A Game of Dwarves
Ah, once again we are thrust into the realm of dwarves. Having recently played and reviewed “Dwarfs!?”, I was eager to get my hands on the latest release from Zeal game Studio (Developer) and Paradox Interactive (Publisher). “A Game of Dwarves” plays a lot like “Dungeons”, “Dungeon Keeper”, “Dwarf Fortress”, and “Evil Genius” in that you’ll be mining / digging out areas to create rooms, though this game manages to set itself apart with some pretty unique gameplay mechanics. Before we start digging deeper into this game (no pun intended), I’d like to thank Petra Tell and Veronica Gunlycke for setting me up with a free review copy.
For those of you who have never played games like those mentioned above before, imagine that you are eight years old and have your very own sandbox in your backyard. Also imagine that you want to create an underground base for your Battle Beasts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or whatever action figures you happen to have. To do that, you’ll need to dig tunnels, create rooms for your base, find resources, fend off bad guys…the works. Games of this genre operate in a similar fashion, that is, putting you in charge of digging out tunnels and expanding your empire while managing resources and room development.
“A Game of Dwarves” starts you out, like most games, at the main menu. Here, you’ll be able to embark on a campaign, fool around with a custom game, check out the in-game store, and set game options. You can adjust the screen resolution, change keybinds, tweak the sound volume…mostly everything you’d expect in an options menu. The in-game store is a nice touch, allowing you to add content to your game (some of which is free). My only complaint is that the text on these various menus is fairly small and I had a difficult time reading it.
The campaign puts you in the role of a dwarven prince that is looking to reclaim land that has been taken over during the Great War. You’ll be guided through thirteen different levels, each one massive in its own right. They also increase in difficulty as you progress from level to level. To keep things fresh however, these maps randomly generate at the start of every level. This feature offers quite a bit in terms of replayability and increases my desire to keep coming back to this game in spades. I spent two hours on the trial level alone. Those worried about getting lost in these giant worlds need not be concerned as there is a tutorial level to help you get acclimated. Addressing main quests are necessary to complete levels, though there are optional king quests available that reward you for taking the time to do them.
The custom game appeals to me even more, as it allows you to explore to your heart’s content while having control over how many enemy mobs you’ll run into. I used the “sandbox” example above to describe games of this genre…this mode couldn’t be any more apt. Those who enjoy the freedom of digging, exploring, and building without worrying about campaign quests will see a lot of time in this mode.
So, now that we know what modes are available, how does it play?
The main interface is pretty informative, allowing you to keep track of what resources you have, how happy your dwarves are, and quest progression (if you’re playing the campaign). You’ll also have buttons that access build menus, tech trees, and other important things that will assist you in maintaining a functional underground empire. An order bar is available to help you issue orders and interact with the environment. For example, the interact order allows you to interact with objects without accidentally digging out walls.
Most of the time, you’ll start off in a small room or area with limited resources and little to no amenities to speak of. Your first priority will be to expand so that you can create rooms that see to the basic needs of your dwarves. Expanding is simply a matter of selecting the dig order and clicking on spaces you’d like your dwarves to excavate. It is important to note that while most games of the genre only allow you to interact with the environment on a two-dimensional plane, this game allows you to go up and down levels and explore a three-dimensional environment. This opens the door for so much more in terms of exploration and base development. Maps are huge to begin with, so you’ll have plenty of room to flex your creativity muscles. Those who have played Minecraft will understand the benefits that a three-dimensional environment can bring to an exploration game. My only complaint is that on occasion, a ladder that was there one moment disappeared the next…obviously my dwarves were not happy about that. I’m not sure if it is a glitch or by design, but as you dig down, ladders seem to move down as well. For a brief amount of time, you end up with ladders you didn’t build but suddenly disappear shortly after the fact. Once you build ladders to replace those “ghost” ladders though, they seem to stay put.
Dwarves start out as dwarflings and can be specialized into one of five categories: digger, military, worker, crafter, and scholar. You’ll be able to acquire dwarflings through the Hemfort menu, a place where you can trade with other dwarven clans. The categories are fairly self-explanatory, though you’ll want to make sure you have a worker available to gather food, among other things. A crafter is also necessary to build the necessary structures that your workers will be stationed at. As they do their jobs, they’ll gain experience and become better at what they do. This gives each one a life of their own and you’ll quickly become invested in making sure they stay alive and are well cared for. Their mannerisms and character drew me in to treat them better than the average lemming.
Expanding your empire isn’t without its hazards. As you branch out, you’ll come across rooms that contain some mean looking enemies, all of them hellbent in destroying all of your hard work. A combination of dwarves specialized as soldiers and defensive structures (walls, traps, etc) can help alleviate these headaches, though I wish the game would notify you when such things occurred. As your base gets bigger and bigger, it becomes harder to keep track of every little detail and some warning by way of big red text when things are about to go awry would go a long way.
Overall, “A Game of Dwarves” is a wonderfully in-depth strategy game. The game has tons of replay value due to the size of the maps and the vast array of different objects you can build. Despite how complex it might all seem, it uses humor to keep things light and entertaining. There are occasions where the AI did some pretty odd things and sometimes the Dwarves needed that extra micromanagement push to get things done, but in the grand scheme of things, I had a blast. I believe it to be worth its current price tag of $9.99 (as of 10/25/12) and then some, especially if you’re someone who got a lot of mileage out of games like “Dwarf Fortress” and “Dungeon Keeper.” I’ve been waiting for a game like this ever since “Dungeons” lost its appeal, and I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed.
Final Verdict: 9/10
You can learn more about “A Game of Dwarves” by visiting the following websites:
You can find the game on Steam here:
You can view general tips and strategies for this game in the article I wrote here:
You can see an article which provides a quick look at the Ale DLC, here:
You can check out play sessions here: