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Review: The Dwarves

King Art Games is a development team that has some experience with the Kickstarter platform, with Battle World: Kronos and The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 as their successful Kickstarter projects. Their newest project, The Dwarves, is probably their most ambitious one since it is based on the well-received fantasy novels written by Markus Heitz. But is the game itself worth your time?

Well told story with some flaws

You start the game with a prologue that lays the foundation of the main story and also explains to you the basic mechanics of the game. After this short introduction, you then take control of Tungdil Goldhand, a young dwarven blacksmith who lives with his foster father in Ionandar. Tungdil gets sent out on a fetch quest, which results in him meeting new friends, but also dangerous foes. While the story of The Dwarves is not anything special in itself, it is told pretty effectively. This is mainly caused by the well-written characters in the game, which are apparently almost adapted word for word from the novels. Add to that the female narrator that delivers her lines like a D&D dungeon master and you find yourself easily immersed in the fantasy world of The Dwarves. However, some design choices in terms of storytelling aren’t exactly well made. Throughout the story, you’ll sometimes have the choice between two options to further the plot. If you choose the wrong path, then the game will simply end. This seems like an odd design choice because the right choices are taken straight from the novels, so why include the option to take a different path if it will always result in a ‘game over’? Maybe this was implemented as some sort of ‘reward’ for those who’ve read the novels, but this may be frustrating for newcomers.

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Meet Tungdil, the protagonist of the story

Another story-wise design choice is that you can’t let any party member ‘die’ during battles or boss fights. Well yes, they can die but this will also result in a ‘game over’. Every party member plays a role in the story so, by the logic of the developers, this means that the death of a party member during gameplay means that the character has died in the story, so the story is over. While this does make sense story-wise, it becomes incredibly frustrating after a while since the technical aspect of the game has a lot of problems and can kill your comrades way too easy.

Gameplay is a mess

The Dwarves plays like any other isometric action RPG, with a few tweaks. You pick four characters to play with and are thrown into battle against hoards of orcs and other fantastical monsters. Every character can equip three out of five skills that you can use to defeat your enemies. These skills require ‘Action Points’, which are earned by killing enemies or by waiting while you auto-attack. This is the first problem I encountered with the gameplay in The Dwarves. Your regular attack is auto-enabled and can’t be turned off. So whenever you’re out of action points, you literally have to wait and do nothing until you can use one of your skills, ruining the flow of the gameplay. This can be fixed by using some potions which fill up your action points bar, but these are so scarce that you basically are afraid to ever use them. What if you use your only potion and one level later, you have to defeat a boss? Speaking of bosses, some of them are ridiculously overpowered and are such a spike in difficulty that you’ll have trouble defeating one without a decent amount of potions. I often found myself backtracking in search of potions, just so I would have a chance with the next boss battle.

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Few against many is the main focus of combat

The engine also has trouble maintaining a stable framerate during large battles, at least in the PS4 version which is the one I reviewed. It even has some screen tearing every now and then, which is not something I’ve seen a lot in most other console games. However, while framerate and screen tearing are issues that shouldn’t be ignored, it’s nothing compared to the awful camera. Too often during my playthrough has the camera been stuck behind a mountain or wall, which made me unable to see what was happening in battles. For some reason, the developers decided that the camera should be focussed on the character you’re controlling, but still make you able to control it freely. This makes it way too easy to get the camera stuck behind something. Hopefully, this will get fixed in upcoming patches, because it’s just too frustrating to play the game like this.

It does have some charm

While I do have gotten frustrated with the game multiple times during my playthrough, I don’t hate it. In fact, I kinda liked it. The Dwarves has charm and occasionally surprised me in little ways. Like when I found out I can push enemies off bridges with a mighty blow from my hammer, or by looking at the well designed and well-written cast of the playable characters. Even the cutscenes, while simple, have something special to them that will grab your attention. The soundtrack also has some good tunes and blends in perfectly with the fantasy setting of The Dwarves.

Most of the character models look great
Most of the character models look great

Conclusion

The Dwarves is not a game I would recommend to most people. While the combat can be fun at times, it can also be frustrating, especially when an unexpected boss fight starts. The best parts of the game are the story and the characters since it’s a great adaptation of the novel. If you’re a fan of the novel, then you’ll probably won’t mind playing this. Just make sure you remember which paths Tungdil took in the novel in order to avoid a ‘game over’ screen.

6/10