Dungeon Lords Review

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Graphics: 5.5
Sound : 5.0
Gameplay : 4.0
Multiplayer : 4.0
Overall : 4.0
Review by Anthony Brock
A forum member on Dungeon Lord's official website posted a subject “I have only one suggestion for the game” that when clicked on gave the message “Finish it before shipping it.” So simple, yet so true. Dungeon Lords is probably the least finished game to ever be shipped for PC, excepting Battlecruiser 3000 AD, a title that will probably hold the honour for as long as PC gaming exists. Very few features in Dungeon Lords work, and the few that do, work poorly. It's quite sad, too, because underneath the ancient technology, thousands of bugs, flawed combat system, long load times, pathetic AI, poor performance, dated graphics, promised features that have gone missing, and a complete, total, and savage disregard for PC gamers as a group, there is a fun game in here, simply because it's an RPG designed by someone who loves a good dungeon crawl. I'll give him one thing: D.W. Bradley's games have been consistent. They've been consistently buggy headache machines built on dated tech that possess great character customization and tons of extended dungeon crawling for the dice tossing dragon slayer. Dungeon Lords is no different, it's just got better character customization, more dungeon crawling, and more bugs and missing features than you've ever seen in your life. I'm a huge fan of Bradley's past work, but this is just too much: After this travesty, his reputation is gone.

The heart of this game is the character skill progression and dungeon crawling, and fortunately the game does both of those things very well. Dungeon crawls are great fun, with tons of monsters to kill, random loot spread on monsters and in chests all over the place, and a character progression skill tree that is second to none. Unfortunately, those two things are all the game does well, and it forces you to do tons of other things in the game that are done so poorly you will likely not bother to play it past the Arindale area, where you begin to finally realize just how unfinished the game is. Literally everything else in the entire game is either poorly designed, left out, or bugged to hell. I felt the only way to convey the gravity of the state this game is in would be to include a bulleted bug/missing feature/problem list, composed entirely of issues I have personally experienced while playing this game for the review. What follows is not fun, but it is necessary:

  • Custom appearances, like changing face/hair/etc, are totally missing from the game. Gone. They are mentioned in the manual, advertised in press releases, and mentioned in previews and interviews by the development team, they just didn't make the final release. This is called false advertising, and that is something the marketers of this game are experts at.

  • There is no automap. The developers explain this as intentional -- “Find your own damn way around a world with no landmarks and tons of generic, empty, prefabricated rooms.” This brings me to my next point:

  • Almost all props and furniture are missing from the game completely. You can walk into an inn, go to each room including the central rooms, and not see a single stick of furniture, furnishings, or accessories (note the video). Just blank rooms, something right out of an early alpha! The developers claim they cut them to increase performance, but this brings me to the next problem...

  • The game runs poorly. I run a Barton 3200+ with a Geforce 6800 Ultra and 1.5gb of PC2700 DDR, and I often get less than 15 fps in towns and in the countryside. This also brings me to my next point...

  • The game looks terrible. Believe it or not, it is based on a graphics engine that is over 5 years old. Remember Wizards & Warriors? Same engine. Believe it. There are improvements, but there is no denying it: Apart from player character models and a few choice outdoor environments, this is an extremely ugly game.

  • In multiplayer, armor/weapon changes each player makes don't update on other clients for up to 2 minutes.

  • Changing resolution from the default 640x480 resizes the main menu to take up one-quarter of the screen, leaving three-quarters of the screen black.

  • The game freezes for up to 10 seconds at a time, and at seemingly random points, perhaps when monsters spawn nearby, you travel into new segments of the outdoors, or a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing. There is no rhyme or reason to the freezes and stuttering.
    There is no save game confirmation when you save a game.

  • The game's story and quest system are hopelessly nebulous and bugged to hell. Sometimes completed quests will reappear in your quest list, and often you'll have no quests at all in your list and you must stumble about for hours just trying to figure out where to go next.

  • Extreme load times, common load times whenever you move into just about any new area, and excessive amounts of travel between small zones with long loads inbetween them. I call this the “Deus Ex – Invisible War effect”.

  • There is no way to bypass NPC speech. You click on a line of dialogue, they say it. You can't skip it, speed it up, or cancel it. You click on another line while they are speaking one, it will queue it up to be said after they get done. This often results in an NPC speaking the same lines over and over while you trade with them.

  • Money bugs, where you can sell items to NPCs repeatedly without the item leaving your inventory, for unlimited money. I found four or five of these and I wasn't even trying!

  • The world feels empty, barren, and lifeless. There are few NPCs anywhere in the game, and the entire outdoor world feels exactly like a MMORPG with only 1 player and no monsters.

  • The game discards (read: destroys) all doubles of items you pick up, even in multiplayer. This can lead to you accidentally picking up and subsequently destroying a piece of loot your teammates wanted, plus the inventory “junk” menu which relates to this is broken and totally worthless, as it represents yet another feature of the game that never made it in.

  • Walking into the corners of pillars and other similar objects will get you stuck, like the entire world is made out of hooks coated with superglue. Trying to navigate the world (which doesn't even feel real at all) is a chore, and an excessively irritating chore at that.

  • There were two disc 2 game discs in the box, one of them was laying by itself and the 3 proper discs were rubber banded together (I kid you not). I got the game sealed from the manufacturer/publisher as a promotional package, and this “bug” has been reported by many others on the official forum.

  • If you jump and zone while in mid air you will appear in the next area dead.

  • A combat system that is hideously flawed. It relies on action and timing your swings, like Gothic 2, but unlike Gothic 2, the hitboxes and moves are terrible. You never know if your hits are going to connect, and the combat always ends up as a click fest as you jump around and try to get as many hits as possible as a mob of goblins mill about in front of you. Battles never, EVER look remotely like a real fantasy battle, but instead like a drunken mob of cowboys and vikings playing a round of Grab Ass.

  • Those are all the major bugs and problems I can remember offhand, but I'm sure if you play the game for a couple of hours you'll be able to spot dozens more that I missed. After reviewing even these relatively few things can anyone, the developers of the game included, even pretend to claim that it was beta tested? Hell, the boxed copy itself is barely even up to the level of a beta! At least I can say “I told you so”, because I did tell you so in my Gamershell preview of this game a few months ago. I'm not happy to be right, because I really wanted this game to beat the odds, but I can't say I'm surprised at the result... though I am amazed that it was as bad as it was.

    Well there you have it folks: A totally incomplete dungeon crawler surrounded by more annoying moments than a 27 hour surveillance tape of Lucille Ball trapped in an elevator. With 10 patches this beta could be ready for a retail release, but we don't have 10 patches: This is it kids. I actually do have patch 1.1, released earlier this week (and even earlier to the press as Dreamcatcher tries to salvage the shreds of its reputation it thinks might still exist, but doesn't), but as any good journalist I refuse to include it in my assessment of this product, as it was not included in the box as a part of the product. Besides, I played for about 15 hours into the game before the patch came out, and I earned some serious rant time after all the crap I had to go through with this unfinished trashpile. I really do like Dungeon Lords underneath all the bugs, but I've got to dig so hard, so long, and so painfully to find the fun that snoozes so deep inside, it just isn't worth it.

    The bottom line: Dungeon Lords is nowhere near done, and in a competitive world where release dates are not flexible for B-list products, game publishers have decided to save money for games like Dungeon Lords by forcing consumers to beta test a product which they then patch later, IF the consumers are lucky. Dreamcatcher's reputation is going, going, gone!

    To see a video of our reviewer playing the game please click here.