Unfortunately, a slew of noticeably missing features and other problems may well end up drawing too much of your attention away from the game's good parts.
- Pretty fun, hectic hack-and-slash combat
- Some charming details here and there, such as some lively bad guys
- Lengthy quest offers plenty to both fight and explore.
- Unbalanced character classes practically force you down a particular path
- Lots of noticeably missing features, such as an automap
- Simplistic quest system
- Messed up audio.
Though today's role-playing games are often expected to be sweeping, story-driven epics, it used to be that most such games were pure dungeon crawls. You'd guide a band of adventurers through increasingly dangerous mazes filled with more and more, bigger and bigger monsters, while finding treasure, solving the occasional puzzle, and gaining experience levels. Dungeon Lords is a throwback to this style of gaming, with its emphasis on hack-and-slash combat and corridor crawls. As such, it's consistent with designer D.W. Bradley's previous works, which include some of the later titles in the classic Wizardry series. Dungeon Lords is a lengthy game that can offer a lot of the basic thrills that make role-playing games fun to play. Unfortunately, a slew of noticeably missing features and other problems may well end up drawing too much of your attention away from the game's good parts.
Dungeon Lords is set in a fantasy world on the verge of ruin, thanks to the ambitions of an evil wizard. This is your prototypical fantasy story, which casts you as the hero destined to save the day. Whether you see all this as typically uninspired or traditionally archetypal probably will depend on how tolerant you are of convention. At any rate, Dungeon Lords may not seem terribly original with its cast of elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons, and whatnot, but it offers a few amusing twists in its interpretations of these sorts of icons. The game's got something akin to homegrown charm. It's not flashy, and it's not trying to turn your world upside down, but it's got kind of a goofy quality about it that can be a refreshing change of pace from the very serious tone of many role-playing games. You'll notice this early on as you hear legions of goblins gleefully cackling like a bunch of bozos as they circle and swarm around you.
You play as a single character in Dungeon Lords and are free to choose from a variety of races and classes when you create him or her. The broad range of starting options turns out to be somewhat deceptive, but that's not really a bad thing. You can be everything from a dwarf fighter to an elf adept to a human mage, or maybe one of the game's several different "demigoth" races, like the diminutive thrall or the hulking urgoth. But these drastically different-sounding choices don't really limit how you can go on to develop your character as he or she continues gaining experience throughout the game. In fact, there are a whole bunch of advanced character classes that aren't available at first, which you'll be able to pursue later on as the adventure continues.
The good thing about Dungeon Lords' character advancement system is that it gives you a lot of freedom to continually fine-tune your character with incremental statistical upgrades so you can gradually develop him or her however you like. The bad thing about it is that not all the different directions in which you can grow your character seem particularly viable. Specifically, melee combat skills seem to be the best, most effective area of concentration. The magic system--featuring multiple schools of magic, each with its own spellcasting system and spells--is interesting on paper, but it isn't terribly useful in practice. At least, it's not terribly effective for the sorts of prolonged, nonstop battles you'll be experiencing throughout Dungeon Lords.
What this game does well is swarm you with enemies. Combat plays out like a basic third-person-perspective hack-and-slash game, letting you maneuver around, slashing your foes wildly. Health running low? A healing potion can whip you right back into shape. Even death doesn't matter much, as you can revive yourself at the touch of a button, at the cost of just a small penalty to your stats. This contributes to the game's breezy sort of feel, which helps make the experience fun more than stressful, at least while you're in combat. The action is simple but reasonably responsive. Side-to-side and backward movement will feel very sluggish at first, but eventually it'll seem like more of a realistic touch, since it's naturally easiest just to keep pressing forward. You'll typically face a dozen or so individual enemies at a time, and these do a good job of surrounding you and using both ranged and close attacks to try to bring you down. One aspect of the combat that's pleasantly surprising is that enemies can hit one another in their efforts to stop you. Maneuvering in such a way so that the bad guys get in one another's line of fire is one of the basic strategies involved in surviving the tougher skirmishes in Dungeon Lords.