Dungeon Keeper Free-to-Play Review – Insidious Design
While there are some who would immediately cringe at the thought of a Dungeon Keeper remake on mobile devices, due to prejudice, there are times when this skepticism is warranted. In this case, Electronic Arts (EA) ensures that progress made over the entire mobile spectrum takes a sizable hit, due to a flagrantly obvious monetization scheme that renders its free-to-play version useless.
In the worst way, this otherwise beloved franchise is now the exemplary title for detractors to pull in future arguments of why entire genres are terrible. It’s just this particular feature that is sickening, but its effects will resonate throughout time.
Cosmetically, however, the game takes care to bring the nineties strategy game to the modern era, with newly drawn textures and bouncy animations that catch the comical vibe of the series.
Even the evilest of creatures have a smile with a touch of friendliness in it. With the bright colors used, this dungeon will be easy on the eyes, at least.
Similarly, quirky sound effects further the cartoon approach to this enhanced version. Its atmosphere is actually appealing and smartly adapts to a cleaner style that will work well for most mobile devices. Credit is still required where due.
Mechanisms can also make good use of the touch abilities to transform mouse clicks of yore into simple taps and slides.
One of the main dynamics in Dungeon Keeper is managing a dungeon, with a selection of rooms inside. These constructions will allow for the mining of resources, as well as production of units for both attacking and defending purposes. It’s the literal heart of the game, as the core is directed by a beating bosom.
This home is not safe though, as through the same shafts that are used for the collection of gold and stone, there are enemies who may enter.
When just units won’t do to thwart this attack, it’s also possible to build a few traps that can vary in range and effectiveness. Canons, blades and other nasty things can zap away opponents.
As the leader, it’s also possible to take direct action. With a set of spells at the disposal, pesky critters gunning for the core can be held off with vicious swipes or hellish flames.
All of the content is stacked on the building of rooms with different effects. Upgrading those accordingly gives more options for more gameplay possiblities. So far, everything checks out.
To collect additional goodies, Dungeon Keeper also questions the craftsmanship of players by performing raids. Here, resources can be acquired by going into other territories and destroying the aforementioned heart.
It’s a test of skill or just something that helps to pass the time while others are occupied, since time is a big factor in the game. To delve out space for new buildings, imps need to tap their way through tiles. Each segment takes a bit of time or can even take up to hours, which leaves quite a large window open to go do other things.
Still, eventually those spots will become needed, as that’s where the game is played, but there’s where this game ultimately falls down into a completely insidious design.
Here’s the lowdown: Delving with one imp takes a ton of time. To overcome that, it’s possible to get more imps, but those require gems as a resource.
Alternatively, it’s also possible to put in gems to instantly clear a space. This currency, however, is only available through purchase.
It’s not a prize, it’s not mined. To get gems, real money need to be spent. Without gems, there is no space and no more creatures to create more room.
Effectively, this bottlenecks the entire game into a stretched waiting period, since new buildings can’t be built without the prior elements being taken care of. With no buildings, no further content can be unlocked. No more content means that there is no game.
Adding insult to injury, Dungeon Keeper does allow for nearly endless resource gathering of other types. There is a game to be played, in the most technical sense; it’s just not one that has any consequence. It’s possible to partake in plenty of raids, but few yield gems, so all the stone and gold will only be useful for building of things that are still inaccessible.
There are ways to collect premium currency freely, but that amount is so small, in comparison with ridiculous prizes, that it may as well not be there. More cynical still, most of it is attached to achievements, which require actually unlocking content first.
It’s an endlessly shut loop. There is no content, so there aren’t achievements and no yields means no content. In its grand total, free gems may not even fill half a dungeon, since just adding one imp would cost 800 gems and there may just be a few hundred to collect without paying.
Beyond that, only cold hard cash works and that in big leaps for small amounts of premium content. Maybe that’s the worst part; EA doesn’t even treat paying customers with any respect, but simply continues to funnel everything as tightly as possible with that design.
Dungeon Keeper isn’t a free-to-play game. It’s free to watch, to see all the things that will cost exponentially more to unlock than it would to just play the original version fully and without blockades that crush the entire strategy dynamic.
It may look giddy enough, but quite fittingly so, this EA title is made of pure, underhanded evil. Its only purpose is to serve as a cautionary tale on exactly how much monetization choking is too much. This is a deadly throttling.