There has been a recent resurgence in hard-core, difficult and punishing games in the mainstream games line up, offering players experiences that both challenges and rewards in equal measure. Dungeonland is a multiplayer-focused Diablo-lite isometric dungeon crawler that hopes to cater to this increasingly marketable mindset. Unfortunately, despite some nice ideas, it fails on its promise.
Upon reaching the title screen, you are hit by the colourful and bold design. There are three dungeons to explore, taking place in a trio of monster filled-theme parks set up by the nefarious Dungeon Maestro, who taunts and challenges your every move. Each of the dungeons is composed of three stages, the last of which is comprised of a challenging boss battle. Full of lampposts with hands, giant frogs and chickens and throw-able sheep, the world is immensely colourful and is initially a joy to behold.
It is garishly bright and cartoony, and this tone extends into the text and commentary you encounter; the game is highly irreverent and pokes fun at itself and the genre, despite falling trap to some of the tropes it parodies. For example, on the title screen, you are invited to purchase “evil” micro transactions and DLC, but the game does little to dissuade you from not doing so. You can plug away and repeatedly hammer the same enemies (or more accurately, get hammered by the same enemies), or opt to buy packs to improve you character and hopefully make you experience a little easier, making the game a true grind.
Before setting off on your difficult quest, you are invited to select one of the holy trinity of RPG classes, Warrior, Mage and Rogue. All are customizable to some extent, consisting of sub-classes, equipment and perks. Further adjustments can be unlocked by gathering loot in the form of gold coins throughout your battles, or via the previously mentioned in game purchases.
Combat can feel light and floaty, with very little connection between hits. Each character has a limited but effective range of moves, even if many of them are standard action RPG movement. (The warrior has a slam the ground and stun opponents move, for example), and a range of buttons to map controls. Don’t expect any deep RPG stats or skill trees; combat and character progression is kept simple and fairly rudimentary. The game is clearly designed around the gamepad, and is preferable over mouse and keyboard, despite some trouble mapping buttons to actions; the pace and intensity of the encounters lends itself to being able to quickly select a correct action, which can feel a little slower on the keyboard. It isn’t unplayable on mouse and keyboard, just preferable on the joypad.
You can play single player locally, but there is very little fun to be had here. The AI of the bots is perfunctory at best and hair-tearingly inept at worst. To further add frustration to proceedings, trying to get into a match can be very testing. The times I have tried to connect, there seem to be very few matches taking place, and when I did connect, I was booted or losing connections to games. Setting up online game others could jump into was more successful, but again, meeting up with others is sporadic and unreliable.
It is much better to play with other humans, as the game is hard, brutal even. From the get go, this is made abundantly clear by the lowest difficulty setting being labelled as ‘Hard’. Even on this lowest of settings, the battles are fierce. There are also modifiers in the form of challenges, which might turn off potions or decrease lives; a terrifying proposition.
Precision is vital, as the game throws a ton of enemies at you, and the focus is to get to and kill the spawner, which will keep generating enemies until dispatched. Occasionally, you reach a ‘danger’ moment, when huge mini bosses with minions surround you. This is before you even reach the rock hard bosses.
Despite its lively and energetic look, none of this exuberance transfers to the game itself, which is hard work and frustrating in equal measures. There is a good game at its core, but overzealous difficulty and matchmaking issues hold it back drastically. It certainly creates a challenge, but these are challenges of the wrong kind.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Format: PC Release Date: 29/01/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Dungeonland for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of seven days on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.