Review: Dungeons III

The one big success story to come out of my recent flirtation with Origin Access is Dungeons III. I liked it enough I managed to play through the entire campaign (though not the DLC) before my Access subscription ran out.

The surface world in Dungeons IIII hadn’t played the first two, but the story isn’t exactly deep, and I didn’t find my lack of experience with the franchise made things any less enjoyable.

Dungeons III is a mix of real time strategy, simulation, and city-building. You play as the Ultimate Evil, a cartoonish Sauron-type figure. You construct dungeons, defend them against incursions by parties of heroes, and raise armies to bring ruin to the surface world.

While underground, the game plays a city-builder. You have less direct control over your troops, and the focus is on building rooms and traps and managing the big picture. When you send troops to the surface, the game turns into an RTS, with more direct control.

The difference in control schemes between the two set-ups is occasionally jarring, especially as you’ll spend a lot of time going back and forth between them, but mostly I would say the variety of the two modes is a strength of the game.

The other great strength of Dungeons III, I’d say, is that it’s a very relaxing experience that you rarely have to work too hard at. The pace is slow, and you can take your time building the evil empire of your dreams.

Some rooms in Dungeons IIIThe tone of the game and its story is quite silly, too. At no point does it even approach taking itself seriously, and it breaks the fourth wall about once every fifteen seconds.

The story is mainly built around Thalya, an Elven priestess of the light whom the Ultimate Evil corrupts into a champion of evilness. So, you know. Sassy Elf girl. I’m sold.

On your journey to confront and defeat Thalya’s paladin foster-father, you cut a swath through his allies and his kingdom, including locations such as “Dollaran,” “Twistram,” and “Stormbreeze.”

Nudge nudge, wink wink.

The Blizzard-like feel is further enhanced by the bright, stylized graphics, whose vivid colours and exaggerated proportions make even the darkest pits of your dungeon seem inviting. It may not be pushing the technological envelope, but it’s still a very nice game to look at.

My health has been bad lately, and Dungeons was exactly the low stress gaming I needed while I was coughing and wheezing. No “srs bznz” here. This is a game that was just built to be fun.

Evil does pay after all.That said, it is of course not perfect. It does get very repetitive after a while. They make some effort to throw different mission types at you, but you’re still going to be doing mostly the same stuff every level. I think it would have helped if they gave you more established dungeons to start with later in the game, but you pretty much start from scratch every time.

The pacing of each match could also be balanced better. The rate at which you gain resources is heavily throttled, so no matter how well you play it takes a long time to get established, and this can make the early game a bit of a rough ride sometimes.

Conversely, once your economy finds its footing and you start laying down traps and mustering your army, things start to snowball very fast.

I’d have liked to have seen the early game be a bit easier, and the late game be a little more challenging. I’m mostly okay with your dungeon being unassailable past a certain point, but it’s too easy to run roughshod over the surface once you have your deathball up and running.

Still, it’s a game I’d recommend.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

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Review: Draugen

Despite the near total lack of promotion or pre-launch info for the game, I’d been looking forward to Draugen for some time. A psychological horror game with Nordic themes by Ragnar Tornquist seemed the next best thing to a new Secret World game.

The logo and title screen for DraugenI think I may have over-hyped Draugen to myself a bit, but it still wound up being a solid game.

Set in 1923, Draugen is the story of Edward Charles Harden. Accompanied by his ward, Alice (AKA “Lissie”), he journeys to the remote Norwegian town of Graavik to search for his missing sister.

Upon arrival, Edward and Lissie find Graavik deserted, and as the days unfold they delve into the mystery of what befell the town as they search for Edward’s sister.

It is very much a walking simulator. There’s no combat, and the handful of challenges you do encounter are too simple to rightly be called puzzles.

Also, despite how I’d heard it promoted, I wouldn’t say this is a horror game. There are a handful of mildly scary sequences, and the story deals with some dark themes, but I don’t think it actually qualifies as horror. Indeed, most of the time the game is quite tranquil — relaxing, even.

Alice/Lissie in DraugenIt is, however, a mystery. You’ll spend most of your time uncovering clues, and the way the picture of what happened in Graavik slowly unfolds is very well done. It feels neither too slow nor too rushed, and it will definitely get you thinking as you try to put the pieces together.

However, if you want the sort of mystery where everything is wrapped up in a neat little package, you will be disappointed. The ending of Draugen is quite inconclusive, and it’s very much up to the player to decide for themselves what really happened in Graavik.

This is not a style of storytelling I’m especially fond of, but I felt it worked here for a couple reasons.

One is that it doesn’t feel cheap. Nothing is withheld from the player; you learn everything that characters in that situation reasonably could. They might not wrap everything up, but it’s not the sort of story that keeps everything vague and mysterious just for the sake of being “artistic.”

The other is that I choose to believe this is a TSW game.

An ominous message in DraugenGoing in, I had already half-jokingly decided that I was going to treat Draugen as part of the Secret World setting, even if it’s not officially labeled as such, and while nothing in the game disproves that notion, there’s not an enormous amount of evidence to support the idea, either. The closest you get is a piece of dialogue near the end that echoes a mission from TSW so well I question whether it can be a coincidence.

But I do grant even that is far from conclusive.

However, if I press forward with my idea that this is a TSW game, it works wonders to fill in all the blanks of the story. It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but connecting Draugen to TSW is for me the perfect way to make the story make sense.

So Draugen didn’t blow me away — if I’m being honest, The Park is definitely the superior TSW-adjacent walking simulator — but it is a game I’d recommend. It’s interesting, and it’s well-done.

I wouldn’t say you need to know TSW to enjoy it, but I definitely think it helps.

If nothing else, it’s worth it just for the breathtaking graphics and soundtrack. This game is an absolute feast for the senses.

The beautiful scenery of DraugenI really want to visit Norway now.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

Interestingly, it seems a sequel may be on the way at some point. The credits conclude with the message, “Edward and Alice will return.”

Hmm…