I feel I should immediately clarify that I have not, in fact, played Dungeon Keeper; the game I am assured this is supposed to take after very heavily. If you’re looking to see how Impire shapes up compared to Dungeon Keeper, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
I’m sure many people have played Dungeons and Dragons by now, or at least know about it. As an RPG, it introduced many of us to the classic genre of ‘Dungeon Diving’, where you go through the formula of: Walk in to dungeon, Kill Everything, solve puzzles, Kill Everything else, Loot the joint and leave.
Of course, the DM (Dungeon Master) had the most interesting job of creating the dungeons, and making them solvable by the players. What fun would have been had if he hadn’t known their exact levels and stats, and could create truly devious traps...
Impire, from the outset, looks set to realise those dreams - you’re told you have to build up your dungeon to not only repel meddling adventurers, but to train your troops in order to take over the entire map! What it doesn’t tell you is quite how you manage this, which starts the somewhat long list of “things the game doesn’t tell you”.
Some of these things aren’t too crippling: For example, although the mechanics of raiding the overworld are explained, its not really stressed at all - it took me a long time idling to work out that it was downright vital to your progression in the game. I can’t say the mechanics lend themselves to it either; the time you most want the resources is the beginning of a map, when you only have one squad able to be sent out. This then leaves you with a somewhat undesirable lack of squads to defend your base. In fact, the squad mechanic is arguably one of the most irritating things about the game. You can mass produce troops, provided you have the resources, but you can only have 5 squads as an absolute maximum, and it takes some hard work and good base expansion to get to the later squads. Since a huge amount of functionality is limited to the squads, it rather puts a dampener on things.
Otherwise, there’s various other niggles - for one thing, the game is long. This may not be a downside, but one normally expects to burn through the earlier campaign levels in a night, unlocking the later buildings and units in time to use them tactically. The second campaign mission took me in excess of an hour and a half - at which point I’d unlocked about ⅔ of the buildings, but only about 5 units, and had ended up self-teaching myself about aspects of the game that it didn’t see fit to teach me about just yet.
With those 5 units, I thought I’d be clever - have one squad of meatshields with a cleric, and then another squad of archers. Unfortunately, the enemy aggression mechanics don’t work like that, leading to a lot of dead archers and a lot of meatshields standing around not doing very much. It also turns out that there are magical combinations of troop types that will give bonuses when in a squad together. I had to work all of this out on my own in the second and third maps, because I hadn’t been told anything about it yet.
It is worth pointing out that there is a lot of play time in the game; the campaign alone is huge, nevermind the skirmish or multiplayer aspects. However, I can’t help but feel the game is a little misleading. Where you enter into it thinking it’s a cross between SimCity and Orcs Must Die, it proves you wrong, playing far more like a mediocre Civilisation-esque game.
It is a shame - the dialogue is just on the bad side of terrible (not quite so-bad-it’s-good territory), the building placement is a bit more like tetris than anything creative, and the squad mechanics are painful - and it all adds up into a disappointing game. If you can survive it, I have no doubt that it’s easily worth the relatively low price tag. There is a lot of play value in there; but good luck digging it out.