Dungeon Lords Collector's Edition Review

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer:Heuristic Park
Release Date:2005-05-05
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
When Heuristic Park and DreamCatcher Interactive teamed up to release Dungeon Lords in May of last year, no doubt they had high expectations. But the game got killed in the press -- and for good reason. Even in an industry where games are frequently rushed out the door to meet some arbitrary deadline, Dungeon Lords hit a new low. The auto-map feature hadn't been implemented yet, a large number of spells and skills were missing, towns were empty of furniture and NPCs, and there were a ton of game-stopping bugs. I don't even want to hazard a guess about how many people who purchased the game were actually able to complete it in its original form.

But that was then, and this is now. After its release, Heuristic Park continued to work on the game, and they've now released three patches. The first patch stamped out some bugs, the second patch added in the auto-map feature (and stamped out some more bugs), and the third patch added in the missing spells and skills (and stamped out yet even more bugs). During this time, Heuristic Park also created some new quests and NPCs to flesh out the empty towns, but rather than make those available in a patch as well, they and DreamCatcher decided to re-release Dungeon Lords in a special edition.

Was this a good idea? In my oh-so-humble opinion, the answer is no. First of all, if you're a publisher and you've generated a tremendous amount of ill-will from people who have purchased your games, it seems like it would be a good idea to try and make those people happy rather than try and convince them to purchase even more games. Secondly, the Dungeon Lords Collector's Edition isn't exactly Fable: The Lost Chapters. It doesn't offer a lot of new content, and most of that content isn't exactly bonus material. I think it would be easy to argue that most of the new content (like the furniture and chests added to the towns) should have been included in the original release, and trying to make people pay extra money for such additions is galling. Does anybody else remember when players weren't exactly thrilled with the Heart of Winter expansion pack for Icewind Dale, and Black Isle Studios released the Trials of the Luremaster extension for free? I'd argue that that's the right way to handle such matters, but Black Isle Studios got shut down, and, for all I know, DreamCatcher is going to make some extra money from the Collector's Edition, and so it's the right decision for them.

And anyway, I don't really want to review how DreamCatcher has handled the release of Dungeon Lords -- although the word (abysmally) suddenly comes to mind for some odd reason -- I want to review the Dungeon Lords Collector's Edition and discuss things like what's new in the game and whether it's any fun to play and if it's worth the money. If you're interested in those things as well, then keep reading.

The story behind the Collector's Edition is identical to the one behind Dungeon Lords. There's an evil wizard who is trying to take over the world, and you have to collect Five Relics of Power in order to stop him. The story sounds like it could have been purchased at RPG Clichés R Us, but there are some subtle nuances to it (such as a missing daughter and her captured lover), and it ends up working better than what you'd usually see in an action role-playing game. Plus, the story gives you an excuse to explore five monster-filled dungeons, and so it works out well enough.

Dungeon Lords uses a third-person perspective. You move your character by pressing the WASD keys, you move the camera by moving the mouse, you attack with your weapon (or spell) by clicking on the left mouse button, and you block with your shield by holding down the right mouse button. It's a control scheme similar to ones used by countless other role-playing games, and it's still in use because it works pretty well.

What makes Dungeon Lords a little different -- and better -- is that you're rarely confronted with a one-on-one duel. You almost always find yourself attacked by groups of up to eight enemies, and that means you can't just stand there and click away to kill things. You have to dodge around and maneuver for good angles and sometimes run away to a better vantage point. That makes the combat very satisfying, because you have to work for your kills.

It also helps that the enemies are interesting, and that they attack you in different ways. For example, new in the Collector's Edition is the (mushman.) It's a mushroom-shaped enemy that attacks in packs when you're in swamps or near a lake. If you get too close to one, then it can spray out a poison gas that will cause you to choke and gasp (and not be able to attack) for a while. So for these guys it's best to stay away from them and hit them with ranged attacks or powerful spells. Meanwhile, if you're attacked by wolves, they just use a standard melee attack, and so you might just want to go toe-to-toe with them. Other enemies zap you with ranged attacks, or they float just out of melee range, or they curse you with debilitating spells. In Dungeon Lords, you have to pay attention to your enemies so that you know what works against them, and so that you can kill them quickly, which is important because the engine spawns enemies all the time, and you don't want to be facing off against a banshee's freezing spells only to be attacked from behind by a quartet of mummies.

Because Dungeon Lords focuses on combat, it doesn't really give you any meaningful role-playing options. People simply talk at you and tell you what to do, and then you have to do it. For most quests (including the quests in the Collector's Edition), the objective is straightforward: go somewhere and kill something and maybe pick up the object that it was guarding. If you're looking for a game where you can be good or evil, or choose how to complete quests, or trade witty banter with your companions, then Dungeon Lords isn't the game for you.

