Dungeon Lords (Hands-on Preview)

With RPG releases such as Fable and KotOR II: The Sith Lords, and the growing anticipation for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, one might argue that the RPG genre has gotten a second wind – and there are a number of lesser known titles that promise to keep the role-playing game alive. Among the ranks of those titles most anticipated, and arguably one of the most innovative titles to see the store shelves this year is Heuristic Park’s Dungeon Lords. Dungeon Lords is combining the most popular elements of the RPG genre and the fighter game to create a unique 3D adventure with a story and backdrop that even the most anally-retentive fantasy enthusiast would approve of.

Heuristic Park and DreamCatcher Interactive invite you into a world of false witness and deviant factions, where tragedy will continue to take place unless you do something about it. The renowned and powerful wizard, Galdryn of the Meadows, has recently been slain by the Circle of Mages. The conspiracy from within the Circle plagues the noble Lord Davenmor’s kingdom, as he tirelessly attempts to keep his people safe from harm. Taking advantage of this new vulnerability, Lord Barrowgrim and his army of marauders infest Davenmor’s lands. Davenmor employs extreme measures to prevent further destruction and offers his daughter to Lord Barrowgrim in order to halt the invasion, but having promised her heart to another, his daughter disappears once she hears of her father’s decision. So, Lord Barrowgrim maintains his rampages of murder and destruction, and this is where your adventure begins.

In addition to what appears will become an exciting single-player game, Dungeon Lords also offers a multiplayer cooperative mode. Online or through a LAN, players can team up with up to three of their friends for an exciting excursion through Lord Davenmor’s razed kingdom.

You can choose to tackle the dilemmas of the kingdom as a traditional male human fighter, or you may venture to try something new. Dungeon Lords offers five races to choose from so far: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Urgoth, a large bestial creature with an intimidating smile, and Wylvan, a frisky and agile feline humanoid. You may also choose from playing as a male or a female, and in Dungeon Lords, sex matters. Human women have different starting stats than men, and though both Elf sexes are smart, the female is the intellectual superior. The final version of the game may have as many as eight races to choose from. The character customization screen indicates a range of options for customizing your character. This is refreshing, since many RPGs often neglect to include this feature.

Dungeon Lords includes four classes. The Fighter specializes in armor and melee skills; the Rogue flaunts an affinity for range weapons, lock picking, and other thieving skills; the Mage has bonuses in Arcane and Nether magic, while the Adept learns Celestial and Rune magic more easily. Though characters advance by levels, they obtain skills by spending skill points. This skill-point purchase system is unique in that characters aren’t limited to skills from their specific class. For example, a Fighter has bonuses at learning melee weapon skills, but can still become masterful in the Arcane arts. This allows for a range of customization possibilities and encourages a more creative character build.

Once you’ve made your character and stepped into the game world that RPG guru David W. Bradley has designed, you’ll not be disappointed. The environments are luminous depictions of shadowy forests, death-stained tombs and primitive heathen temples. The world is dark and eerie, so you really feel alone amid a large world and you never know what will be lurking down a dungeon corridor. The dark ambience doesn’t hinder your ability to move around or find your way, however. It simply creates the immersive illusion that every choice you make is a risk and an adventure. Even though the preview is a pre-beta copy of the game, there are already a variety of monsters and hostile NPCs. In one temple, Lord Valor (the pre-packaged player character) fought a series of serpent casters dressed in pagan garb. Save the world from evil druids, one-eyed monstrosities, giant trolls, and pesky goblins.

Heuristic Park sweats the details, giving many of the weapons unique appearances. The Staff of Burning has a green glowing bulb at its tip, the aptly named Blade of Death is covered in an iridescent purplish hue, and the mighty Battle Axe is half the size of an adult human. The armor is extremely detailed as well. The Deathlord Plate, black and orange, resembles a shiny hard carapace, while the Samurai and Dynasty armor is decorated with intricate pseudo Eastern symbols and complex patterns. They all look unique when worn.

The sound is just as vibrant as the colors and shades. Cries heard in the temples resonate off the walls, and the water dripping from the crevices of the walls is haunting and helps further establish an already engrossing game world. In the forest at night, the sound of crickets fills the darkness until it’s replaced by the sound of giggling goblins or hungry wolves.

To save the world, you must rely on your combat skills, and the combat system and interface in Dungeon Lords is simple yet effective and intuitive. The ability to fight lies not in a series of buttons you push that exact an action. Instead, the combat system relies on the moves you learn by mastering the movement keys. The left mouse button attacks while the right blocks, but when you push WASD keys in various combinations, your character performs flips, spins, and other fancy combat moves. Though there is a fair amount of hack-n-slash, it’s unlike other combat systems in that you can’t win simply by pressing the attack button and not using your strategic dodge and weave skills. The A.I. is decent too. The snake-like guards of Naga aren’t just going to stand there and let you kill them. The monsters block, parry, retreat to use their ranged weapons, and perform a number of other life-preserving actions.

One of the most exciting features of the combat system lies in the various types of magic offered by the game. A nice Arcane fireball works wonders to dispatch a group of annoying goblins, and magic missiles come in handy as well. The Nether magic line offers a variety of conjuring spells, from the majestic Blade of Baal that makes your weapon glow a bright blue, to a small army of undead that fight for you. Celestial magic uses star crystals to create heals, while Rune magic creates protective spells from rune stones.

Dungeon Lords is revealing itself to be an artistically sublime game world that offers a unique combat role-playing experience for the lover of traditional RPGs. Whether you are a connoisseur of the RPG, an avid fan of fantasy narratives, or a fearless hack-and-slasher, Dungeon Lords promises hours of exciting adventures, interesting characters and unpredictable battles with the forces of evil. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of this story of love, power and honor. Explore the dungeons. Live and die there, and become immortalized as a hero in the world of Dungeon Lords.

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