itself...and whence it was spawned
Role-Playing Games (RPGs) have been around for a long time, but many
think it was the release of the epic Baldur's Gate saga in 1998 that
"resurrected" the genre. The game brought fresh life to a genre
which had been stagnant far too long, and opened a new world of
possibilities for role-playing games.
had everything an RPG fan could wish...an epic story, huge areas, an
intriguing main quest, many subquests, and the world of Dungeons &
Dragons in which to immerse oneself. Still, most players would
probably have liked to look Sarevok in the eyes, or to experience
Baldur's Gate as seen from the viewpoint of the Player Character.
So, two or so
years after Baldur's Gate, Bethesda released the third part of the
Elder Scrolls series, Morrowind. Although earlier games had also
been in a first-person view, the world of Morrowind excelled at
encouraging exploration, while featuring stunning scenery, cities
that bustled with life, and the realistic cycle of weather and time.
Although first-person RPGs had been around before, Morrowind
represented a definite breakthrough in making the worlds seem alive.
lacked, however, and what most games that attempted to follow in its
wake also lacked, was a better-than-mediocre combat and skill
system. While it was a good idea to get better at things as you used
them, this left open huge holes to be exploited for power leveling.
And if you think of it, how realistic is it that you can become
stronger and stronger by simply summoning skeletons, let them beat
you into a pulp, heal, rest and then summon more skeletons while
watching your skills increase?
Morrowind, there have been quite a few games in a similar style -- a
few have managed to sort these problems out, while others have not.
is a new third-person RPG from DreamCatcher Games, promising an
entertaining epic saga and exciting battles. Does it break free from
the difficulties of the genre?
all this then?
is, as you probably suspect, a game of dungeon crawling and
role-playing, in which you battle monsters, cast magic and explore
You choose a
class to play, in which you then gain bonuses for certain skills,
although you can still improve skills outside your class. This makes
for a very free character development (but it is unfortunately
limited in other ways). As the game progresses, you join one of
three guilds, and can also join one of a few houses for additional
quests and subclasses.
the quests of the guilds, you get to choose from new subclasses.
And by joining the other non-guild houses, you can get even more
subclasses, giving you new abilities and skills, depending on what
factions you choose to join (you can add a total of four
completing some quests, you also gain special "heraldries", which
basically just give you a boost in the skills of your choosing.
When you have
learned this and created a character, you are ready to embark upon
thing that struck me is that if you took Arnold Schwarzenegger from
the early 80's (his "Conan" era), and made a story out of one of his
movies, Dungeon Lords would outshine it in every way, as far as the
word "cheesy" goes. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Be
prepared for a story containing the following; an evil archmage, a
fair princess in need of rescue, a tale of romance and betrayal, a
decaying kingdom and an unknown hero rising to battle the evil tide.
familiar? Dungeon Lords is very straightforward about what it is.
It is a fantasy hack n' slash, with emphasis on the fantasy, which
made me enjoy the story even more as I progressed.
It all starts
In the first
moments of character creation, the indications that the game was
rushed to meet a publication deadline become obvious. There are
arrows and controls to change the Player Character’s appearance --
such as the beard, hair and eyes -- but they do nothing. In a later
patch, these are removed altogether. Why? Nobody specifies.
slightly annoyed by this, you are teleported to a dark road outside
the town of Fargrove, where a Messenger is awaiting you.
greeted by...ambient night sounds -- although to get these to work,
you have to change your sound card hardware acceleration, something
I did not know you still had to do for any game whatsoever -- but no
music. Yes, there is no music in the game, even though there is a
bar for setting the volume of it in the Options page.
It is evident
that the developers planned on implementing music, but did not have
time to put it there. There is music at the main menu, in the
introduction, and in the credits movie, but apart from that,
nothing. There is even a folder named "Music" with only the main
theme in it.
can neglect to include music in a game such as this is beyond me.
Overall, fantasy games and role-playing games are built on
atmosphere, and good music is essential to heighten it. Some may
argue that music spoils the feeling of "being there"; but I
disagree. In any case, these critics can always turn the music off.
The rest of us cannot tune up something that is not there.
So after your
ears get used to the ringing sound of nothing, you approach the
Messenger to learn from him that you are summoned to the nearby town
of Fargrove by the Celestial Order. Without knowing who your Player
Character is, how he knows the Celestial Order, or why he even cares
about rushing off to help, you start in the direction of Fargrove.
