This unusual strategy title somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts. On paper, I couldn't be more excited. Lure heroes into my lair with promises of untold treasure and forgotten knowledge, only to capture them and harvest their soul energy? Hell yes! In practice, though, I found myself scrambling around the map trying to find the stupid heroes or hacking away at some one-off objective instead of carefully crafting my evil plans for optimum hero crushing.
The primary gameplay loop, like everything else, sounds great in theory. Heroes enter the dungeon through set entrances, at which point they wander off trying to fulfill their needs for loot, equipment, knowledge, or battle. You dig passages and set up monster spawn points, libraries, armories, and treasure nodes to string them along until their needs are met, at which point you want to defeat them and drain their souls in prisons. An effective dungeon tries to split up groups of heroes and keep the incoming adventurers from different entrances separate, as they are dangerous if allowed to join forces. Like an economic simulation, a well-crafted dungeon carries a profound sense of satisfaction.
The problem is that instead of harvesting defeated heroes and laying down ever more elaborate nefarious branches of your lair, far too much of your attention is spent directing your dungeon lord in combat or trying to keep the hero-satisfying machine limping along while you chase down an unrelated, arbitrary objective. Because your minions are speed bumps intended to challenge but not defeat heroes, you have to personally hunt satiated adventurers down before they escape your dungeon with their souls intact. With a few entrances constantly streaming heroes into your domain, keeping track of their progress, intercepting them on their way out, and refining your layout takes more than your full attention. The core reward of building a machine that efficiently deals with incoming heroes is short-lived to the point of being nonexistent, as most scenarios continually change the rules on you to enforce constant evolution of your dungeon.
This still doesn't sound so bad, does it? Truthfully, it's not. Bad is the wrong word. Dungeons is more disappointing than “bad.” I was constantly pulled away from the fun part of the game – creating cool paths through my dungeon that satisfied without killing heroes – because I had to deal with the crappy, poorly implemented combat and exploration aspects. This lack of focus ultimately brings Dungeons down. I never once cared about the skill trees or collectible spell scrolls that try to inject RPG compulsions into the game, nor does the combat resemble anything fun.
The wide breadth of missions, optional objectives, and challenges doesn't fix my problems with the core gameplay, but it does mean that players who dig the design (or who aren't as put off by its schizophrenic nature) have a lot of game to explore. Dungeons may not be for everyone, but it will more than satisfy the needs of anyone who takes a shine to it. Better yet, it probably won't imprison you and drain your life energy afterward.