Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dungeon Lords Box (from GamingWithChildren) Imagine this: a new third-person action-RPG is announced, created by one of the grandmasters of the genre, the mastermind behind some of the best games in the beloved Wizardry franchise. It promises tense action, engaging combat, deep skill system, and a complex and engrossing story.

It is delayed, and delayed again, and eventually a very disappointing and problematic demo is released ... then the final release is delayed again to deal with the problems. Eventually the game is released in what is generally accepted to be a woefully incomplete state, is called one of the worst launches of a game in history, and is met with generally scathing reviews. It is called 'worst game of the year' by more than a couple of sites, and seems destined to go down in history based on bugs and empty towns rather than gameplay.

Imagine that less than a year later a 'Collector's Edition' is announced that ties in some new quests, monsters and spells with what amounts to yet another patch to the original game. The disks are put in a nice looking metal box and the whole thing is sold at full retail price with absolutely no recourse for owners of the original game to get the latest patch. This adds to the historical impact of the game - now it will also be remembered for featuring one of the most anti-consumer practices in gaming history. Horse Armor looks like handing out free candy compared to this.

Yet while all of this happens, the game becomes a million seller. Yes, that is right. Somehow one of the most reviled and poorly regarded games in history has also become one of the top-selling RPG's in recent years. So perhaps it was inevitable that more entries in the series would be announced. There have been rumors for months, and yesterday DreamCatcher made it official.

Here is the press release:

JoWooD Productions and DreamCatcher Games, leading publishers of interactive entertainment software around the world, today announced The Orb and the Oracle will release in Winter 2008 for Windows® as the next installment in the bestselling saga, Dungeon Lords.

“We have eagerly anticipated releasing a new installment in the Dungeon Lords saga,” said Byron Gaum, Global Product Marketing Manager at DreamCatcher Games. “We’re really excited to offer Dungeon Lords fans a new dose of the combat, magic and incredible quests that this fantasy RPG is known for.”

Created by legendary RPG game author, D.W. Bradley, The Orb and the Oracle boasts a massive fantasy world filled with incredible a ction and meticulously detailed indoor and outdoor environments. Offering both single and multiplayer co-op game modes, the game is sure to engage RPG fans for hours on end!

The game features an advanced and robust combat system coupled with devastating magic spells for a variety of ways to vanquish your foes in real-time. Set to the tone of an epic soundtrack, players should prepare themselves for an unforgettable journey.

The Orb and the Oracle for Windows® will sell for an SRP of $39.99 USD. The anticipated ESRB rating is T for Teen. For further information please visit our website at

So ... how do I feel about all of this?

Well, I have certainly not held my tongue about Dungeon Lords over the last three years - I reviewed the original and Collector's Edition for GamerDad, wrote a long article at GamerDad about what I learned from the experience, wrote a 'goodbye' article on my blog, as well as publishing the massive original review, and most recently wrote a retrospective based on a fresh playthrough. My thoughts and feelings are out there - I see it as a deeply flawed game that I liked more than it deserved.

But I will guarantee you right now that I will be there on release day buying the new game - and I hate myself for it.

I hate myself because the original game didn't deserve to sell a million copies, yet I bought it twice. Many people have had loads of fun and defend it strongly - I have put hundreds of hours into it, including another 60 or so just a couple of months ago. But the developers - and it all stops at the feet of DW Bradley - flat-out lied to the fans in the forums as well as those in the gaming media. They mis-represented things, over-promised, and never really had a solid feel of what would be required to make it all work. I asked in an open letter to the developers and publishers before release "Would you rather be remembered as the guys who released a really good game some months late, or the ones who pushed the unfinished and buggy mess out the door on time."? I understand financial reality, but thought they should consider another delay.

The problem is that the strong sales seems to have a justifying effect - they can come out and tout this as a beloved and best selling RPG, when in reality what they have done in the past three years is an abomination: they released a game with completely empty towns, no sidequests, a single-line journal, bugs galore, features prominently on the box missing - that they would later try to claim were never promised! Then they really pissed on the goodwill of gamers with the Collector's Edition - their move looks like they were saying "PC RPG are so starved and desperate for games that we can take this new patch, drop in a couple of minor items, box it up and sell it to them again for full price". And that is what they did. And we bought it up.

So now there is a new entry in the series - is it a true sequel or just an expansion? I don't know. Is it stand-alone or will it require the original game? The release doesn't say, but I wouldn't be shocked if it required the Collector's Edition to run ... it just seems like something they would do to keep pumping the sales.

Is this really the state of the PC RPG? Where we are happy to pay multiple times for the same game, to take another entry in this series where the previous one was perhaps the most botched launch & patch tale in history? That is why I hate myself - I know all of this stuff; I've railed about it for thousands of words ... yet I will be there buying it, in essence supporting the bad behavior they have shown through the years.

I applaud folks like Dhruin at RPGWatch, who has already thrown down the gauntlet, saying that no way will he buy this - the lies and poor treatment from Dungeon Lords has sworn him off of DreamCatcher in general, and has completely tarnished his image of DW Bradley. I agree with everything Dhruin has stated about the situation, yet I have bought DreamCatcher games since, and this one won't likely be the last.

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