Dungeon Keeper 2: Day 3 – an added time pressure

A Dungeon Keeper 2 screenshot

I’m not at all a fan of games where you can win by just simply playing longer. The type of strategy games where you can bide your time, collect resources and build up so large a force that you can’t be defeated. Or other games where the only limiting factor is resources which could theoretically build up by themselves regardless of how skilled you are or aren’t.

Up to this point, Dungeon Keeper 2 has felt a bit like that. Yes, there have been times where I’ve faced minor challenge, but on the whole the only limiting force has been ‘time currently invested in the level’.

Level 6b, “Rout – Sweetwater” aims to change that by asking you to kill an enemy before they have a chance to flee the level where, presumably, you lose. It also mixes things up by giving you a pre-built lair to start with – taking away the ‘boiler plate’ set-up that has been required so far in all the other levels.

In future posts I will more fully explore the emotions I want to feel when gaming, and those incited by the games I play the most. But one I know I want to feel is jeopardy – I want there to be negative consequences from poor play, and want to feel like had I not made the right decisions then the level would not have been won.

This level does this by forcing you to act, and act (relatively) quickly. It does this in two ways:

  1. By adding a time limit. Nothing groundbreaking here – but an explicit, and always visible, reminder that you need to get going. There’s an hour on the clock which is a little generous for my liking, but it is only level 6
  2. (Far more interestingly) By giving you limited resources. No portals to capture (portals bring new creatures to your dungeon), seemingly finite enemy forces (downed enemies can turn into skeletons that will fight for you) and a pretty finite, and modest amount of gold to mine. You can dig for more but doing so risks you running into other enemy troops which puts your own, irreplaceable creatures at risk.

So play it too slow and you hit the clock. Play it too fast and you may not be adequately prepared, losing units and making the level unwinnable, or certainly much harder to complete. And this balance can be felt – my creatures started to get pretty disgruntled by lack of pay/food at the end of the level, forcing me to get on with things.

But not before I could get pretty well prepared…

Some niggles persist around the lack of information provided. Not having to start a lair from scratch was nice, but there’s no indicator how many rooms of each type you own – forcing a bit of ‘room inventory’ on the level start. Additionally, my creatures started to whinge about not having access to food and gold despite me thinking I had adequate supply of both. The ambition to strip things back to a manageable and accessible UI is noble, but I can’t help but feel they’ve overshot it a bit.

But what the game lacks in information, it makes up in sarcastic narrator quips. “The very rock yawns with anticipation of your next fascinating move”. Masterful.

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