Short and Stout
Hey there, everyone! Do you have a favorite classic Fantasy race? Is it the dwarves? I’m sure that I heard someone say “dwarves”. Okay, let’s talk about that! I’m sure that most of you out there know, in at least one iteration or another, about the Dwarvenkind, right? Short, stocky, proud, big beards, good blacksmiths – you know the guys (and gals) that I’m talking about. Legends of Dwarves have been around for a long, long time – almost as long as the actual lifespan of a dwarf (hah!) – but that certainly hasn’t hurt their popularity any. To this very day stories and games about dwarves are still being made, and it just so happens that today’s review is all about a game dedicated to them as well. Let’s see what The Dwarves is all about, shall we?
The Dwarves, based on German author Markus Heitz’s novel of the same name, follows the adventures of a young (well, at least in dwarf years) dwarven man by the name of Tungdil. Now, you see, Tungdil may be a dwarf but he isn’t like most dwarves. Tungdil was found as an orphan, completely abandoned, by humans in Ionadar – a realm in the world of Girdlegard, and one that is normally devoid of dwarven life. Though he was raised by humans Tungdil’s dwarven heritage never left him, and he became a fine blacksmith (although he did develop a deep fondness for reading).
Tungdil got along well enough with the humans, but always yearned to find others like him. Eventually that wish was finally fulfilled when one day Lot-Ionan, Tungdil’s adopted father and a powerful magus (magic user), sent him on a journey to return some magical artifacts that he had borrowed from a fellow magus. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to finally see the outside world Tungdil seized the chance to leave, not knowing the trials and tragedy that would soon follow him.
The Dwarves is set in a High Fantasy world, meaning that the way in which it plays out is definitely catered toward a certain audience. Like many High Fantasy settings, there is a lot of backstory to The Dwarves and, most importantly, there are a ton of made-up words. I know that stating that might sound a little ridiculous, but I can guarantee you that if you aren’t paying attention while you play then you’re going to get confused as to what’s going on. While I like Fantasy, I’ve never been great with High Fantasy stuff, so I ended up getting lost during certain parts of the story due solely to the fact that I couldn’t remember the dozens of hard-to-pronounce names and locations that were being thrown at me. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – this kind of narrative has been around for a long time and is still pretty popular – but it’s just something to think about. If you’re into that sort of thing then you’ll probably like The Dwarves’ story quite a bit. If you’re anything like me though, well… you’d best take notes while you’re playing.
A decent portion of The Dwarves consists of exploration – both on the overworld map, and in individual areas. Overworld map exploration has a minor “survival” mechanic to it, forcing players to make sure that they have enough food as they travel from location to location. Food is important not only for travel, but also for character recovery. After battles, injuries suffered by characters don’t just go away; they heal over time as your party travels across the world map. In order to heal during your travels, however, food is required. While the added mechanic was interesting conceptually, it didn’t end up adding much to the experience overall. Between the frequent events (both scripted and random) that occurred during exploration, run-ins with merchants, and battles which, when won, often provided you with a hefty amount of food, I don’t think that I even once came close to running out of supplies.
Throughout certain points of the story, players are also able to explore individual areas on foot. While I liked that the on-foot exploration helped to mix things up, it felt as though it were a bit shoehorned in. Almost every explorable area seemed to be set up for battle (which most of them were), as opposed to exploration, meaning that most areas consisted of straight or curving paths, with nowhere to really explore. There was also another problem that I had with the exploration (and with the combat, too) – the controls.
I know that The Dwarves is essentially an RTS with RPG mechanics added in so I was expecting the controls to perhaps be a little odd, but my experience was straight-up wonky. Most of the time there seemed to be a noticeable delay between command input and character movement, with up to a quarter-second latency when using a controller. That may not sound like much, but when you’re in the middle of a fight that .25 seconds can be a pretty big deal. I actually thought that it was something wrong on my end at first, so I tried using several controllers and even played the game on a different computer. The end result was always the same, however; that latency was still there. To be fair, the issue was less noticeable when using keyboard and mouse (although it wasn’t completely gone). It always felt like the character in my control was fighting the direction that I wanted them to go, and the fact that I couldn’t completely rid myself of the problem (goodness knows I tried) was maddening.
Now that we’re done talking about the controls, let’s move onto the combat! …Which, now that I think about it, also means talking about the controls again. As previously mentioned, combat in the Dwarves is essentially a mix between an RTS and an RPG. Fights typically consist of four of your finest against hordes of dozens, even hundreds, of enemies. On paper this sounds like a recipe for a grand old hack-and-slash, but in reality, what The Dwarves gives you is a hack-and-slash that, while still good, has a few problems.
Aforementioned controls aside, combat generally works pretty well. Players are able to equip their chosen four heroes with a number of skills, beneficial relics, and items in order to help them come out on top in battle. In traditional RPG fashion, characters also acquire EXP to level up and learn new skill. Combat works like a traditional hack-and-slash for the most part, with your characters cutting through waves of enemies. Interestingly enough, The Dwarves allows players to freeze time whenever they like in order to simultaneously issue commands to all four characters at once. The ability to do so can really help to turn the tide of battle, and provides a great way to strategize. The downside of the combat is primarily the fault of the game’s physics mechanics.
In order to prevent the player from merely running through every enemy, The Dwarves implemented physics and collision detection. While this usually works well-ish, things get a little weird when too many characters are too close to each other. When in close proximity, characters seemed to naturally push away from one another – it didn’t make much sense. The need to constantly be holding forward while fighting, coupled with the controls, adds up to an experience that isn’t as fun as it could potentially be. Characters also seem to bounce off of one another when they ran into each other too quickly. I get that they wouldn’t both just stop dead in their tracks, but there was definitely some bumper cart-level bouncing going on. The implemented physics almost work, but just nees a bit more fine-tuning. These quirks aren’t so obvious that they break the game however – you can get used to after a bit of playing and, when you do, the battles can start to get fun!
The Dwarves boasts some really nice graphics, and left me quite impressed overall. Cutscene graphics were especially nice, with a great amount of detail paid to each character – though the graphics during other parts of the game were nicely done too!
The Dwarves’s audio was impressive as well. Although both the soundtrack and the voice acting were standard fare in terms of what you would expect from a game such as The Dwarves, they were both done incredibly well and it was very obvious that quite a bit of time had been put into both. I felt as though each voice actor was specifically picked to match his or her character, and complimented them quite nicely.
Overall I would say that The Dwarves fits nicely into that High Fantasy niche that many people have grown to love so much, and does a nice job of breathing life into the popular 2003 novel of the same name. If you’re into this genre, you’d like the game. Outside of that, I’m not so sure. Between the implementation of several half-hearted mechanics and several problems on the technical side of things, The Dwarves best suits those already accustomed to the genre and willing to overlook such “trivialities”.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One; Publisher: THQ Nordic, EuroVideo Medien ; Developer: KING Art ; Players: 1; Released: December 1, 2016 ; MSRP: $59.99
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a PC copy of The Dwarves provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the developer.