The Dwarves is a unique adaptation to the book of the same name that provides for an entertaining experience, albeit a flawed combat system.
Note: Pre-Release Review copy was provided by the developer.
The game is a tactical real-time RPG that plays like a dumbed-down Diablo with a focus on plot and real time strategy mechanics. The gameplay has several glaring flaws, but the story and uniqueness of the gameplay holds the experience together.
The Dwarves puts you in the shoes of the dwarf Tungdil in a quest to save the land of Girdlegard after a mage turns evil and takes over a orc army in an attempt to take control of Girdlegard (Conan O’Brien would have an aneurysm from that). The world is complex but the narrative and world design does a very good job of helping you understand how the story works. When you visit new locations they always look unique. There is a clear effort to differentiate every place from one another.
Those unique designs are also intricate, and well thought out. As seen above, Dwarven fortresses are full of intricate gold inlays and large stone slabs, exactly what a Dwarf Fortress would look like.
There’s no sense of information overload. The game takes its time spoonfeeding you information and it keeps the game from feeling overbearing with its story.
The story itself is a dolphin-dive of quality, starting off a little weak, but kicking into hyperdrive a little under an hour in and faceplanting ten feet before the finish line. The story is interesting, has some really clever and cool twists, but leaves some knots loose before ending on a cliffhanger for a sequel which I hope comes, because then I’d have to read the books to know what happened and they’re all over 700 pages.
Something else that was interesting about the world is that a lot of huge events happen off-screen. A lot happens, but the story never slows down to explain everything to you and somehow it works.
J.R.R. Tolkien would look at this and think “not bad”.
Incredibly Clever Plot Twists
For this, I give credit to the writer of The Dwarves book, Markus Heitz. There are some brilliantly crafted twists and turns in this game that simply cannot be left out. I say plot twists because there are MANY, and they are all GREAT. I can’t say much without spoiling it, but it was truly a defining part of the game’s narrative for me.
Like Claymation, But Better
The art style is reminiscent of a very detailed claymation, with great animation, great effects, great character design, and a generally good art direction. The soft edges to nearly everything makes the game much easier to look at.
Its surprisingly unique and gives the game a lot more character than if it had a
Texture quality is well defined and detailed where necessary, models are very well made, shadows and reflections look fantastic, and the game’s movable camera compliments all of this well.
Little needs to be said beyond the fact that this game’s art style is wholly unique and very well executed.
A Variety Of Misfits
The story has interesting characters and uses their personalities and abilities to the best effect in the story. Dwarves are energetic and boisterous in their demeanor, the elves are commanding but have airy voices, and Humans are a variety of plain to eccentric. There was clearly a lot of thought put into the identity of each character.
Voice acting is, besides a few side quest outliers, fantastic. The dwarves’ have great Scottish accents, and just about everyone else has an enthusiastic British accent. Its also always great to see/hear full voice-over in a text-heavy game.
The Overworld is Half The Fun
The in-game overworld where you travel from point to point has all the gane’s RPG elements. You travel from node to node, and occasionally you’ll run into a story node. In these nodes, you may find a tavern where you can rest and buy supplies, or you may find an angry mob trying to kill someone and you get the choice to investigate. Or you could be boring and just ignore all of it, but wheres the fun in that?
You can also find and complete side and story missions in whichever order on the map, which is a great way to slow down the game, and give downtime between stressful battles.
The overworld is a small but fun addition to the game that makes the overall experience much more accessible to those who don’t want nonstop action.
Issues with Combat
The Dwarves has you control up to 4 members of your party in combat, each having one passive ability, three active abilities, and space for one item you can equip them with before battle. You can select and decide the moves of your units like a real-time strategy game, with the ability to pause to think out your moves. Throughout the story, you gain and lose units who have different abilities and as you finish battles, they level up and gain new abilities. How you manage your units’ abilities is a really interesting take on real time strategy games, but in the end, this take is inherently flawed.
You rarely feel like your units are listening to what you say. Often you’ll tell a unit to move somewhere to escape an enemy, and they just don’t listen and continue standing in place. I often feel like the units’ AI is superseding my decisions. This issue gets even worse later on when there are dozens of enemies on screen and you can’t move your units at all unless you use a movement ability, something that most units can’t get.
While the combat is really fun to watch, there’s very little “strategy” to this real time strategy game. The game can’t seem to decide if its a clever physics based strategy game, or a beat-em’-up with dozens of enemies to beat at once. Its cool to look at, but it ultimately becomes more stressful that it needs to be.
This game HARD. I played the first few hours on normal difficulty but once I reached the first boss, the game had a huge difficulty spike and from then on I HAD to play on easy. When the game tasks you with killing lesser enemies, its no problem, but later in the game you start getting objectives where you have to beat a boss on top of fighting lesser enemies. Its a never ending fight to keep your units alive, and its unbelievable how pointlessly difficult it is.
Even on easy, the game is incredibly difficult. You’re limited to 4 characters per battle, but increasing that cap or lowering or limiting the amount of smaller enemies that come at you in boss fights would be much fairer.
Ludicrously Rushed Ending
The Dwarves book is 700 pages long, but it felt like the last hour of the game was made up of the last 300 pages. So much happened at the end it felt like too much happened in a hurried rush to end the game and set up for a sequel.
In exactly 20 seconds, your character gets a love interest, and the final confrontation with the main villain was a 2 minute mission. So much of the game’s ending feels rushed and its incredibly dissapointing because by the end of the game, I still felt like it needed another two to three hours of gameplay.
I can’t say much about the ending without spoiling a lot, but it just feels like the ending left a lot to be desired. Remember when Mass Effect 3 had an amazing story all the way through until the exact ending? Its like that, except you dedicated a hundred less hours to the series so its not as mortifying.
The Dwarves is a rough, but fun start to what could be a fantastic trilogy of real time strategy games. This is a fun and worthwhile experience, with a solid foundation and a flawed combat system that could easily be improved tenfold. I also think its a fairly unique experience, and should be a truly memorable experience to those who find it even slightly interesting.
It should also go without saying that any fans of the books should pick this up without question.
You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in. Follow us on Twitter @KoTAYku and Like Us on Facebook.
Have a story you want told? See a game you want to know more about? Contact the author of this post via his e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @Geo_star101