s worth, Good Old Games still sells the “classic” version of Dungeon Keeper (or its sequel) for PC/Mac for a couple of dollars; if you’ve got a machine that can run it — which is absolutely anything given the meagre minimum specs — it’s well worth looking up.