Contrary to the experiences of every other reviewer of Impire, I’ve never played Dungeon Keeper. I certainly tried, back when my family first bought an old PC from my Mum’s office. It did not go well. The game would stutter and lag and despite my expert technical knowledge (I was 10), I couldn’t ever actually play it. I did, however, play a lot of Theme Hospital, so before you condemn me for what you’re about to read, know this: I do have experience with this building management genre.
At the end of the first tutorial mission, you’re tasked with taking down the dungeon guardian. You can assign up to 8 units to 2 separate squads (this will be important soon) and use them to attack the boss monster. So far, so typical. Of course, a mere meat-shield boss wouldn’t be enough, so the guardian can regain the entirety of its health by feeding from one of four tables in the room. The tables can be destroyed by attacking them with your units. Think of how you’d deal with this. Go on. I’ll wait.
Did you think you’d distract the boss with some units while sending others to destroy the tables? That’s a pretty good plan. I can see we’re dealing with a real intellect here. I did the same thing. Except that the tables of food will magically repair after 30 seconds or so and will do so for the entirety of the battle. You can assign two squads to hot-keys for quick switching between them, but there are four tables and a boss. It would take a micro-management god to destroy all four, constantly keep them destroyed and still take down the boss. In the end, I had to constantly swap my attacking units in and out of squads, have four groups of four (one stationed at each table) and then use the rest of my population limit to pile on to the boss. Even then, I only just managed to take him down before he slaughtered every creature I could throw at him.
The reason why I’ve told you this lengthy tale is because it symbolises everything that’s wrong with Impire. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be and in trying to be an RPG-lite and a management sim and an RTS, it falls short of each. It can’t provide the tactical combat of an RPG, the unit management is sub-par for an RTS and there’s no excitement in developing your dungeon.
Let’s begin with the dungeon management. Your dungeon is caved into the dark earth, excavated by tiny gibbering imps as your need more and more space expands; you’ll take up room with nurseries, store-houses and miniature mushroom forests. It’s a fairly simple system. Nurseries are barracks, store-houses are resource holders and mushroom forests are resource producers; other rooms can allow access to more advanced units, can train already existing units or can feed your units (even demonic hordes need a canteen).
Each room is pre-fabricated and must fit into the limited amount of space you have available in each level; there is an element of careful planning required, but it would take some effort of will to plan so badly that it required a restart. The dungeon building plan usually remains the same from level to level: you’ll almost never deviate from your set routine, because there’s never any need to do so. The dungeon creation is just too simple to warrant a full game based around it, but that’s what Impire purportedly is.
It’s also sort of maybe an RPG. It’s certainly got RPG elements in it, with the ability to level up your anti-hero and erstwhile protagonist, Baal. Baal begins a weedy malformed little imp and as he levels, he grows in stature and fear, but mechanically, levelling leads to slight improvements that lack any sort of pizzazz. You can specialise Baal into one of three archetypes (mage, warrior, commander), but the system isn’t deep enough to warrant its inclusion; a few specialised abilities here, some stat boosts there, it plays like an ARPG-lite.
Then comes the RTS side of the game, which is crippled by the flawed AI. Your units require babysitting and a level of obsessive control that would leave even the most paranoid dictator wondering if it’s maybe a bit too much. Your AI troops will stand about, starving themselves into combat-based inadequacy, even if the kitchen is a mere metre away from where they stand. Workers will idly stare at a wall unless they receive a direct order to move to a room and work. Fighters will often watch as adventurers saunter past them to destroy your most essential facilities, presumably with a thought of “What odd-looking imps those were”. It’s like your demonic staff have decided to indulge in peaceful protest against your command and will only work to rule; sure, they could kill that invading cleric, but until you’ve directly told them to, they’ll just give them a cheery wave as they go past.
It would almost be worth sticking with through the inevitable months of patching (which might bring the game to slightly above average) were it not for the annoyingly zany humour. Lame jokes limp throughout the main dialogue, which is itself delivered by voice-actors who I hope are ashamed of the poor effort shown here. It’s grating and eventually led me to mute the game entirely as I played, for fear of the ever-growing urge to devour my own ears in a dramatic show of protest against the misaimed humour.
Impire is an average game, half-baked and unwieldy. It tries too hard to impress and in over-stretching itself in so many genres, it fails to excel in any of them. If the game is marked down, in a year’s time or so, to a fiver, I think I could give it a wary recommendation. I wouldn’t spend any more than that on Impire and I would recommend you follow my example.