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Dungeon Hero Preview

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Developer:Firefly Studios
Platform:PC & Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.heroherohero.com/
Release Date:Spring 2009
Writer:Joe Robinson (JustCommunication)
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In a genre that's been dominated by either the intricate complexities of Dungeons & Dragons, or the linear environments of Diablo, it'd be quite a daunting task for any developer to try and do something new. But that's not going to stop UK-based studio Firefly.

Best known for their Stronghold series of PC games, Firefly have taken a break from their 2D strategy sim to bring us something new. According to lead designer Simon Bradbury, this new title is something they've wanted to do "for a long time".

Dungeon Hero is an action/adventure game with a twist, and just from listening to the developers speak, you can tell that it means business. Even the title is a subtly ironic pun on the genre, as Firefly has taken every preconception you may have, and turned them on their heads.

"We wanted to make a Dungeon that is different… a real place."

Standing on his podium in the depths of a Soho Hotel's screening room; Bradbury walked us through the sample levels that were on offer. A 'dungeon' in their eyes, is not a random assortment of surprisingly well-made rooms or caves, but a vast metropolis, with its own eco-system, its own society, and its own living, breathing inhabitants… And its own WWI style trenches.

In order to make this title stand apart, Firefly has tried to address the inconsistencies that go with the classic dungeon formula.

"There won't be a level five goblin in a room with a giant spider, who's not attacking the goblin, because that doesn't make sense. Neither is there going to be a chest of gold at their feet."

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Instead, there will be a whole city of goblins and you, as the only human in town, will need to help them in their war with the other clans. The environments, says Bradbury, will vary, and more importantly, will be real and tangible. These goblins are not just faceless monsters, but real people, and the dungeon is their home.

Even your character, the 'Hero' of the game, is anything but. You play a mercenary, and you have all of the hardcore weapons and foul-language to go with it. Bradbury hinted that your character is actually tricked by the goblins into assisting them, thus further expanding the accepted definition of a 'Hero'.

But it's one thing to know what you want from a game; it's something else entirely to make it a reality. With a year of development, it's still very early days for Dungeon Hero, and one thing they couldn't show us much of, was combat.

Firefly's hope is to achieve a subtle mix of generic hack 'n' slash button mashing, and more stylised combo manoeuvres.

"What we wanted to do was make it more interesting and tactical than just hitting 'X', whilst not requiring you to learn a combination of buttons, because that's hard."

"Most people, myself included, just can't be bothered to learn them, or simply forget them."

Listening to Bradbury, it seems like Dungeon Hero is going to try something similar to Spartan: Total Warrior. Everyone will be attacking you at once, and you need to make tactical decisions like when to block, and when to strike out. At the same time, he assures us, there will a choice of moves and attacks to use, that can be unlocked as you level up.

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There will be no RPG-like distribution of attribute points. Instead, you are given 'skill points' that you can use to improve your offensive and defensive moves.

Another key point for Bradbury is story, as it will be here that team really try and hit home their 'anti-dungeon' motif. Firefly will be using a mix of comic-style sections that look like they're from a Frank Miller novel, and in-game hints via NPCs in order to drive the narrative. The story itself is being written by none other than Terry Pratchett, acclaimed author of the Discworld novels.

All this will serve to reinforce the idea that this 'Dungeon' is anything but. In the words of co-designer Andrew Parsons:

"It's not just a dungeon and you are not an ordinary hero."

What else do we know about this title?

There will be a total of 4 different goblin clans that you will interact with, and each will have their own unique lifestyle characteristics. There is no in-game economy, and whilst allegedly there will be varying weapons, you won't be able to pick anything up from fallen enemies.

"These goblins have lives, they have jobs, and they have families. Why would you find a ruby on them, or a set of armour? It wouldn't fit."

There will be some sort of multiplayer, but Bradbury is reserved on this matter because the genre is not one "that supports online play." Expect to see something more competitive than cooperative.

Other than that, their really isn't much else to say. The graphics are coming along well from what was to see, although they've got a while to go before they're truly next-gen. The dark colours and the moody setting, combined with the background noises, really do go a long way to set the scene.

Provided Firefly can deliver on their promises and make their ideas a reality, this could be one of the heavy hitters for next year's line up. Publisher Gamecock is also quite optimistic of this title, representative Alistair Hatch told us.

"We've got a good relationship with Firefly, and their desire to 'break the mould' with this game really appealed to us."

Dungeon Hero is definitely worth watching out for, but with a while left to go, all we can do for now is wait, and keep our ears to ground until it ships on PC and Xbox 360 sometime next Spring.

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