This action-oriented RPG allows players to design a custom character who will adventure though a realm of classic medieval fantasy. The game features an unusual perspective, close behind the player's character, which allows for a "WASD" first-person-style control scheme, but with a third-person range of view. Character creation options include a variety of race and classes, and the game world spans majestic mountains, murky swamps, bustling villages, deep forests, arctic wastelands, foreboding dungeons, and more. A number of NPCs are featured, to give quests, barter for items, cause trouble, and hint at hidden secrets. The game can be played solo, or heroes can join through an Internet connection to adventure together. Dungeon Lords was written by D.W. Bradley, who is known for programming and design work on earlier computer RPGs such as Wizards & Warriors, Might and Magic: World of Xeen, Wizardry: Bane of the Cosmic Forge, and Wizardry V.
At its heart, Dungeon Lords is a throwback to the days when role-playing games were less about an intricate story and more about throwing heroes into an increasingly difficult set of dungeons. The game takes that basic premise and attempts to add flashy graphics and a hands-on mouse-driven combat system. It just doesn't work. The combat is mind numbingly repetitive. A right click of the mouse button defends against attacks and the left mouse button swings your weapon. You have a set of hotkeys for casting spells, using scrolls, and drinking potions. That's about it.
Repetitive, action-oriented role-playing games are nothing new to the genre; games like Diablo made their bones delivering this style of gameplay. The difference is that Diablo was creative, highly polished, fun, and exciting despite the fact that you were only clicking the left mouse button over and over again. Dungeon Lords has none of that except the fact that you smash crates to finds items, which is as much fun as it sounds.
To call Dungeon Lords unpolished would be an insult to unpolished games. There's no musical score (which is definitely noticeable), basic features such as an auto-map are mysteriously absent, and you can't even customize the look of your character. (Even though the manual says you can.) The collision detection is terrible, as monsters phase through walls and hover in mid air during combat. Rooms are almost completely void of character or d¿cor (except for the crates). It all screams "rush job," and the lack of detail and polish makes you feel as if you're playing an early build of a game that is not finished yet.
Then there are the bugs. The game has a tendency to lock up from time to time. In fact, it took several attempts to get out of the first sewer dungeon because the game continued to give a "Monster in Space XTile0" error. This same error occurred several times in the first dungeon and required a reboot of the system. Not good.
Graphically, if you're still interested, Dungeon Lords is both hit and miss. The character models look good, but they are way too rigid; more animation is needed to make them look lifelike. As is, when your dwarf warrior attacks a group of sewer slimes, his legs and torso are stationary and only his arm moves to chop away at the bad guys. It's like watching a G.I. Joe figure use the karate chop. It just looks weird. The environments look good, but again the lack of furnishings and amenities do nothing to suck you into the game's world.
The character advancement system is the best part of the game. As you kill monsters, you earn experience that can be spent at any time. And there's a branching system that forces you to learn certain skills before advancing into others. You need to get a specific rank of light armor before moving into medium armor, for example. This is a very good way to structure advancement in a game that has so much combat and a fairly high level of difficulty. Ideas like this make the fact that the rest of the game is so broken all the more upsetting. There is a good game buried underneath all of the problems.
Multiplayer is supported via a co-op mode that allows a group of adventures to go through the single-player game as a team. This mode is actually the best way to play the game, but more bugs pop up from time to time as the network code is a bit shaky, dropping players at random times for no reason whatsoever.
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