Of course, nothing is ever easy. The city is locked down tight, and
you have to enter through the sewers.
This is where
the game begins... as always in RPGs, there have to be sewers. These
could have been shorter in my opinion, as they do nothing to add to
the game itself, and are a mere annoyance. After crawling (already
dungeon crawling within fifteen minutes of the start) through dank
sewers, you reach the town of Fargrove, and the game can begin for
The town of
Fargrove seems big at first, but this is mostly due to the lack of
any real in-game map. An automap has been included in the 1.3 patch,
but that does not excuse the lack of one to begin with. Running
around blindly, trusting your memory to find your way back through a
city is not many people’s idea of fun.
There is a
world map that is included in the Dungeon Lords game box, but it is
very hard to get your bearings from it, as the landscape looks
almost the same everywhere. When someone says "Forbidden Lands" or
"Battlefields of the Dead", you hardly expect the environments to
contain lush forests and chirping crickets.
up the next issue -- there is not enough variation in the
environment. Where Morrowind stretched from forests to mountain
areas, swamps and deserts, Dungeon Lords stretches as far as the
swamps. The only thing you find off the main roads is the occasional
treasure chest, containing a bit of gold, scrolls and maybe a
healing potion or two. Nothing gives you an incentive to go explore
the wilderness, as there is next to nothing there.
contains a Quest Log which tells you what you are to do, and (if you
are lucky) the general area in which to do it. The direction this
provides is inadequately detailed. You are pretty much told simply
to “go west” or “go north”. I cannot imagine anyone enjoying
running around without any guidance whatsoever, looking for a man
wandering aimlessly somewhere in the wilderness.
There is a lot
of running in this game. There are so-called “moonbridges” to give
quick access to certain areas, but there are only six or so in the
entire game. At least twice that number would have been needed to
cover enough of the land to remove the frustrating times when you
are just pressing "w" as you run endlessly forward on a road (and
are reading a book or something at the same time).
Still, it is
suitable that there are big areas in this game, as so as to reflect
the "epicness" of the story. And at certain places, the valleys and
rivers really add to the traveling experience.
At first, you
wonder if the towns are ghost towns. There are town guards and only
one or two civilians on the streets. Not even the Inn (which is a
classical gathering place in every RPG for listening to rumours and
for talking to NPCs) is crowded. It is empty except for two
The main fault
with the implementation of Non-Player Characters (NPCs) in Dungeon
Lords is that they only exist if they are somehow connected to the
main quest or the subquest. And as there are no subquests at all to
speak of (unless you count the guild houses as subquests), there are
hence hardly any NPCs. The result is a world devoid of life.
far outnumber the NPCs. (If Lord Barrowgrim commands these many
minions, one wonders why he doesn’t just attack at once). Random
encounters with enemies in Dungeon Lords can happen anywhere,
anytime. In the city, in the Inn, in the forest, at the time you are
talking to someone or trading. Try playing the game at "most" random
encounters and you will not be able to walk twenty feet between the
encounters. They also stack up, so if you have a long conversation
with someone, chances are you will be overrun afterwards.
enemies have in numbers, however, they lack in Strength. If you face
archers and melee fighters, just get in front of the melee fighters
and the archers behind will turn them into pincushions. Outnumbered?
Just stand close to a corner, and the mob will stick there, unable
to get around, Then you can pick them off one by one with a ranged
Artificial Intelligence is also not something to celebrate. Some of
them have a tendency to wander, making you run all over searching
for them. You’ll find them walking in the air or stuck in a wall,
unable to turn around.
And then we
move on to the must crucial part of any hack n' slash RPG, the
combat itself. In Dungeon Lords, it is similar to Gothic 2 and
Morrowind, except that the player had better control in those games.
In Dungeon Lords, the combat involves frenetic hacking and slashing
-- pure luck if you hit your intended target. Morrowind was rarely
messy enough for you to lose focus of your target, and if you did,
you still had the pause function. Gothic 2 gave you the wonderful
ability to lock on to a target with a simple mouse click, then
continue attacking it as you stepped forward.
Lords, there is no way of keeping track of a particular enemy, and
only on rare occasions are you attacked by fewer than five
opponents. As these do not stand still, and swap places and run
around, there is no reasonable way to keep track of a special enemy,
forcing you to hack through the entire flock instead of
concentrating on the strongest one.
There is also
the "special" attack mode, which you are granted at a certain level.
