By Chris Picone, 25 April 2023
I grew up with the original Dungeon Keeper and I'm deeply nostalgic for it, which means I find myself naturally attracted to anything resembling the whole "evil overlord" schtick. Ruinarch's obviously taken some inspiration from Dungeon Keeper but it's a very different game, with the goal being to mess with the overworld rather than defending your dungeon.
Ruinarch's a little unusual in that it features some really nice UI but the actual game world and creatures are a little lacklustre - functional, but certainly not pretty. However, I can forgive that in a game with such a huge focus on gameplay and mechanics as this one has. Ruinarch is a very ambitious project; your dungeon portal is the heart of your evil empire, and progress revolves around upgrading it which allows you access to new buildings and more powerful spells and summons. This is where the game really distinguishes itself from Dungeon Keeper and that ilk: You are an evil god lording over a whole world, not skulking about under its crust. Your tools include monster portals that periodically generate monsters that fit whatever environment you build the portal in, so you may create armies of wolves, spiders, scorpions, or something else entirely. These you use to wreak havoc, either harassing the nearby townsfolk, stealing their property, kidnapping the villagers, or burning the place to the ground. While you can cast damaging spells or buff your own troops, the game has a much higher focus on manipulation magic, which can be pretty fun. The idea is that you can manipulate the humans, influencing them to become kleptomaniacs, psychotic, even encouraging them to murder or pushing them toward becoming serial killers. You can spontaneously set their houses on fire, or dump magical water on them while they sleep, or flood their crops to mess with them. It sounds like a lot of fun, and can be, but in its current state the game lacks polish and many of the its functions are a little clunky. Like any project this ambitious, there's a huge amount of work involved, a lot that can go wrong, and tons of polish required. At this stage the game's still in Early Access, where it's apparently been for nearly three years, but I think it still needs a little longer in the oven.
The verdict? I don't think Ruinarch is quite ready for the world yet, but the team also plan to keep it in Early Access for at least another 8 months, so I remain hopeful. If they manage to pull it off, this will be one of the more impressive Evil Overlord simulators out there.