As with every fantasy book series that manages to make the jump to either movies, TV shows or video games, The Dwarves has a lot going for it. A well established world, detailed lore and well written characters are just some of the many things that were already available to developer King Art Games. But despite the many things the game manages to do right, it’s still held back from it’s full potential due to some frustratingly painful problems.
The Dwarves starts off with a brief opening sequence that takes place years before the events of the game. This sequence acts to familiarize players with the game’s combat mechanics, while at the same time managing to get them acquainted with some of the world’s back story. But what is meant as a primer for the rest of the game is something that is as likely to draw players in, as it is to push them away. I’ll explain this point later on in the review.
After the introduction is all set and done, we finally get to meet the main character of the game, Tungdil Goldhand. An orphaned dwarf who was raised by humans, Tungdil is a blacksmith by trade, and the star of the show. It is him players will control for the duration of the game and through whose eyes the events of the game unfold.
And it is from here that we will get into what is undoubtedly The Dwarves greatest strength, it’s story. Tungdil is a very relatable and likable character, and he’s not the only one either. Dwarves are a race that are more often than not passed over in modern fantasy, with the focus being shifted more towards the resourceful humans or the graceful elves. They are often portrayed as little more than thick skulled comic relief characters that only show enthusiasm for feasts and battle.
So imagine my genuine delight when I discovered that our protagonist was not just some axe wielding muscle head, but was instead a scholar, and one who was not familiar with the ways of his people. It is clear from the moment you encounter your first party members, the twins Boindil and Boendal, that the interaction between these characters is what will keep you invested.
There’s also something to be said about the game world, with its varied environments and structures. Each area you come across seems to have specific terrain, items, and other elements you can interact with, each of which have particular animations that are strictly just for them, whether that include turning over corpses or felling trees to climb up sheer cliffs. These are small touches that makes the world feel just a little bit more interactable.
Combat is a double edged sword. One the one hand, the physics based gameplay can be absurdly fun, allowing you to to leap into crowds and cleave away hordes of enemies. Pushing them off of edges to their deaths remains satisfying from start to finish. There exists a level of fluidity to the combat that you don’t often see in top-down games, especially in RPGs.
And when I said hordes earlier, I actually mean it. At any one time there can be at least a couple dozen orcs on the battlefield. While not so difficult individually, they can quickly encircle and overwhelm you, so the challenge is there at least.
But on the other hand, combat gets dull very quickly. During my twelve hour playthrough I encountered a handful of enemy types, but they didn’t require any change in tactics or strategy to take down. Not that I could change it up much to begin with if I may add, as character progression is very linear and switching up gear is not really an option.
This linearity is made somewhat better due to the large number of playable characters at your disposal, each with five of their own abilities, even though a few of them seem to share the same skills, the dwarves in particular.
Now we move on to the major problems with The Dwarves. The game is buggy, no doubt about it, but when characters suddenly disappear and morph into walls it really chips away at the whole experience. Another consistent problem I encountered was the framerate, which would fluctuate during the best of times, but went absolutely haywire sometimes when there were a lot of units on screen. And remember how I mentioned above that the opening sequence would be a make or break situation for a lot of players? Well………
The camera in the game is absolutely atrocious to say the least. The GIF seen above was captured just five minutes into the game and is the result of me trying to move the camera so I could get a better look at where I was aiming my attack. It’s uncomfortably restrictive, and moments like these are prevalent throughout the entire game. Tree branches, rooftops or cliffs, you name it, and it will be there to block your view.
On average, I spent a third of my time in combat trying to adjust the camera so I could get a proper view of the map. And this is just all the more prominent because The Dwarves is as much a tactical game as it is an RPG, and a clear view of your surroundings and enemies can mean the difference between winning and losing a fight.
This opening was just so glitchy and buggy that it made me want to quit almost as soon as I jumped into the game. I won’t say that it’s representative of the whole game, but it does account for a very large chunk of it. And when you take into account that this is all in just the first 15 minutes of the game starting, that’s now exactly how you make a good impression.
In conclusion, The Dwarves is an ambitious game with heaps of potential. But some very annoying and, more often than not, game hindering bugs can make it an absolute chore to play. Stay for the story and the occasionally fun combat, everything else is just hard to recommend to anyone other than the most loyal of fans.
The Dwarves is available for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac and Linux. It was developed by King Art Games and published by THQ Nordic. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game
The Dwarves Review (Xbox One)
The Dwarves has a lot of heart and attempts to do a lot of things right, but a lack of polish and repetitive gameplay make it hard to recommend.