Whether this actually does any particular damage is hard to tell.
The “special” attack consists of performing an attack, then doing an
entirely unnecessary turnabout before being in position for another
thrust -- at which time the enemy probably has moved out of the way.
And all the while you cannot move the character, rendering him/her
defenceless against other foes.
system of combat makes some parts of the game a lot harder than they
should have been, and you are often left tearing your hair in
frustration as you die for the fiftieth time after mercilessly
hammering the keyboard attempting to score a good hit.
foes, you gain experience points, which in the main are the same as
learning points, used for improving your character. You can increase
any skill want, provided you have enough learning points. What is
fatal to this system, though, is that you cannot specialize your
I had been aiming to create a huge tank with all points spent on
heavy armour and heavy weaponry. However, to increase heavy armour,
you must first increase light and medium armour. And to increase
heavy weapons, you must first increase… light and medium armour. As
a result of this, many of the subclasses feel almost useless. You
can’t specialize your character in any way other than as a fighter,
rogue or mage. One wonders why they even bothered with the rogue
class, as his special abilities -- such as backstabbing and stealing
-- were never included in the game (despite their mention in the
manual). The "sneak" option is also virtually useless.
Player Character controls sometimes feel about as smooth as a
pregnant stranded whale does not help matters. He/she easily gets
stuck in corners, can stand in the air and appears to have some kind
of superglue on all parts of his/her body when fighting in cramped
additional design issues
inevitably die a number of times, and each time you will have to
wait a long time to return to the main menu, then wait some more
while the game loads. The reason? There is no "load game" from the
in-game menu. That you have to exit to the main menu only to reload
a saved game is nothing short of strange, and a total “miss” on the
developer's part. There is not even a quick save or quick load,
which would partly have eliminated the problem.
There are also
a few strange design bugs, such as doors closing automatically,
injuring or killing you if you are in the way.
occasions, the journal is not updated when finishing quests, and
there is no consideration for completing certain quests in the
sequence of your own choosing. For example, by first completing the
quest of the Argalia for the Eastern Houses, I forfeited every
chance of being able to add Eastern House classes to my characters.
When I returned to the first Eastern House in Fargrove and completed
their quest, they gave me no such class, and all my chances of
becoming a Samurai went down the drain.
The design of
the levels are pretty varied. To start with, they are all linear,
and there are only one or two ways you can go. By the end they grow
bigger, with more routes to each goal. However, some places, such as
the Naga Temple, are infuriating to play without some sort of map,
and at times I had to resort to a walkthrough. A few of the puzzles
are also confusing and/or without sufficient clues, such as one
where you are supposed to pull four levers in a certain order, and
you must guess the combination out of thin air.
On a more
positive note, there is not much running around looking for keys and
pulling levers in this game. And on the few rare occasions where
keys are required, all the locks usually respond to one key,
reducing the amount of keyfinding and puzzling. Always a good
of Dungeon Siege vary in quality. Some outdoor areas, such as grassy
fields and parts of the forest, can be quite beautiful. Still, there
are no animals, no sign of anything except you and the “random
encounters”. In the cities, the rooms are sparsely decorated, and
feel as if they have already been stripped bare by ravaging troops.
The best example of this would be Skuldoon, where almost all the
houses are completely empty.
feel rather tacky and, unlike games such as Half-Life 2 and Vampire
the Masquerade - Bloodlines, there are not even facial animations.
sound includes everyday RPG sounds, such as swords cutting into
things, grunts, and arrows embedding themselves. The chattering of
enemies is often the same thing repeated over and over again,
tending to get on your nerves.
All in all,
Dungeon Lords leaves much to be desired, due to a lack of engaging
details and an overwhelming empty feeling. It is a very
stiff-looking game. There are also a number of graphical glitches,
such as the classic clipping bugs (bodies falling through walls,
So, is there
any good news?
these issues, I must say I had some fun with this game. When Dungeon
Lords is not busy bugging up or getting you lost in the wilderness,
it is rather enjoyable to immerse yourself in the story, battling
dark creatures in old dungeons from a time long gone. It is
exciting to finally beat a particularly difficult boss, or to gain
enough experience points to improve your character and be able to
use a new item well.
with older computers should have no trouble with it. It runs very
smoothly, and can be played without the CD in the drive if you do a
is an example of how rushing a promising game to meet a deadline can
maul the game into something that bears little resemblance to the
original idea. The game is amusing at times, but frequently
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