Dungeons 4 is yet another entry in the spiritual successor series to Dungeon Keeper. An absolute PC classic back in the 90s, there’s been nothing quite like the original game since. No, we don’t count the sequels and microtransaction-filled abominations that followed. Turns out demons aren’t the true evil, just greedy monestisation practices.
Gratefully, Dungeons 4 forgoes those miscreant traits for a far more fulfilling title. Following on directly from the events of Dungeons 3, we once again take the reigns of Evil itself to eradicate Good… again. There’s more slapstick fourth wall breaks, slapping of Snots and sculpting of large underground lairs of no goodery.
Can the fourth entry justify the continuance of the series? Is there enough Evilness in this wicked well or has the sinfulness meter run dry? Time to take up arms against the forces of light once more and find out.
Thalya That For Free
Everyone’s favourite rebellious, patricidal dark elf returns once again, evil-er than ever. Thalya is back in action, taking up arms against her stepbrother Tristan and some familiar angelic faces while she’s at it. Much like in three, Dungeons 4 is content to have an over-the-top, foolish yet witty story as opposed to a logical or structured one.
Which, for the record, I thoroughly enjoy. The sassy narrator continues to jibe with the characters and players alike. Thalya openly remarks at the ridiculous nature of repeating plot points, mission types and how the world works like a video game. Meanwhile, the supporting cast are humerous and the voice actors clearly had fun with not needing to take things too seriously.
It’s cartoony and engaging, for what it is. There’s not a whole to explore nor much attention required, but that’s more than fine. The developers have their tongue so firmly in cheek it must be aching at this point. I laughed at some jokes, cringed at others and was unmoved by the rest. It’s harmless, it’s amusing and it’s fine for the role it needs to serve.
Other media references return with an abundance as well, which never fails to be fun. From Tristan’s rip-off of Aragorn’s speech from Lord of The Rings to having a baby “Gorgu”, Dungeons 4 loves a good reference. There’s just something so inherently appealing about references to other media you enjoy, that I couldn’t help but lap it up. Silly as it was.
Carve Out Your Amusement Lair
The beating dungeon heart of Dungeons 4 remains its base-building and underground excavating. Almost every mission across this 20-strong campaign will require you to dig out spaces, mine for gold and Arcanium, plot down rooms and set up dastardly traps. As such, it remains very similar to Dungeons 3’s gameplay formula.
Realmforge Studios have increased the size of the maps for both the under and overworlds, as well as increasing the unit size limits. As such, it feels bigger, bolder and altogether more bombastic, which is grand. However, it doesn’t feel like a massive expansion of the sandbox itself. There are some new variants of rooms and creatures to deploy, but moment-to-moment gameplay is nigh on identical.
Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not, as the series has perfectly captured that Dungeon Keeper feel for a long time. However, if you were coming in to Dungeons 4 hoping for more, I think you may be a little underwhelmed. I will say that 4 feels more challenging on some missions, owing to Dwarves now unhelpfully cohabitating areas of the underworld, creating a new problem to eradicate.
Most missions in the campaign took me anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete. Consequently, it’s big offering of content. Awesome for dungeon-expanding Evils like myself. Could more have been done to diversify the sandbox and make this feel like a fully-fledged sequel? Probably, but this needs to be balanced with not completely overwhelming the player, so it feels like a fair trade between the two.
Overgrounding Out The Victories
The addition of the overground has been a significant development of the original Dungeons vision. Afterall, the clue is in the same – we’d been largely confined to evil’s hiding hole prior to the last entry. For the most part, the overground remains in similar shape to 3 – you venture topside to smother the colourful world in darkness and decay.
You’ll still be destroying hero camps for Evilness and completing objectives, ranging from storm this area to kill this thing, so the spice of life hasn’t been spruced up too much. Fitting, given you play the antithesis to life. New mini-bosses and side objectives like killing a mythical, rainbow-infused unicorn will grant you a massive wad of Evilness however, and that’s always unrequitedly satisfying.
Dungeons 4 does have a tendency to re-use maps and objectives a little too often, which can dull the feeling of excitement towards it as a sequel. I never truly tired of its brand of silly, goofy and comforting despicableness, but it did feel that again, more could have been done here to keep things fresh. Missions with time-limits or being more defence orientated can be really fun, I just wish there were more of them.
