Life’s short & hard like a bodybuilding dwarf
We Are the Dwarves is the first title from independent developer Whale Rock Games. After the game’s failed Kickstarter campaign, the title was resurrected by the community via Steam Greenlight. The Greenlight page describes We Are the Dwarves as a “story-driven real-time tactical action game about the three dwarven astronauts in the Stone Universe looking for the warm and bright Stars”. That quote is taken straight from the page. I haven’t altered it at all and I think it describes the game perfectly.
Confused? Don’t worry; I’ll walk you through it.
The story of We Are The Dwarves goes something like this: The Dwarves, as a race, are at the edge of extinction. The aforementioned Stars they are seeking out have mysteriously faded & without them the dwarves are unable to sustain life. The Dwarves’ kingdom has decided to send three astronauts on an expedition to find a new Star. During the expedition things go awry and our three heroes (Smashfist, Forcer, & Shadow) crash land in a mysterious part of the universe. Now it is all up to the three dwarves to battle their way through this uncharted territory & salvage parts of their ship all while searching for a new Star to save their kind.
There, now that the story is cleaned up hopefully you understand how important your role is. I believe the story is the games strongest point. Whale Rock Games have gone into great detail with the lore of its universe. You can spend hours reading up on the games fascinating setting in its extensive journal that updates as you discover the mysteries of the game.
Let’s get onto to the good. Namely, the game’s visuals. Most isometric games come off as looking similar. I can honestly say that We Are the Dwarves looks absolutely beautiful. It’s lush amazon like settings are enhanced by vibrant purples and greens that make the graphics almost look 3D. Portions of the game are very dark but I’ve never had a problem seeing the enemy or the path to my next objective.
A large part of We Are the Dwarves is surveying the playfield. Huge roots & lookout spots are scattered throughout the terrain for you to get up to higher ground and plan your attack. When your looking down at the land you can truly see how lavish and detailed the world is. Muddy moats and large carnivorous plants are just a few of the gorgeous but dangerous obstacles you will have to overcome.
The attention to detail the developers gave the environments have also found their way to the Dwarves & their enemies. The Dwarves themselves look, well, like Dwarves. They’re tough, stocky little guys who would beat any one of us in a beard/mustache competition. They’re tough looks are greatly enhanced by the detailed armor they don to protect but also grant them abilities in battle. The enemies of the Dwarves don’t take a back seat to the games design. Foes come in the form of small bug like creatures all the way up to large battle-ready warriors who inhabit the world.
The game’s audio direction is similarly solid. The different sounds the creatures make will give the player cues on what is happening in their environment. One of the enemies, the Whistlers, will communicate by whistling to their cohorts when you’re spotted. You will hear the Swarm Queen’s scream just before she jumps out of her nest to attack. Along with the enemies the plant life also have distinct sound effects. Plants will annunciate when you get too close and that will also alert any nearby enemies to investigate. Forcer’s shotgun gives out a very loud boom while blowing the enemies off the play field & Smashfist’s axe make a satisfying splash when slicing through the baddies.
We Are the Dwarves is hard. I’ve died countless times on the very first section of the game. I’ve also died countless time on the second, third, fourth, and well you get the point. Now the difficulty isn’t the same as the Soul’s series. It’s not the “learn what you did wrong & eventually overcome your weakness to defeat the enemy” type difficulty. This is “What am I doing wrong? I’m just going to turn this off and, oh wait, I found an exploit” kind of difficulty. I felt like I was just scraping by the whole game and didn’t know if I was really playing it right. When I finally beat a section I didn’t feel accomplishment. I felt like I should replay the section again and see if there was a better way of defeating it.
Let me explain what I mean. First thing I need to mention is something called “The Stone of Life”. This stone is a round gold like ball that can be found in all levels of the game. When near this stone a quick click on it will refill your energy meter. It has unlimited uses and is often off a narrow pathway at the edge of the land.
Each level of the game plays out like a puzzle. There are usually 3 or more large groups of enemies spread out from your starting point to the exit of the level. If you happen to alert too many of these enemies they come rushing toward you and often end up killing you in 5 seconds. This is because your armor is weak and the Dwarf’s energy gauge empties very quickly. My strategy in almost every level would be just to get the attention of a large group of enemies and have them follow me to the Stone of Life. With my back up against it I would just blow them away or hack and slash at them (depending of what Dwarf I’m in control of) and continually fill my life gauge as needed.
