RETRO REVIEW | Dungeon Keeper (1997)

RETRO REVIEW | Dungeon Keeper (1997)

Can you manage your own dungeon and keep out the heroes? You are the Dungeon Keeper!

Dungeon KeeperName: Dungeon Keeper

Format: PC

Released: 26th June 1997

Developer: Bullfrog Productions

Publisher: Electronic Arts


In the vast majority of video games, you play the hero, the one person that can save the day and fight off the forces of evil.

Sometimes a game comes along and flips this simple objective on its head and when its done well, it’s a lot of fun!

To keep me entertained during my frequent hotel stays, I travel with a laptop. Nothing modern and fancy, just an ageing dual-core HP laptop. This restricts my gaming to older retro titles. Recently I have started replaying a game that I played on its original release in 1997. A game that allows you to play as something evil.

Dungeon Keeper from Bullfrog Productions could be described as a management simulation. As the title suggests, you must create and run an underground dungeon and defend it from attacking heroes and other dungeon keepers.

The premise of the game is really quite simple. The game starts with one room, your dungeon heart, which you must protect at all costs as this is your life force. Usually, the rest of the map will consist of soft rock, an empty pallet for your dungeon creation.

Dungeon Keeper

This is a rather larger Lair. A place where your creatures build their homes and rest to restore their energy.

You will start with a handful of imps, the lowly workers of your dungeon. By highlighting areas of rock, the imps will dig it out and claim the empty space in your name.

This claimed space can now be transformed into one of many rooms, the choice of which grows larger as the game progresses.

For example, some of the rock that the imps can mine through is actually seams of gold. By allocating cleared space as a treasure room, the imps can collect the mined gold and deposit it in said room. You now have a source of currency that can be used to pay for the building of more rooms.

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Apart from your dungeon heart, another room will also be available for you to take over and control and will be the source of your creatures, the portal.

Once you own a portal, various creatures will be attracted to your dungeon. The most basic setup will require you to build a lair and a hatchery so your creatures will have somewhere to sleep and eat.

Creatures aren’t however working for free (except for the imps) and they will require paying, one of the reasons for keeping an eye on your gold reserves. Creatures become annoyed when they’re not paid (who isn’t?) and eventually will leave your dungeon!

From here on, without having to recite the manual, it starts to become more tactical. Building libraries will attract Warlocks who will research spells and rooms for you to build. Workshops will attract trolls allowing you to build doors and traps for your dungeon and so on. Other rooms include torture chambers, prisons, temples and graveyards, all which can be used to your advantage in defeating the enemy.

All of your creatures will start with a level one experience but by dropping them into a training room, over time, this will rise to a maximum of level ten. But as with everything else, training costs money.

So building your dungeon largely depends on what gold is available to you and this is where your management skills will really kick in.

But of course, you’re not just left to build a dungeon in the peace and quiet. Heroes will try and invade your Dungeon and take you down by destroying your dungeon heart.

More often than not, the enemy will be at least one other Dungeon Keeper in the same map. So how will you tackle this? Hold back and build a strong force or attack early while you’re both still establishing your dungeon?

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Dungeon Keeper

Battles are usually multi creature affairs and it can be hard to keep track of who’s winning.

Dungeon Keeper has an excellent tutorial that will walk you through the basics and once you learn that, the rest of the game will become second nature to you.

Everything is explained and you are given alerts about your dungeons situation by a demonic evil voice, a mentor, voiced by Richard Ridings, whose voice is probably most recognised as that of Daddy Pig from the children’s cartoon series, Peppa Pig.

Visually the game is very nice albeit rather brown in tone. The dungeon itself is rendered in true 3D allowing you to rotate the view and to zoom in/out. The inhabitants of your dungeon are a series of beautifully drawn sprites that have been very well animated.

If you so desire, and it can be useful in some situations, you can possess a creature and explore the world in a first-person view.

The game has a level of whimsical humour which makes it great fun to play although don’t be deceived. Even playing the game again now, I’m finding the levels quite tough.

The easiest way to get hold of Dungeon Keeper is through Good Old Games where it can be purchased for less than a fiver!

Once do you do purchase a copy of the game, I highly recommend the unofficial KeeperFX – Dungeon Keeper Fan Expansion patch. Not only does this fix some never addressed game flaws but also allows the game to run in modern high-resolution modes.

Four out of Five

A classic game that still plays great today. Be warned though, it can still be a little bastard hard in places (although that may just be me!)


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.