The Dwarves Review
Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Apple Mac, PC, Sony PlayStation 4 and Linux
This single-player story-driven fantasy role-playing game published by THQ Nordic is based on the best-selling novel by Markuz Heitz and is finally putting the dwarves at the forefront of a game, showing us what they can really do, but does The Dwarves really do them justice? Let's find out.
In The Dwarves you play as Tungdil, a dwarf who was raised among humans and all of his knowledge of the five Dwarven Kingdoms has been gained from books. There are six Magi who maintain the land and five of them have been killed, the sixth is responsible, so it is up to you and your trusted band of dwarf heroes to defeat the evil Magnus and bring peace back to Girdlegard. He now sets out on an epic quest across Girdlegard where he will meet many companions, travel dangerous locations and fight off the evils of this world.
The exploration throughout the game is shown from a top-down perspective and you can constantly interact with the environment to uncover clues and solve numerous puzzles that can keep you entertained throughout this hefty game. One element that wasn’t expected was the sheer variety of companions you obtain along the way; these range from healers to elves and even mages, which kept the battles more interesting and more diverse.
Right from the beginning, though, you are thrown straight into the action and expected to know what to do, which was very unhelpful. You immediately find out the infuriating fact that there is no actual "attack" button which completely takes you out of the experience. You want to know when you're hitting someone and you want to feel that metal clank vibrate through your controller as you deal that damaging blow, but sadly that never comes. All you have to do is waltz into the crowd and your dwarven hero just starts slashing away, so you never get the satisfaction you so desperately seek.
You can pause the game with the 'X' button (square on Playstation) and give orders to several heroes in succession which are then executed simultaneously once the game is resumed. This is a great way to order your heroes and makes for some great strategy as each hero has their own special abilities, whether that's being able to clear a path in the enemies to move forward or smash the ground with your mighty axe and stun all nearby enemies. It has similarities to Bioware's Dragon Age in the way you can control numerous players simultaneously but it always feels a little lackluster, purely due to the fact that you don’t have as much control over people as you would hope. This is also where the game feels like it is constantly stuck on hard mode, even though you can pause the game and control each individual character, they all seem to be pretty stupid if left to their own devices and if you, for some reason, miss a heal or one of your characters dies then it’s game over. You can’t revive them and you don’t get a second chance, you have to start again from one of the very few save points. So prepare for random boss drop-ins and a very, very hard learning curve.
Within minutes of playing it was clear that there were extremely unintuitive camera controls, which means you constantly find yourself taken out of the action to just move the damn camera. This is a constant hindrance and one that never ceases to annoy. The camera also always seems just a little too far away when seeing an epic battle; like in the Total War series, you want to be able to zoom right in and watch all the gory details, but sadly this never happens, so just hope that you have a large TV so you can see it.
The sound design is also poor - when you are in the middle of a huge horde of enemies, be it orcs or the undead, you want to hear the clanking swords on armor and the splatter of flesh but this never came into fruition, there was just a mesh of loud noise which was always drowned out by the outrageously loud, albeit brilliantly orchestrated, dramatic music.
With all of the fighting gripes aside there are exquisite character models, the grotesqueness of the undead characters and the beauty of the dwarves’ beard, armour and plentiful weapons which have been painstakingly crafted and look stunning, it’s one of the game’s most positive attributes and we kept finding ourselves gawping at the screen.
The game has a female narrator throughout, she appears just like you would experience in a book, to tell you how your character is feeling, how they are looking at certain heroes/enemies or to give us some backstory about what has transpired. This was both a blessing and a curse though as even though it felt like we were playing through Markus Heitz’s book, which was a welcome change in a video game and one rarely seen today, it did however keep taking the tension out of the action. The female narrator sounds exactly like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings, so all we could think throughout was "it’s very much like Peter Jackson’s movies isn't it?”
You are given the option to choose your own responses in The Dwarves and this would be a great addition if it wasn't for the fact that the character reads exactly what is written. Games like Mass Effect or Telltale games let you choose responses but the actual dialogue is only loosely based on your choice, this saves you reading the options and then just hearing the character read them again, which gets very tiresome. This idea in games has been around for a long time now, so you would think that they would have chosen a more tried and tested approach.
The world of Girdlegard is HUGE so to move location the camera zooms out and you see yourself as a small almost chess piece-like character, you then select and drag said model to the next highlighted location and continue your journey. This accentuates the grand scale of the game and makes it seem like you are travelling great distances on your epic journey. As you move along the path you can come across decisions to make and this affects your journey, whether that be avoiding confrontation or heading straight into battle with axes swinging.
As you keep playing you will encounter some dramatic framerate issues; these were a constant irritant and one that kept taking us out of the game again and again. You will also find the vast majority of the time playing the game will be spent on loading screens, there are a diabolical amount of them and they all play the same music so it gets really annoying really quickly.
The Dwarves had so much potential and even though the game looked great for a Kickstarter game, considering their lack of budget and the story it had to work with was a spectacular one, developers KingART just somehow managed to miss the mark. Although the art direction was sublime, you aren’t given enough fun things to do and that is just rubbed in by the numerous NPCs telling you about all the incredible and unbelievable things that were happening elsewhere that you weren’t involved in. There were too many framerate drops, too few combat mechanics and just too many annoying elements throughout this campaign that just didn’t make us come back for more. Some may enjoy The Dwarves, but after playing it became unfortunately apparent to us why they haven't had their own game before now...