Dungeon Lords

Who is D.W. Bradley? A cursory search of the Internet tells me that he is a video game designer from way back, working on such games as Wizardry and Cybermage, games I’ve never played. But there in the store was a copy of D.W. Bradley’s latest masterpiece, Dungeon Lords.

I’m a sucker for a well crafted adventure game. Heck, I’m apparently also a sucker for an adventure game that I’ve only just heard of, regardless of quality.

Dungeon Lords is probably the most generically derivative medieval-themed adventure game that you’ll ever play. That may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your tastes. I don’t really know what the plot to this game is, I couldn’t stomach enough to learn very much.

Without going too deep into the specifics, I’m going to try and explain how this game works, or more accurately, doesn’t work at all. After the extremely basic character creation, you’re plunked down in the middle of some Generic Woods near a Generic Bonfire and get your first Generic Quest from the Generic Messenger to get into the Generic Castle-town. From here you have two options: wander through the woods aimlessly while slaughtering things or wander around the woods toward the castle while slaughtering things.

In an obvious nod to the Diablo series of games, you will be equipped with weapons and armor befitting a warrior of your chosen class. These items will lose durability with use and eventually break. This is important to note.

The real meat and potatoes of any adventure game is the amount of ’stuff’ to do, and the enemy encounters. I can’t really comment about the ’stuff’ part, since I never got more than one quest. The enemy encounters, on the other hand… Well, let’s start by calling them unbalanced.

Enemy encounters come in two types: creatures standing in a specific place on the map, and creature ‘waves’ that assault you every so often. Creatures standing in a specific place are by far the least common types of enemies. They guard bridges, guard huts, guard anything you might want to look at or explore. They’re a moderate threat.

The other way you might encounter monsters is in ‘waves’. Every so often, seemingly every five minutes or so, you will be assaulted by three or so monsters appropriate to the area. You defeat these monsters, move on a bit, get assaulted by more monsters, move on a bit, get assaulted by yet more monsters, etc.

Getting assaulted every few dozen steps wouldn’t be so bad except for a few things that cascade together into a gigantic mess of design:

  1. Every time you get into a fight, your stuff goes down in durability, and you have no way to repair it until (presumably) you get to town. I never actually made it to town.
  2. Since your stuff is perpetually decreasing in durability, it will eventually break. The monsters drop wearables so rarely that once your starting armor does break (and it will break) you will have that much less armor
  3. Since you are wearing progressively less armor, you take progressively more damage from the area monsters
  4. Since you take more damage from the area monsters, you die a lot. When you die you have a chance to not only lose some experience, but statistics as well. Statistics that govern your effectiveness as a fighter. Stats that can only be increased by leveling your character, making you weaker overall.

The game has other failings: the art direction, the sound design, the voice acting, the limited variety of monsters, and the ridiculously obtuse controls, but they’re not really worth going into. The biggest flaw with the game is the game itself. The design at its core is flawed, and the rest of the game just turns into a gelid mass of failure.

It’s worth noting that I actually got the Deluxe Edition of the game, the version of the game that had features that didn’t quite make it into the first game, like a map. Too bad they weren’t able to put any fun into it.

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