For the most part, it’s still the best tactic to turtle up in the dungeon, accrue XP through defeating attackers and then storm the overworld in one fell swoop. I did find myself needing to venture up more often to gather Evilness in order to progress however, which was actually a welcome wrinkle to the gameplay motivator. It’s still supremely fun, but it felt a little too familiar at the same time.
Dungeon Of Glorious Despair
If there’s one thing Dungeons 4 does get right however, it’s the progression. Almost every level in this campaign will be introducing something new. Whether it be new, powerful variants of traps, such as the Snot-requiring hamster wheel of death. Or if it’s a new room type, increased level cap for minions or access to novel potions, spells or powers.
There’s a marked feeling of an ever-increasing skill-ceiling as you drown out light and happiness in the story. The world and all things good might be suffering, but that’s all the better for your own twisted gratification. Thalya especially develops a variety of powerful abilities which can turn the tide of a waning battle against the loveliness.
Completing sub-objectives in levels continues to unlock trophies (a fact I, as a trophy hunter, appreciate) and now can open up new passive buffs. Finish a level using only Undead for example, and you’ll find Undead rooms and creatures 15% cheaper in future levels. You can select up to three passives per level, allowing a for a decent layer of tactical decision-making.
It won’t be turning you into an all-consumed-with-decision-making Evil, but the progression in Dungeons 4 feels like a substantial improvement worthy of a new entry.
Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows… of Death
If you played any of Dungeons 3, then it’s visual style probably hasn’t been lost on you. Dungeons 4, for the most part, looks exactly the same. It’s hard to really discern any significant graphical upgrades on PS5 hardware, but that’s actually a compliment to the cartoon-ish visuals. Much like cel-shaded graphics, it’s hard to make it look better simply through more pixels.
The contrast between the bright, uplifting and vibrant hero-controlled areas of the overworld still juxtapose wonderfully with the corruption of your ever-creeping evil. Lakes become lava, foliage gives way to fire and brimstone. Unicorns are turned into littered bones and heroes become cannon fodder to feed your sacrificial statues.
Basically, Dungeons 4 still looks great, though just distinctly the same. It does however, run much better than Dungeons 3 did. The improvement in hardware has meant the developers can up the unit cap and the size of the battles substantially, and it shows. On PS5, slowdown was minimal, right up until the end of an hour-long level where I had dozens of rooms, Snots numbering the 20s and units numbering near hundreds.
As you might expect, there is still some downturn when things get hectic. The fact it can even get as chaotic as it does is a wonderful achievement. Music motiffs are still lovely for the heroes and Sauron-esque for the minions of the Absolute Evil (you), and the sound design is still fantastic. Dungeons 4 may be familiar, but it’s still brimming with charm and oozing with love. Unlike Thalya and her family.
Lord Of The Dungeon Flies
Dungeons 4 feels like a game stuck between being a big expansion and a fully-fledged sequel. The improvements and enhancements make the experience bigger and broader. Much like your over-levelled Orc champion however, it still remains an Orc, albeit in a fresh coat of paint and a burlier stature. If you love the series, then there’s just more to love.
Co-op also returns for the entire single-player offering, so if you and a like-minded Evil want to reign terror on Tristan and co, you most certainly can. I still find it awesome they managed to make co-op work within a game of this framework. Shoutout too for the controls being remarkably intuitive, given it’s a base-building real-time strategy, it works surprisingly well.
Time for the money question: is Dungeons 4 worth dredging up your skeletons and reanimating your spirits for? I’d say yes, for the most part. There’s a lot of familiarity here and while more changes would probably have been welcome, it’s likely a symptom of having spent so long with Dungeons 3 and it’s huge offering of DLCs. It’s more Dungeons basically, and if that appeals to you, you’ll be a grinning-ear-to-ear Evil.
Despite a lack of substantial upgrades, Dungeons 4 maintains the core of its predecessors while upping the ante with bigger, larger and more bombastic battles. The Absolute Evil has become a familiar and well-worn arbiter of wickedness at this point, but even if the story is still silly and the gameplay is largely the same, building an army of minions still never fails to entertain. Slay the unicorns, it’s too bright up in that overground.
Dungeons 4 is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Realmforge Studios
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.