This sequel is perhaps slightly less impressive, but it certainly resolved many issues from the first game.

User Rating: 8 | Dungeon Keeper 2 (Classic) PC

Bullfrog Productions was certainly proud to present the advancement of Dungeon Keeper into the fully 3D realm, sating fans' barely held-back glee with a cutscene that has more than a bit of aplomb. However, after the intro cutscene ends, a bit of disappointment would definitely set in as the actual in-game graphics - which also powered the main menu in the game just like in the first - does not exactly has the pizazz invested in the cutscenes.

That would have been acceptable for a game of Dungeon Keeper 2's time, where most games attempt to pad themselves with cutscenes that are far more visually impressive than actual in-game graphics. However, as the player progresses through the game, unlocking more cutscenes, the player will soon notice that these short movies number in an amount that is too significant to ignore.

The developers certainly placed plenty of effort - perhaps too much - into creating those movies, where the man-hours could have been spent improving the textures, models, lighting, etc. used for actual gameplay instead. Still, these cutscenes, for the most part, are amusing to watch and worth the trouble of unlocking them.

And to unlock these cutscenes, the player will have to experience the gameplay, which make up the true meat of the game. It is notable that this sequel retained much of the game design of the original: there is the handy cursor, the expedient building system, pick-and-drop features, etc. For anyone who may have played the first Dungeon Keeper, this reviewer is happy to say that the controls have not been overhauled too much.

Perhaps the most important changes and improvements to gameplay are the steps that the developers have taken to solve issues from the first game. First and foremost, veterans of the first game will notice that there is now a mana resource, which is used to cast spells. Previously, the first game utilized gold, the resource that is used for doing just about everything else in the original (& the sequel). The mana resource also has its income rate and maximum storage capped. This is a wise design, as the original design was too overpowering if a player manages to secure gem seams, yet was also too risky as it could bankrupt spend-thrift players.

Another improvement is greater utility of certain rooms, namely the Library, made so by introducing Improved versions of spells, which behave somewhat differently from the initial versions and are generally superior. Having studious creatures research spells in Libraries also let them gain some experience outside of training and actual combat, which is welcome as scholarly creatures can be a bit frail.

Speaking of spells, many new ones have been introduced and old ones revamped. The Healing spell (and its improved version) in particular sees more utility now that the exploit of spamming chicks on minions to heal them or setting up lairs close to the frontline has been fixed. (Eating chicks no longer heal creatures; this only sates their hunger. They will also ignore roaming chicks while engaged in combat - though the unsuspecting birds end up being eaten anyway after a battle has been resolved. Creatures only heal up to the point where they no longer need sleep for the time being - players can't really force them to sleep to full health now.)

The design of rooms has also been improved. Before, there was not much incentive to segregate rooms into their own enclosures as walls served no purpose other than security and establishing checkpoints. Now, rooms with walls (reinforced or impenetrable ones) benefit from extra furnishings that improve the usefulness of the rooms; the Hatchery, Library and Workshop in particular benefit from this improvement.

Certain overpowered creatures have also been re-tweaked, dropped, or replaced with a different creature or even completely different control mechanic altogether. Chief amongst these removed creatures was the first game's Dragon, which was more than a little overpowered (especially at high levels). It was replaced by the less impressive (but much cuter) Salamander, which fulfilled the role of a tough skirmisher that the Dragon had (minus the really cheating set of spells the dragon had, of course). The Horned Reaper is now an actual named character (though his name is too embarrassingly campy to mention here), and can only be summoned through an expensive spell.

Perhaps a change that may not be so welcome is the overhaul of the training system. Previously, creatures could gain combat experience by both training and directly engaging in combat. However, this meant that a terrifically large training room (and lots of cash for upkeeping of the room) was all that was needed to create an army of powerful veteran creatures. In the sequel, creature advancement is broken into three phases, the first two making use of facilities that the Dungeon Keeper can create. The Training Room can only advance creatures to a certain point, where the next phase can only be achieved by having creatures duke it out in Combat Pits.

This new requirement is amusing to look at for a while, but wiser players will eventually realize that it takes a bit too much of hand-holding to do right: Imps may not get to defeated creatures in time before they die, and defeated creatures take extra sleep time to recover, making this phase of training difficult to be efficient without constant (and possibly frustrating) minding by the player. (As for the third phase, hands-on real combat is the only way to gain experience.)

Moreover, Imps can no longer be trained in any way. This is an odd omission, but there were issues in the first where players who invested early in training for some Imps would generally have disproportionately greater capability to advance later in a match. They, fortunately, gain experience over time as long as they do not remain idle.

Reinforced walls, including those of opponents' can now be broken & repaired by Imps (& Dwarven heroes); hence, there is no more need for the often useless spells in the first game that were used to sunder such walls. This also adds strategic depth to offensive maneuvers in the game.

Unfortunately, the developers did not see fit to include a way to restore dug-away blocks of earth, which would have been sorely needed in this game. Opponents, either AI- or human-controlled may breach a player's dungeon at any places, often resulting in an unsightly and very insecure hole. A small one could be patched with a door and some traps, but bigger ones will remain permanent, irreparable problems.

Fortunately, this problem is slightly mitigated somewhat by much cleverer map design this time around. The single-player campaign, in particular, have maps with convenient choke-points and goodies like bonus creatures and spells at opportune points of expansion..

One of the reasons for the statement that this game is less impressive than its predecessor is apparent from the on-set. As has been mentioned earlier, the game has transitioned to fully 3D environments and models, completely ditching the first game's 2D sprites, which can be very difficult to make out from amongst all the chaos of battle (or a poorly designed, cheapskate dungeon). It's not really pushing the polygons and graphics technology of the time, but it's technically adequate (with occasional slow-downs when things on-screen are hectic).

Granted, every creature has been designed so that they have unique looks and are identifiable right away. Yet, many of them, especially the ones carried over from the first game, look a bit too goofy to be considered minions of evil.

Sound-wise, this game retained much of the sounds from the previous game, most of them having been upgraded with the newer sound editing techniques at the time. Voice-acting is not as well and good, however. The narrator (and the advisor to the player) does not sound as deliciously malicious this time around (in fact, in some moments, he sounded a bit tired), and the other voice actors/actresses are just not as up to par and could not make effective portrayals of their deliberately campy characters.

Multiplayer is more fun this time around, due to the better gameplay-balancing acts that Bullfrog has done this time around. Still, despite the absence of game-breaking exploits, the multiplayer experience of this game is rather similar to the first one's. That's not a bad thing, but there appears to be no new innovation here either. Perhaps this reviewer is expecting too much, but the first game was a ground-breaking one and it is a little disappointing to find the sequel not so.

In conclusion, Dungeon Keeper 2 certainly has appreciable improvements from the moments, but not enough to break the mould from which it is cast out.