By: Brian Gunn
We Are The Dwarves is a fairly ambitious title from the newly formed Whale Rock Games. While it had a Kickstarter campaign that didn’t meet its goal, the team trudged on ahead, determined to release it.
We Are The Dwarves is an isometric, real-time (with pause) tactics game, and is heavily mouse focused. Players control the titular dwarves like a fairly limited RTS squad, similar to the campaigns of games like Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2 that focused on powerful heroes rather than giant armies.
Each character has unique abilities with cool downs to manage. For the most part things are pretty standard, though some ill advised stealth sections are a bit overly finicky to navigate.
There’s a somewhat unique art style in We Are The Dwarves, combining the sort of comic book style character designs of games like Torchlight with surreal and strange visions of space. The geometry is fairly confusing at times, seemingly explained away by the game’s odd plot.
There are some odd issues as well, with bugs obscuring some parts of the menus, and the UI often feels haphazardly placed with no real sense of space. There are also some odd typos and grammar miscues throughout.
Audio suffers quite a bit in the game, seemingly thanks to a low budget. Voice acting is the biggest offender, often stopping and starting awkwardly like the actor was flipping a page and didn’t know the sentence continued on.
Thankfully, We Are The Dwarves is not a very story heavy title, and when the dwarves aren’t speaking, things hold up okay. The grunts and screams of the dangerous flora and fauna are often fairly expressive and fun. Music doesn’t appear often, with silence seemingly opted for to encourage a feeling of isolation in the alien world.
We Are The Dwarves opens with a very vague setup about the universe the game takes place in. The developers have imagined a world in which the universe is inside of a giant cave, and dwarves live near stars inside the cave.
Those stars are dying, however, and a last ditch effort sends our three heroes into the depths of space where they are promptly eaten by some sort of cosmic horror and crash land. It’s a bizarre story that isn’t made much clearer by a very rough translation.
While the meat and potatoes of the game occur when you have all three dwarves at your disposal, it actually takes quite a while to get to that point. A large chunk of the game is spent alone while reuniting them, which isn’t bad for teaching you how each dwarf handles, but each section feels overlong and a bit tedious.
Without the other dwarves to back you up, it often leads to encounters that feel more like puzzles with a fairly specific strategy for victory rather than testing any tactics players may come up with.
Generally the goal of an area is simply to escape it, and it will be littered with enemies as well as upgrade materials. These can be spent to repair your armor as well as upgrade abilities so that, for instance, a dwarf’s cool downs are shorter after triggering a certain ability. While these tweaks can lead to some customization, they feel minor; especially as getting some of the upgrades are quite difficult.
Speaking of difficulty, We Are The Dwarves is not a game for the faint of heart, especially early on. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and be mercilessly slaughtered. Save points can feel a bit sparse, too, so a bit of replaying may be required.
When you do find a good balance of difficulty and fun, the title really shines and has some fairly unique ideas. The three dwarves play very differently while still fitting into the tank, ranger, and stealth archetypes. MOBA design seems to have been a big influence on the way battles proceed, with no real resource management required and instead focusing on managing cool downs.
There’s some great design in the ranger character Forcer, in that his abilities all have generous knock-back and recoil. He ends up playing less like a ranged DPS and is more focused on taking advantage of that knock-back to send enemies off cliffs because just trading damage is rarely advisable. You also need to be conscious of where he’s standing because it’s very easy for the recoil on his shots to send him off a cliff to his death as well.
We Are The Dwarves is fairly rough around the edges. For those looking for a decent tactics game, however, it’s also doing some things very few others are doing. It’s just a shame it is a little too trial-and-error prone and takes too long to reach the more compelling parts.