Grotesque Tactics II: Dungeons & Donuts Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Headup Games
Developer:Silent Dreams
Release Date:2011-11-18
  • Role-Playing,Strategy
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Grotesque Tactics II: Dungeons & Donuts is the follow-up to 2010's Grotesque Tactics: Evil HeroesDungeons & Donuts is definitely a "more is better" sequel, with German developer Silent Dreams adding more of everything: more ways to develop characters, more items to find, more quests to complete, more NPCs to talk to, bigger maps to explore, and, well, more.  Unfortunately, most of these improvements also add problems, and so Dungeons & Donuts ends up being about as good (or bad, depending on your point of view) as the original game.

Dungeons & Donuts picks up right after the conclusion of Evil Heroes.  The people of Glory are in the catacombs celebrating your improbably victory over Mother of God and the Dark Church, when all of a sudden a killing fog envelopes the countryside, trapping everyone underground.  The partygoers divide up into three factions (including Holy Avatar's fan club where only maidens are allowed), but you're left on your own, and so once again you have to recruit whatever oddballs and misfits you can find so you can put the world to rights.  Almost all of the characters from Evil Heroes are back in one form or another, including Angelina the healing angel and Candy the bow-wielding maiden.

The campaign structure in Dungeons & Donuts is roughly the same as in Evil Heroes.  You start out in a large underground base, where you accept quests and go shopping, and then you travel to combat maps, where you kill lots of creatures (including goblins and blobs) and complete quests.  Then you return to the base and repeat the process.  The main difference is that while Evil Heroes was completely linear, Dungeons & Donuts gives you a variety of quests that you can work on simultaneously, and a variety of maps that you can visit.  Normally I'd say that a non-linear campaign is better, but sadly the quest log in the game isn't very helpful (it doesn't update well, it rarely tells you where you're supposed to go, and it sometimes lists quests that you've already completed), and so the campaign in Dungeons & Donuts is much more confusing than the campaign in Evil Heroes.

Combat also remains roughly the same.  Walking around and exploring is handled in real time, but then when you spot an enemy the game shifts to a turn-based mode.  During each round of combat, characters are allowed to move around and make an attack, and they get to choose between a basic attack, which is free, or one of four special attacks, which require mana.  Characters can also wait or defend, and they can drink as many potions as they want during their turn.  The main difference in combat is that instead of controlling up to ten characters, which was the case in Evil Heroes, you now only control up to six.  This is the one "lesser" change in the game, and perhaps not coincidentally, it's the change that works the best.  Managing your army in Evil Heroes was problematic, but things work better in Dungeons & Donuts (although characters still wander far away, and it sometimes takes them a turn or two to reach a battle).

The place where Dungeons & Donuts changes the most is in character development.  In Evil Heroes, characters automatically gained attributes each time they gained a level, and they automatically received their special attacks as they advanced.  But in Dungeons & Donuts, characters have talent trees, where talents give passive bonuses to characters and their attacks, and then as you put points into the trees, you unlock the special attacks.  Unfortunately, just like with the non-linear campaign, while having talent trees and more complex character development sounds like a good thing, it's handled badly.  The game doesn't indicate what the requirements are for the branches of the trees, or how skills are unlocked, and so once again the change makes the game more confusing rather than better.  At one point I unlocked the "double tap" skill for Candy, and I used it a couple of times, but then it was greyed out for the rest of the game, and I have no idea if I didn't really unlock it, or if I encountered a bug, or both.

Other changes include the addition of cooking (where you can pick up ingredients during your travels and use them to make items for quests), the addition of voice acting (so you can hear what your companions really sound like), the addition of a flanking bonus (so you do more damage from behind), and the removal of obsessions and terrain defense.  But probably the most curious change is the change in tone.  Evil Heroes was sweet and satirized the clichés of other RPGs, but Dungeons & Donuts relies heavily on not-too-subtle sex jokes, and includes the sort of make-work quests that it made fun of in the original.  The sex jokes in particular are a detriment, as they shift the game from charming to sort of sleazy, and cause it to be far less family friendly.  As an example, in Evil Heroes Angelina always complained that she needed a bubble bath, but in Dungeons & Donuts you have to give her a candy cane, which I'm pretty sure she uses without eating, complete with sound effects.

The good news with Dungeons & Donuts is that developer Silver Dreams didn't just slap together a new campaign with the existing engine and call it a sequel.  They tried to make the game more complex and interesting; their changes just didn't work, at least in my opinion.  Dungeons & Donuts has a lot more dialogue, but it's not as funny.  The world is bigger, but it's more confusing.  And you're given more options for how to develop characters, but these options aren't explained well and lead to frustration.  The result is that I didn't like Dungeons & Donuts as much as Evil Heroes, and I wouldn't recommend it unless you really liked the original game, or until the price drops.  But with that being said, I think Silver Dreams is a developer to watch, and I'm cautiously optimistic that their next title will be better.