Core Corner: Dungeon Overlord's balanced approach to social gaming

I've played Dungeon Overlord in the past, but didn't give it much of a chance until recently. At first glance, it appears to be yet another strategy game that begs players to log in, spam friends for goods and to blow through energy. In reality, the game is much more than almost any core social game you'll come across to date, and offers a wide variety of content for gamers to enjoy. Sure, a player needs to tend to his or her particular dungeon at least several times a day, but you never feel like working on your particular dungeon is a chore necessary just to keep it running. You'll want to check in on my dungeon, to continue to grow it and to spread your power.

While many might be familiar with Dungeon Overlord, I'll explain for those who haven't played it for more than a few minutes. Your purpose in Dungeon Overlord is to grow and maintain a sprawling, dangerous underground lair populated by hideous monsters, from worker goblins to spell-casting warlocks. Other players can attack your dungeon, and you can do the same to theirs. Watching the playback of each attack can be a great chance to learn how the layout of your dungeon might affect the outcome of a battle.

As your dungeon continues to grow, it's important to keep an eye on the goods you have stored. Don't let your food drop to zero, or your minions could refuse to work, and be sure to keep the workers busy by clicking on piles of goods or food. Once you click, the items become wrapped up in a bundle and the wonderfully animated monsters grab the bundles and deliver them to storage. It's like watching an ant farm, but one that is filled with horrible monsters.
Dungeon Overlord does a fantastic job of maintaining a balance between single-player content, social sharing and multiplayer options. Many Facebook games use the social network to beg other players for goods or just for something else to do. You might visit a neighbor and help out in their city or plot, but generally, play between the two of you is minimal and doesn't mean much at all. Dungeon Overlord plays more like a typical strategy game but uses Facebook as a great method of communication and sharing, without ever becoming spammy or overwhelming. In this day and age of Facebook games seen as spam-fests and uncontrollable time sinks, it's refreshing to see games like Dungeon Overlord foster a truly core experience using the tools that Facebook provides. It's a delicate balance, but so far the game has done a great job of maintaining it.

I can add friends and skirmish with his or her dungeons, but I can also join an alliance for deeper play. My dungeon is also a member of a sort of "neighborhood" of dungeons that is populated by other players. I can send them messages and goods and eventually join forces with them. Of course, we could become bitter enemies as well, but that's all part of the fun. The social structures built into Dungeon Overlord give numerous options for communication beyond the standard sharing and wall-spam that many are used to from Facebook games. This is not only refreshing but necessary, if Facebook wants its chance to break out of the FarmVille mold. Deeper gameplay is great, but communicating with other Facebook users (even ones with no interest in what you're playing) is more to blame for Facebook gaming's negative image. Luckily, Dungeon Overlord keeps it all balanced.

The beginning tutorial isn't actually a tutorial, but a seemingly endless series of optional quests. As you go about the normal day-to-day business of running a grimy dungeon, you're rewarded with different prizes for finishing quests. If you prefer, you can go after particular quest lines. Don't worry, there are scores and scores of quests to keep you busy. The quests also serve to excite players about a possible future. After all, accepting a quest to kill a Balrog means that, at some point, we'll get to see what a Balrog is in this particular game. Tantalizing!

Dungeon Overlord keeps things flowing smoothly, but asks players to stay relatively active. Keeping with the theme of balance, a casual player could check in only several times daily and survive. But a more hardcore player could keep the game running in the background all day while, say, writing gaming articles, and grow much faster. It's all done in a pressure-free way. That's a refreshing change from many core-focused Facebook games we've seen so far.

If you enjoy strategy, customizing living spaces, old-school references, monsters and massively multiplayer worlds, then Dungeon Overlord is a fantastic game. The cash-shop is relatively cheap but you can live without. You can play it very casually, and do not need to worry about being spammed with requests. This game knows that players want to communicate with friends but knows just how overwhelming the spam can be. What a perfect balance.

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Do you need a balanced approach to Facebook sharing? Do you prefer to spam the heck out of your friends? Add comment

Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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