To start with, I should say it’s a short game. It’s about dwarves, you know… But it takes around 12 hours to finish main story and a good piece of side quests – and it’s a downer.
There are many RPGs I’ve finished as a player. The common characteristic of this genre, especially for the story-driven games, is their length. The Dwarves has everything that’s needed – an interesting art style, a unique cast of characters, a familiar, bit generic but interesting story and its own idea for combat mechanics. These elements foreshadow another grand adventure. But there’s none and the game, particularly in the second half, feels rushed to the limit.
The Dwarves was produced thanks to the funds collected via a Kickstarter campaign. After the great successes of Wasteland 2 and other RPGs people are hungry for more role playing experiences. And KING Art Games’ title has that premise but ultimately falls flat.
When the game starts, you immediately feel that a lot of heart was put into the whole project. Kickstarter’s funds were used for a book’s license, some impressive voice acting and other easily visible features. If you can think about the scale of Battle of Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings then you get the idea – small team with NPC support against hordes (HORDES!) of orcs.
You play as Tungdil, a dwarf raised between humans, who has no experience in traveling through world. His knowledge is entirely based on books, but you’ll quickly learn that a smooth talk is as important as a sharp axe. The kingdom is under threat, there are eternal mysteries… You start your epic journey, you meet new characters, even begin to like them… and then the development rollercoaster begins.
Against the horde
I love the idea of my small group fighting against neverending waves of orcs. The Dwarves is heavily based on physics – that means skills that impact both enemies and our team. When fighting on the bridge you might try to shove orcs off the ledge. When in corridor you can use close pillars to quickly kill groups of targets. But remember – friendly fire is a thing!
You quickly discover that the combat system lacks accuracy. A strategic pause is not an option – it’s the requirement. It’s because of two reasons. The first is the camera. Very often it’s hard to see the target – as our view is connected to the characters, there are various obstacles, to name just the trees and buildings. It becomes impossible to find all the targets and plan strategically without running around with at least one of the characters.
As a results, battles, even if grand in scale, feel chaotic. Of course, battlefield is chaos, but this problem makes it less about planning and more about being lucky. Someone who invests time in RPGs wants to be sure of their actions and not feel like they lucked out. The good thing is that battles are still fun – you are always surrounded and the fights are tense.
Here is where the further problems come to light. As the development was obviously rushed, you’ll quickly notice that the early testing wasn’t enough to fight off the difficulty spikes. They become frustrating especially when you invest a few dozen minutes in the main mission just to realize that it’s almost impossible to finish the task.
One time I’ve managed to kill orcs in the underground, then run before the further waves vanquished my team. Outside, well, another horde was waiting and I was tasked to kill one specific enemy, who stole an item of mine. Two of my companions were left to fight and I was running around, trying to kill that bastard. After eight reloads or so (and the loading screens are looooong on Xbox One) I’ve decided that the only strategy is to run to the exit and pray for luck while using a leaping attack. Thirteen tries later I was successful, thinking nothing worse will happen.
I was wrong.
Very often it’s not about killing enemies but running through the map, triggering scripts and finding a way to achieve a specific goal (free villagers, destroy catapults etc.). It doesn’t help that the consumables are rare and there’s no reviving mechanic resulting in instant game overs. It could be much friendlier, especially on higher difficulties, if the developer team had thought about adding a permanent medic character to the team (there’s a hero with a healing skill in the prologue but he dies as quickly as our hopes).
More and more
There are other major problems, too. Framerate drops drastically in some locations (not only in those extremely populated). UX/UI is a kind of joke in the quest log. There are bugs in translation from German to English like totally wrong description of a character which ruins the narrative element. Character development is almost non-existent with equipment system relegated to one-item decision allowed per character. At least it’s great to discover some side quests – very often they become available only when we choose proper dialogue options. The outcomes are interesting, sometimes leading to certain characters being dead or alive. And this paragraph is an example how ridiculously rushed The Dwarves becomes.
There’s something wrong with an RPG where you wait for more content not because it’s a great adventure but an episode lacking the guts. The premise was astounding, the execution is poor enough to think twice before pledging for another Kickstarer role-playing game.