Really, the only place where you get to make decisions in the game is during character development. Dungeon Lords uses sort of an odd system where you're allowed to select five classes for your character. In some games, that would make your character godly, but in Dungeon Lords the classes aren't all that exciting. Other than the subjective benefit to being a (samurai) or a (lord,) classes simply give you a learning bonus to a set of skills, and sometimes they give you a new skill distinct to the class. For example, if you select the lord class, you get a learning bonus to all weapon and armor skills, making it easier to equip high level weapons and armor, and you also get the special (crushing blow) skill, which gives you a chance to stun enemies.

The Dungeon Lords Collector's Edition contains 34 classes (one more than the regular version), and so there are a lot of ways to put together a character, giving the game a lot of replay value. The downside is that most skills are available to most characters, and since the only thing that changes is the learning costs of those skills, if you're patient you can learn most everything. If you want to wield the heaviest weapons and wear the heaviest armors and still be a devastating spellcaster, the game allows you to do it, which is sort of unfortunate.

To compound the problem, the game doesn't really do anything to compensate for how powerful characters can become. At the start of the game, when characters have a single class, the battles are tough and exciting, but by the end of the game, it just gets too easy to mow through the enemies, including the bosses (the end battle in particular is pretty easy, and it even got buffed up in one of the patches).

If you played (or read about) the original Dungeon Lords, then I probably haven't said too much that you didn't know already. So let me now talk about what's new with the Collector's Edition. First and foremost, the Collector's Edition contains five new quests. These quests are analogous to the class quests, where you have to go somewhere on the surface of the world and kill something. For example, in the starting city of Fargrove, a man will tell you that he plundered a tomb only to learn that a vampire was living inside it -- and that the vampire is now hunting him. He'll then of course ask you to kill the vampire, which you'll find in the slums district of the city. Vampires are nasty -- among other things, they can fly and turn invisible -- but if you kill it, the man will reward you with the gold he plundered from the tomb.

The Collector's Edition also contains several new enemies. Besides the mushmen that I mentioned earlier, there are also spiderlings (smaller versions of the spiders that were already in the game), mimics, shades, creeper worms, and renegade demigoths. Of the new enemies, the mimics are easily the coolest, since they turn into great big mouths with legs. There are also some new boss creatures to deal with, such as the vampire and a giant scorpion.

The Collector's Edition also contains some subtle changes. The cities in the game have been fleshed out a little better. Arindale and Skuldoon now have furniture in their buildings (including fireplaces!), and in Skuldoon you'll find demigoths wandering the streets. You'll also find many more treasure chests in the game, including level 10 and level 12 chests (level 9 was the highest before). There's also a new (shadow lord) class for the game, although it seems better suited to multiplayer PvP action, which I don't think Dungeon Lords even supports. And the bosses from the original quests now drop better loot, so you don't have to rely completely on chests for your equipment.

Finally, the Collector's Edition also includes all of the changes from the game's three patches, including the recent 1.4 patch. That means you'll find a bunch of (new) spells and skills in the game, such as the (vision) spell (which exposes the map to you), the (air) spell (which allows you to breathe underwater) and the identify skill (which does about what you'd expect). The 1.4 patch also fixes the heraldry bonuses (permanent bonuses that you receive at the end of quests) so that they actually work, and it checks the requirements for classes, so that classes are now a little more difficult to gain.

For the most part, the changes are very nice. It's just that they're also a little bit sloppy. Consider the scout skill. It shows nearby enemies and usable objects on the mini-map, which is helpful. But after I've used the object (such as opening a treasure chest) it remains on the mini-map even though it can't be used any more. Why? Or consider the identify skill. Every weapon and piece of armor in the game must be identified, right down to the weakest, rustiest dagger. And the game doesn't keep track of what you've identified, so you might have to identify that weak, rusty dagger dozens of times. Or consider the repair skill. Only items that you're wearing can get damaged, but you have to unequip the item in order to attempt to repair it. And for some reason helmets take way more damage than anything else, while weapons can't get damaged at all. Oddly, the spells I used all seemed to work pretty well, but the skills all seemed like they were the first stab from a programmer who didn't care much about the project, and I found that to be a little disturbing. Haven't players of the game already beta-tested it enough?

And so, overall, there are various ways you could look at the Collector's Edition. If you got scared off by the early reviews of Dungeon Lords and decided to skip the game, then the Collector's Edition is a worthwhile purchase. It's sort of like a more serious-minded, grittier version of Fable, and it should provide you with hours of fun. If you bought Dungeon Lords, then I'd just suggest you patch your version of the game and play it instead. I enjoyed playing the Collector's Edition, but I don't think the new changes are worth $40 extra. And, finally, there might be those of you who dislike how DreamCatcher has handled the publishing of the game, and their decision to create a Collector's Edition rather than a free patch. For you, I'd recommend you stay well away from any Dungeon Lords products. If DreamCatcher's mismanagement of the game actually nets them a profit, then there's little reason to expect superior service in the future.