By: Brian Gunn
The Dwarves is the latest game from developer KING art, a studio most famous for its gorgeous point-and-click adventure series, The Book of Unwritten Tales. Can the devs transition to the epic action genre while also adapting a cult hit book series?
Control wise, The Dwarves is fairly unique, and will probably be the source of admiration and ire from people that play. Players simultaneously control a small squad of dwarves, though somewhat indirectly. Your basic attack attacks and hack n’ slash mechanics are handled by the AI, while you control the timing of special attacks and movements.
This makes the game end up feeling like an odd blend of small-scale RTS with an action RPG, and for the most part it actually works. It can feel like you’re waiting around for abilities to recharge a lot early on when you’re low on moves or party members, but it’s an odd experiment that pays off.
The Dwarves will instantly call to mind the Battle of Helm’s Deep from the Lord of the Rings movies. The entire game often feels like a love letter to those sorts of epic film scenes, with levels full of hundreds, if not thousands, of orcs to slay. Performance is surprisingly solid despite the amount of enemies on screen.
Outside of these action scenes, things are a little more mixed. Characters feel awkwardly animated and dead eyed, though their designs are often great, especially one of the revolting villains.
Sound feels a little more generic. You can expect the usual thunderous orchestral songs during battle and light adventure tunes during moments of calm. Voice acting is exaggerated and stereotypical — in other words, don’t expect a world in which dwarves don’t sound vaguely Scottish. The sound effects fail to measure up to the spectacle on screen, but for the most part they do an adequate job.
The Dwarves stars Tundgil, a dwarf that was orphaned at a young age and raised in the company of humans. As such, he’s never even seen another of his kind, and so despite being a blacksmith, he has an adventurous curiosity about the world.
Soon enough the action sends him across the world where he will indeed be encountering many of his kin along the way. The basics of the plot are a little thin, though it’s often filled with decent world building or fun characters.
That world building is largely done by the game’s overworld mechanics. You’ll select a destination on the map and encounter a variety of different scenarios that play out in a “choose your own adventure” style of story.
These are often welcome breaks from the heavy actions, though it can feel like you’re kind of just wandering at times. When characters aren’t speaking there’s often a wonderful narrator that describes the action as if you were reading a book. I found myself getting invested in the world a lot more than I expected due to these touches.
Still, the large-scale battles are likely to be the biggest draw. Your gang of dwarves is a sturdy bunch and thus can handle being engaged with five or six orcs at a time, so combat largely depends on deciding when to use your powerful abilities. These can do a variety of things like knock down those around you, heal everyone in your vicinity or leap into a crowd.
Environmental effects are plentiful, so these can often knock orcs off bridges or into fires, and are generally key to success. You’ll have to wait for action points to regenerate to keep using these abilities, though some characters can manually gain them back by getting the killing blow on stunned foes.
You may pause the action at any time, and you’ll often need to as the game often requires switching between various characters to use their AP while others recharge. Objectives are often surprisingly varied, with focuses on holding the line or breaking through to a certain position that has a high priority target rather than simply killing a set number of orcs.
There’s an in-depth level up system that includes bonuses for characters that share bonds, and the overworld adventuring requires careful management of supplies so your party doesn’t starve to death on the way to their goal. Some of the UI could’ve been cleaner, particularly when it comes to switching between items and seeing the various tool-tips.
The Dwarves caught me off guard in how polished and in-depth it was. I went in expecting some rollicking fight scenes, which are there in spades, but it’s also largely well written and rounded out with mechanics to pace out those scenes. Coupled with the unique control scheme, it’s worth a look for those interested in games that don’t play out like a dozen others.