Dungeon Keeper remake snarls classic gameplay in "scam" payment model

Twenty years ago, Peter Molyneux's Dungeon Keeper became an instant classic, wedding a clever premise—you're the baddie fending off the heroes—to innovative strategy gameplay. The remake just came out for iOS. Not only is it bad, but it is free-to-play bad: the original's brilliant gameplay is all but frozen, with even the most basic mechanisms of play hooked into expensive further payments.

Like recent games such as Minecraft, progess in DK's requires the player to clear space one block at a time. With the new iOS version, however, you soon have to pony up real money for each individual cube to clear–or it takes up to 24 hours for the action to take effect. When it comes to digging out your realm, Dungeon Keeper iOS grinds to a halt unless you're willing to pay-per-tap.

"As I write this review, I am waiting for one of my imps to finish mining a block that I commanded it to start digging last night," writes Jim Sterling in a review at The Escapist. "Something so simple, something that took a handful of seconds in the original Dungeon Keeper, is taking me 24 hours in the twisted mobile reimagining."

Sterling awarded the game 1/10; a brutal score to match its brutal payment model. Destructoid, issuing a comparatively generous but hardly enticing 4/10, says that publisher Electronic Arts is selling a "sack of spolied potatoes … using a respectable IP as its skin."

German gaming site Superlevel's review is more concise—and works in any language. NerdCubed rants in NSFW style at the costs that can rack up for careless players. Thomas Baekdel compares the two versions.

The problem is that all the future generations of gamers are going to experience this as the default. They are going to grow up in a world, in which people actually think this is what gaming is like. That social engineering and scamming people is an acceptable way of doing business. It's not! It's a scam… done by sick people who have nothing left in their lives other than selfish greed. They should be thrown in jail for deceptive business tactics, and not featured in the app store as an Editors' Choice.

As sleazy as so many free-to-play games are, I always wanted to point out that it's an entirely new market, serving players who would not otherwise play video games. The iOS Dungeon Keeper, for example, acts more like a Dungeon Keeper-themed casino slot machine than a video game. Icky, sure, but not much threat to the original or to games like it.

What seems to be happening now, though, is that sleazeware is displacing the "real" games industry in earnest; in this case, we have a fully-implemented (and improved!) clone of the original being used to suck buyers into a cold-as-ice ripoff. The catalyst seems to be the move of free-to-play from the web to app stores, where both types of game are pushed onto the same shelf, and the only thing players see are the up-front cost.

You can buy the original Dungeon Keeper, compatible with modern PCs and Macs, from Good Old Games, for just $6. All subsequent clicks are free of charge.

UPDATE: Singletona082 reviews Dungeon Keeper Mobile over at BBS and details the problems in depth:

Unfortunately we're staring right at the ugly heart of what is going to kill Dungeon Keeper and has turned off a vocal portion of its potential playerbase. Microtransactions.

I'm not going to lie, sugarcoat, or apologize here even though I like the game when it stops making me wait since I'm broke and haven't fed the piggybank to get to do things Right Now and actually play. This is not a game I can honestly recommend and it's completely down to how it pushes micro-transactions in your face. If it were a case of a terrible game trying to be a money siv I'd sit back and laugh.