While their insatiable appetite for a hearty feast and unbridled love for drowning in alcohol from froth drenched tankards is more than well championed, as a race and as often depicted by the fictitious writings of novelist J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, Dwarves share some truly unique characteristics unrivalled by any other race throughout fantasy lore. Short and stocky in stature they might be, but peel back the layers; the miners attire, the long burly unkempt beards and less than favourable body odour, Tolkien details Dwarves to be as brave as any knights guard, honourable, loyal to a fault, and with hammer or axe in hand; as threatening as any enemy found throughout middle earth or any other land. Battle hardened, forever ready to wage war against larger foes, taking the fight to their enemies with all the heart of a roaring lion, always ready to die for their brethren; those foolish enough to cross a company of Dwarves and underestimate them, do so at their own their risk.
The profit of a successful Kickstarter campaign, KING Art Games tactical role-playing game The Dwarves is adapted from the Markus Heitz novel of the same name. The Dwarves tells the story of Tungdil, a Dwarf who has lived his life devoid of interaction with others of his race, surrounded by magic and raised by humans, he longs to discover more about where he comes from and hopefully get a chance to meet some fellow Dwarves along the way. Seeking to face his own destiny, Tungdil sets off on an adventurous quest across the treacherous maze-like land of Girdlegard meeting companions, each with their own abilities and trademark moves. A former browser and mobile game developer, King Art Games made its debut into the world of full-fledged titles in 2011 with the whimsical Book of Unwritten Tales and followed it up with a sequel in 2015 that signified the studio’s first release on current generation consoles.
The Dwarves: Xbox One [Reviewed], PC, PlayStation 4, Mac, Linux
Developer: KING Art Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release Date: 1 December 2016
Price: £31.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Because the game is based on a novel, the story is, without any doubt, the best part about The Dwarves and in typical RPG fashion, it is down to the player to save the entire world. Sadly the combat really lets the game down. Supposedly a “challenging, tactical RPG” The Dwarves will have you drowning in enemies and gasping for breath as you struggle and ultimately fail against the sea of never-ending spawning enemies that crash upon you. With each of Tungdil’s allotted three companions per battle only allowed one bonus item to fight, be it an amulet which allows players to generate more AP (action points), potions that heal and potions that temporarily help you deal greater damage, if you run out, you’re fighting on borrowed time, with only one ally that can heal and often surviving until that ability is available is tough going. The game is helpful enough to point out that defeating every enemy is not required for the most part because let’s face it, that would be impossible, but only the “main objective” needs to be completed.
This can range from killing specific foes, as you wade through the crowds to seek them out, or simply escaping the area (more wading, more running and hoping your companions behind make it and aren’t crushed to death). So the tactics there are really “ Strategic running away with your tail between your legs”. All four fighters can be controlled and combat paused to allow you to effortlessly switch between each one to see how abundantly screwed they are, using AP that has built up since you last checked, and placing each one in the greatest position to reach the objective. When they stated the game would be challenging, they certainly weren’t lying, with huge difficulty spikes along the way that may deter even the hardiest of players. I spent a lot of time replaying fights, praying to lady luck for a chance at survival, switching up companions to find the best combination. The problem is, they are injured in particularly bad battles, and with fights sometimes occurring one after the other without having any chance of being able to recover from their injuries (injuries are healed by the group eating food as they travel around the map) it strikes certain people out, forcing me to use the only ones that aren’t injured which makes the game extremely hard while spoiling an interesting story. Combat was made even harder with severe freezing issues when large amounts of enemies were on the screen (so every battle) forcing my characters to awkwardly jolt around in slow motion.
The story is played out on a map, where players move around with a cursor to navigate to the next area to see what dangers await them. Most encounters along the way, sadly are just text options with a narrator explaining your every move and thought, with some leading to instant death if a wrong decision is made. Unless you are very thorough with your exploring, ensuring you move around quite a bit, parts of the game can and will be missed. Missable moments are not overly important to the overall story, with The Dwarves living up to their name and being an overall short experience but exploring is definitely something to consider doing. When encounters lead to the few enclosed places, Tungdil is often faced with some tough choices bringing the players morality into play.
Tungdil’s adventure wouldn’t be quite as enthralling as it evidently is were it not for a bounty of unique companions to aid in your quest, something The Dwarves has in droves. With an almost neverending complement of riches to assist you in your brutish battles throughout Girdlegard, Tungdil’s who’s who of companions boast a wealthy magician’s sleeve of unique and most handy tricks to ensure victory can be secured by the most unlikeliest of ways. Example: Whether he’s donning the attire of an enemy or throwing himself to the floor to play dead like a fool, the ever theatrical Rodario is capable of luring any would-be assassin straight to their death, while equally nimble on his feet and boasting an assortment of tools at his disposal to dispatch of enemies quickly, then there’s Maga Andokai’s bodyguard Djerun, a 10ft tall hulking powerhouse who wields a sword in one hand and a mace in the other like a man possessed; intent on wreaking utter devastation down on anyone in the nearby vicinity, including yourself and your companions if you get too close to the masked maniac.
Whether you want to dance your way through your 15-hour long experience or merely strike sheer fear into the blackened heart of your opponents, The Dwarves has you covered. With 15 playable characters of all different shapes and sizes, there is an abundance of character choice to help you tailor your gameplay just the way you want it.
The story of Tungdil is an enchanting tale, and with a fresh assortment of amusing, unique and diverse companions on hand to both lighten the mood and lift the burden of the protagonist in his quest, The Dwarves could have quite easily been a role-playing success to rival the likes of RPG classics such as Wasteland. Sadly beautifully directed cutscenes and engaging characters are all too easily drowned beneath continuous in-game stuttering that turns what should be fast, frantic battles feel like an endless loop of slow motion frame by frames, to add further frustration unnecessary load screens bring progress to a frequent standstill. Some issues could be easily overlooked were it not for the way in which each greatly hinders the games overall fluidity, but a patch will likely fix a lot of gameplay issues. If you’re an RPG fanatic like myself then you will no doubt get a kick out of playing The Dwarves, which for the better part is an engrossing, but the fact that the difficulty spikes massively and battles are just a constant barrage of enemies while you stumble to find your feet let the game down and may only appeal to gamers willing to put in the time to figure out the best way forward.