Impire review: An monotonous delve into well trodden dungeon sim grounds

The best thing I can say about Impire is that it makes a good first impression. The voice acting is top notch, the ambiance is fun if somewhat lacking in menace, and your initial foray into the ins and outs of the gameplay are interesting. Unfortunately, that wears off quickly, as the entirety of the game turns into a repetitive and artificially bloated experience. Impire isn't bad; infact, for the first few hours it was quite fun. Unfortunately not enough effort goes into changing up the formulae, and before long I found my attention wavering as the lingering doubt over my investment grew.

The premise of the story is simple; a bumbling and unskilled demonologist somehow manages to summon Bhaal-Abbadon, lord of the pit. Unfortunately, the Demonologist's incantation sucked, and Bhall is stuck in a pathetically small body of an Imp. The pair reluctantly agree that teaming up to destroy their enemies and enslave the world would be better than the alternative of having to fight eachother, and begin the act of world domination. Throw in a ton of pop culture, movie and music references, some great voice talent and a light but fun script, and hijinks ensue. It's all very standard fantasy fare but enjoyable nonetheless. It says a lot about this game that the plot, as average as it is, is the best feature about it. The only thing keeping me from banishing this game to the firey pits of hell is anticipation of the next line of dialogue from the demonologist.

Moving onto the gameplay, here is where the experience begins to become unstuck. Unfortunately neither the combat nor the dungeon simulator sections of the game are particularly well designed or implemented. Essentially your task in each (and every) level is to start from scratch, build some basic rooms, summon a few weak creatures and begin raiding the surface for resources whilst expanding your dungeon and building more powerful units, then send out your powerful squads and finish the objectives in the dungeon. For a simulator fan such as myself, this sounds like fun, but unfortunately the execution of the concept leaves much to be desired. Each and every level in the campaign revolves around this simple and repetitive cycle. Repetition is common in simulators, but Impire doesn't make the activity engaging or interesting enough to keep you entertained. I'm sure the concept looked good on paper; I can only fault the execution for this outcome.

Take, for example, the resource gathering process in Impire. Instead of having dedicated worker units to dig out ore, the developers have implemented a raiding system to harvest your resources. Raiding the surface for your resources rather than mining them out of the ground may seem like an interesting take on the old resource gathering pylon of the simulator genre, but in truth all you are doing is replacing worker units with fighting units. And unfortunately, the action in the above world is non-existent; the act boils simply down to your units just leaving the dungeon for a minute or 2, then reappearing again with a bag full of whatever goodies you sent them to pillage. You don't get to fight, see any combat, explore a new environment, nothing. All that's happening is your units being sent off on a fed-ex quest. It's an uninteresting and flavorless experience, and whilst I can appreciate trying to spice up a normally boring part of the waiting for resources part of simulators, in the end it does nothing to change up or improve upon the banal grind of repeatedly waiting for your worker units to dig up the resources required to make new units.

Fortunately units and buildings are cheap, and you really only have to do this for the first 15 minutes of each game while you build up your base buildings and core army of units. As you gather resources, you can purchase new rooms to place in your dungeons, which in turn allow for the production of new units or actions. And here we fall into another weak area of the game; lack of option.

You have no leeway for building rooms, nor their layout. Basically all you can do is rotate them. Once the building is completed, most will require an imp to be permanently assigned to operate the room and allow its use. Your dungeon doesn't feel unique or personalized; the level starts with key corridors already dug out, and given the spacing limits there isn't much opportunity to make your mark on the world. Traps can be built but are useless; as your units can be teleported instantly there's no need for defensive infrastructure, and you can skip them entirely and not suffer for it.

Combat suffers from a similar lack of style and substance; victors is a simple matter of teleporting all your squads directly ontop of any threat. Apart from some simple boss mechanics in the occasional level, there is no need to extend even a modicum of thought to your tactics; simply teleport your squads onto the good guys and you win. As there is no penalty for teleporting and the mana cost is so little that there really isn't any challenge. And the above mentioned boss battles don't really spice up the mix; once you understand the mechanic of the fight, it's a simple matter of destroying the food table before the boss gets there, or moving out of range of his flaming sword attack. I haven't been challenged yet. Occasionally your dungeon will be invaded by heroes, whom will drop ladders from above into random sections of your dungeon. These can be destroyed if you are quick enough, forcing the heroes to use the front door of your dungeon. As it occurs every 5 minutes, it doesn't take long to grow tired of this mechanic. Add to this every level having an extensive underground area requiring exploration by your squads to completed the objectives, and the constant need to teleport your units back home to deal with the threat is tiring at best and downright annoying when you are trying to get something done and move onto the next level.

An attempt to add RPG elements to the formulae also disappoints. As you perform action such as building new rooms or summoning new units, you earn DEC points. These are used to unlock new units and rooms, and are earned by performing a variety of tasks. In effect all they achieve is an artificial bloating of the time and effort required to finish a level. I never felt like I was getting more powerful by earning and spending DEC points; I felt like I was having to rerun the same obstacle course again (and again and again, as each level your DEC points reset and everything has to be relearned again anyway). Each level also provides Bhaal with more exp points, which can be spent to unlock small bonuses to his personal stats and change his appearance. Although the choices here persist, it didn't really add anything to the game, and like the other systems boils down to an artificial module tacked on to bloat the end sum of features. There is also a leveling system for the monsters which is so devoid of value or feature that I can't see the point talking about it any further. Suffice it to say that your little imps can get a little bit more powerful.

Impire just doesn't feel like a finished game. It's buggy as hell, corners have been cut and key features such as combat and base design feel rushed and poorly executed. Still, it's better than DUNGEONS, but unless you are a diehard fan of the genre I'd steer clear of this one. Do yourself a favour and head to GOG.com and buy yourself a copy of the classic bullfrog game Dungeon Keeper.

5/10

 

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