Now I know what your thinking. This seems like cheating. But let me assure you, I could not complete many of the levels any other way. I would try stealth and just sneak by the enemies but you have to complete certain obstacles that are conveniently located in the middle of a horde. I would try to just draw one enemy away from the others but that often never works as they always call their buddies for backup. I’ve tried the game’s pause feature, where everything slows down and gives you a chance to plan your attack and “stack” a move set, but often the slightest sound would attract every enemy within an earshot. I’ve tried numerous strategies in each level until I just gave up and went back to the Stone of Life.
The game starts you out with the Dwarves all separated during the crash. Forcer is the first Dwarf you take control of. His abilities are that of a range character. He carries a very strong shotgun and grenade launcher. He also can emit a large force field around the dwarves so long-range enemy attacks won’t do much damage. A big part of the game is using Forcer’s shotgun to blow enemies off the side of the mountains where they will fall to their death. It’s hilarious when it happens but this gun also causes Forcer to fly backward since it’s so powerful. The game’s paths are so narrow that 99% of the time you use this gun in an area where you can knock off a few enemies you also end up throwing yourself off the side of the cliff. The amount of damage the enemy can take is unreal. Even the weakest enemy won’t die until you blast them with your shotgun three or four times. During your shotgun’s reloading sequence he’s chucking a few spears at you along with his buddies and next thing you know you’re at the game over screen again.
A huge reason that the game is so difficult is because the Dwarves armor seems to always be at its weakest state. Throughout the level you collect exploration points and other items to repair your armor. Scattered throughout the level are areas that are save points. Here you can repair and upgrade your armor’s abilities. No matter how much I repaired my armor one hit of a spear would usually destroy it completely. It came to a point where I didn’t even repair my armor anymore because it didn’t seem to be helping at all. Even with it fully repaired I’d be dead if I wasn’t fighting with my back against The Stone of Life.
I’ve had better luck using Smashfist. This Dwarf carries an axe and can wield it pretty well. I could usually get through an encounter with a large group of enemies without exploiting the Stone of Life. I was having a lot of fun with the game while using Smashfist. Cutting down enemies wasn’t as frustrating as blowing myself off the side of a cliff from the blowback of my shotgun. My only gripe while using Smashfist is that I couldn’t tell if I was damaging an enemy as he swung his axe around wildly. Eventually they would all end up dead but I couldn’t figure out if I needed to be facing the enemy to hit them. Sadly, just as I was having fun and figuring out the game it put me back in control of Forcer.
Eventually Forcer & Smashfist find eachother and your able to use both Dwarves in battle. This made things even tougher believe it or not. You’d think as you have two Dwarves combat would be a bit easier. One of the main problems with having multiple Dwarves is friendly fire. Just when you think your going to tear the enemies up with two Dwarves it reminds you that this game is unforgiving. Forcer’s shotgun and grenades cause massive damage to the enemy but seem to hurt Smashfist even more. This was extremely frustrating. Part of the armor perk tree adds the ability decrease the amount of damage friendy fire will cause, but as I said before, the armor even at its strongest is very weak.
Eventually you will be in control of the third Dwarf, Shadow. He’s your stealthy dwarf who kind of blends the abilities of Forcer and Smashfist. Using Shadow reminded me of playing Metal Gear. While holding the Alt key on an enemy you can see their range of vision. It’s reminiscent of Metal Gear’s cone vision. Patience is key while using Shadow. He can quickly zip from one form of cover to another and eventually get behind the enemy and perform a stealth kill. One surprising ability Shadow is lacking is a way to distract the enemy. Forcer has this ability but I feel Shadow would benefit from this tenfold.
Whale Rock Games took on a huge challenge with We Are the Dwarves. Graphically the game looks beautiful. The lore and story will stick with me for a long time. I just wish the game wasn’t so difficult. I was hoping for even an easy setting in the options but it’s nowhere to be found. I honestly believe if they added an easy option and tweaked a few things here and there this game could be great. As it is now the difficulty just leads to an extremely frustrating experience.
Final Verdict: 2.5 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Whale Rock Games; Developer: Whale Rock Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: February 26, 2016; Genre: Adventure ; MSRP: $14.99