The dungeon management sim has always held a special place in many players’ hearts, and it has always been a wonder why there weren’t many modern alternatives that could scratch that itch. That continues to be the case even with Artefacts Studios and Dear Villagers‘ Naheulbeuk’s Dungeon Master, a satirical twist on the genre that doesn’t quite hit the heights of the classics.
If the name of the game appears somewhat familiar, chances are, you have come across the tactical turn-based role-playing experience that was Dungeon of Naheulbeuk. Just as that game poked fun at everything Dungeons & Dragons, this sort-of prequel wants to do so for dungeon builders.
Yet, the very lack of any meaningful dungeon-building is a big red flag on this front. Rather, the focus is firmly placed on managing the staff that call the dungeon home, which in itself isn’t a bad idea, but the execution of it all leaves much to be desired.
Between the various races of orcs, humans, elves, dwarves and the like, each having their own likes and dislikes, it could have been an intriguing challenge to have everyone living harmoniously, marching towards the same goals. Catering to the needs of your people is an important skill that is integral to any effective dungeon, but the folks in Naheulbeuk’s Dungeon Master can be a confusing bunch
Take employee strikes as an example; while it may be easy to acquiesce to the requests of having a better-looking canteen or more toilets, things get a bit hairier when your workforce is actively campaigning against having too many dwarves within the dungeon, who can be crucial in various aspects of your operation. Instead of addressing actual concerns and watching problems go away, the game seems more keen on making such strikes a recurring joke, serving to aggravate and not helping players become better at their jobs.
Add to that significant pathing issues that see your minions seemingly unable to find the closest bathroom or breakroom to fulfil their needs and leading to them quitting; it is truly a thankless job trying to be the steward of this place. When it’s easier to hire new additions as opposed to nurturing your team of specialists, it is an issue that can be quite detrimental to the experience.
That same malaise also reveals itself in the dungeon-building aspects of Naheulbeuk’s Dungeon Master. Each floor of the wizard’s tower has pre-arranged spaces in which rooms can then be designated, with minimum sizes and required items that players must take note of, leaving little room to make the dungeon your own.
As minions go about their business and use these rooms for their needs, they become better at their jobs and start demanding higher-quality surroundings. This can be achieved by placing decorations within the room itself, going from dingy rooms to opulent facilities as you try to max out the star ratings. And with stronger minions, it means raids you’ll send them on will become easier to succeed in, and those pesky adventurers that come invading can be dealt with more effectively.
In the best-case scenario, all of these systems will work in tandem to ensure that players have to invest properly in each area to keep things moving along, but that’s not the case. It would have been better, if for instance, increasing the prestige of each room was through items of tangible use, rather than an easy hack of plastering the walls with posters and torches.
Minions being ultimately dispensable also doesn’t provide much incentive to give it your all when it comes to retaining their loyalty and services. Wait out those annoying strikes, and things will get back to normal soon enough; if not, feed those good-for-nothings to the rampaging demon lord residing in the upper levels or fire them outright; either way, the new replacements will come by shortly.
As for the invaders, they hardly ever pose a threat, especially if you happen to have overwhelming numbers on your side, and even with the options of traps at your disposal, they tend to hurt your own people more than the enemy, which isn’t ideal at all.
What it all amounts to is a dungeon management sim where there is very little management involved, and things tend to get too easy way too quickly. There isn’t a need to carefully consider the space you have when building rooms; staff can be dropped at an instance without repercussions, and the fully voiced campaign portions with incessant jokes that don’t always land will undoubtedly wear players down.
It is a shame, because Naheulbeuk’s Dungeon Master certainly captures the feel of the likes of Dungeon Keeper in some ways, with the visual style and audio design usually on point, but the foundations are shaky at best and too superficial to work as one, cohesive experience. Compared to the legacy of the genre, it would have been better for the game to stay in its dark cell beneath the ground instead of trying to be a shiny wizard tower that calls attention to itself.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A satirical parody that struggles to get the basics right, Naheulbeuk’s Dungeon Master doesn’t come close to the classics at all.
Gameplay - 7/10
Story - 6.5/10
Presentation - 7.5/10
Value - 6.5/10