E3 2008: Dungeon Hero Impressions

We take a tour through a bustling goblin city and get a glimpse of a dungeon world where monsters are people too.


Dungeon Hero

If you stroll into any old video game dungeon these days, odds are you will find a clutch of monsters lurking around a treasure chest, spoiling for a fight. When it started in on its new action game Dungeon Hero, developer Firefly Studios wondered, "Why are they there?" To answer that question, it's creating a gameworld that features a fleshed-out society where merchant, soldier, and vagrant goblins go about their daily business instead of merely loitering about. We watched a few demo segments that showed this society in action and introduced us to the human protagonist who immerses himself in the goblin world in the course of a larger adventure.

The first segment we saw featured the dungeon hero himself standing on a long barge, travelling slowly down an underground canal. He is a tall, muscular fellow with no shirt and no hair on his head. He wears a shield on his back, a sword on his hip, and a belt across his chest packed with throwing knives. We're told he's no virtuous knight; rather, he's a brute who gets tricked into entering the goblin city where he gets embroiled in a larger conflict. There's a war raging between two goblin factions, but this gets overshadowed when a goblin miner digs too deep and unleashes death itself from the bowels of the earth. Out of this breach, stream the real monsters of Dungeon Hero, sinister black monstrosities led by an evil necromancer. These are the tougher foes that the protagonist will face as the game progresses.

That thar dungeon is dark.
That thar dungeon is dark.

As the barge passed serenely through the green, murky water, we watched with delight as the canalside docks revealed a slice of everyday goblin life. Porters walked hither and yon with boxes of varying shapes and sizes, drunks got sick over the side of the wharves, and neighbors casually conversed. Though the goblin speech audio wasn't in the build we saw, we were told these conversations are one of the key ways you will find out what's going on in the world. Dungeon Hero is an action game, so you won't be running up to goblin citizens and asking them what's new. You might overhear news about enemy forces or hear about an invasion in one of the mines, and it's up to you to process this information and decide what to do next. Though it will be a fairly linear adventure, there will be side quests that you'll be able to pick up by keeping your ears open.

The next segment found our hero making his way through the back trenches of one of the goblin armies. The wooden walls and bright orange sky offered us reassurance that the adventure wouldn't all unfold in dark, dank dungeons. Our presenter also mentioned environments, such as battlefields, mines, airships, and fortresses. As our protagonist walked on, we saw triage units where injured goblin soldiers were tended to by goblin surgeons with sharp saws whose medical acumen we doubted even before we saw the stack of filled coffins. Continuing to walk the trenches, our hero passed goblins relaxing by reading poetry (yes, there will be goblin poetry) and playing stringed instruments, as well as generals evaluating maps and planning battle strategy. Even in this early build, there was a variety of different animations and characters, which helped add depth to the world.

Further on, our hero ran into some enemy goblins and, pulling out his sword, began to hack them to pieces. The combat was still unpolished, but our presenter explained that attacks will be mapped to certain buttons and won't require complicated combos to pull off. As he fought, a red rage meter built up in the upper left-hand corner. Engaging rage will make every attack more powerful, so a shield bash might become a powerful throw. As you vanquish foes, you'll level up, and a simple skill tree will allow you to choose which attacks to unlock and which attacks to strengthen by leveling them up. This is the closest Dungeon Hero will get to role-playing game territory because it will focus predominantly on combat.

In between the combat sections, there will be more relaxing levels, such as the barge segment we saw, but the third and final section took combat to a whole new level. After traveling through some caves full of foliage illuminated by shafts of sunlight, our hero arrived in a wide cavern area littered with bones. At the other end of the room, loomed a hulking monster that looked like the Rancor creature from Return of the Jedi. After dealing a significant damage to the beast, our hero ran up its back and stabbed it in the neck. This execution flowed naturally as part of the encounter, but there will be a number of other execution moves that you can perform on other enemies.

The most compelling element of Dungeon Hero in our E3 2008 demo was the diverse and detailed goblin life that we witnessed. We're told that other creatures in the game will also exhibit social behavior, and we're looking forward to seeing more strata of these societies in the coming months. Our presenter also mentioned that the game will feature downloadable content that will take the form of arcade-style challenges that can be played split-screen, cooperatively, or competitively. Dungeon Hero isn't slated to release until next year, but we'll be sure to bring you more as soon as we can.

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