We Are The Dwarves! is a new game coming out from indie game developers Whale Rock Studios and will be releasing on Steam on February 26th. The team doesn't fail to make big moves (and carefully timed attacks) with their first title on the platform and succeeds in grabbing the attention of both strategy gamers and casual players alike. You will be able to purchase the game on Steam for $14.99 on February 26th, with a 10% discounted price for the first week of release.
Genre and main featureWe Are The Dwarves! is a strategy game, meaning that players will have to time and think about their attacks before carrying them out.The camera is placed at a third person perspective and will follow the dwarf around behind their back. As it is a strategy game, this also means that they will have access to some features that are not available in most other games. One of these is called "Active Pause" and is used whenever the player enters combat. Once fighting, the player will be able to hit the space bar and slow the game down to a snails pace. This gives them time to think about their next move, their next target or their next objective. "Active Pause" is one of the main gameplay elements that will help you through the game. You then have the set of 5 skills that each dwarf has that is individual to them, forcing you to play each dwarf differently. Whilst fighting through the wreckage of their ship and the planet they have landed on, the player is made to learn each dwarf as an ally and how to use them in combat situations.
StorylineThe story is centred around three dwarven astronauts: Forcer, Smashfist and Shadow, all who live in the Stone Universe. However, when they go out into space in their ship and fall victim to an accident, the ship crashes and sends the three dwarves to an unknown part of the universe, separating them. However, in this new part of the universe, everything is opposite to Stone Universe. Where there once was void between each star and planet, there is now an infinite amount of Eternal stone. It is from here that the race against time begins. In the Stone Universe, the stars have started to go out, leaving the creatures without light or warmth, and it is up to the three dwarves to find a new star in this new part of the galaxy to power their own universe. But before then, the three must reunite and take on all of the creatures that stand between them and victory. In order to do this, you must take control of each of the three dwarves individually; Shadow, Forcer and Smashfist and, using their separate and different skill sets, fight your way to the star that could save your kind. Once you have used your strategic techniques to acquire the star, you will return to the Stone Universe, place the star in the sky and be crowned saviours of your race.
Main Menu and optionsAs soon as you load the game up, the first thing you will hear is the soundtrack, the soundtrack that welcomes you with open arms and raised swords to this epic quest. The brass horns and the low basslines make you feel like you have loaded up the next installment of Lord of The Rings. The main menu offers what everyone would expect it too; a start button, a continue button, a quit button and most importantly, an options menu. The options menu itself is small and you are not able to change much, but the important things are covered. For example, there are only three options for graphic settings: Simple, Good and Beautiful. This makes optimising the game for your computers needs slightly easier as you do not have to work hard with various sliders to get the perfect graphics. Although, the games sound options each have individual bars for global volume, music, sounds from the environment and the noises that are made when something is activated on the UI. Again, something that many players will rejoice in. The language selection consists of 3 languages at the moment: English, Russian and Ukrainian. However, Whale Rock Studios have stated that localisation is coming soon, meaning more languages will be added for the rest of the world. Hopefully, within this patch will be some language updates as some of the English lines include grammatical errors.
Graphics and ControlsGraphics are normally a big influence on a player in deciding if they should buy a game or not. With We Are The Dwarves!, this is a problem of the past. The game takes graphics not to a serious level, but to a level in which you feel warmed while you slay any enemy that walks in your path. The cartoon-like style to the game only makes you want to spend more and more time playing while you explore the different landscapes that are lit with the range of different colours. Environments can go from being dark and black with a few blue lights, to being bright green with splashes of yellow and orange throughout. Each character also has their own designs that fits the roles they play in the game. For example, Smashfist is a bulky bruiser with two axes, reflecting the fact that his abilities are centered around being loud while swinging to deal lots of damage. To follow on from this, the controls in this game are simple and easy to understand. The user interface is one of the simplest I have seen in a strategy game that is filled with so many options. The player moves the dwarf with the left mouse click and rotates the camera by holding in the right mouse button and rotating the mouse. The dwarfs main abilities are placed on Q,W,E and R with their individual special ability placed on T. The "alt" key is also used to show enemies cone of vision once you click them whilst holding it down and, as mentioned above, the player also has the "Active Pause" button which is the space bar. However, the simple controls come with one downside; you are not able to change them. There is no option in the pause menu or the main menu that allows you to change the buttons that the abilities are allocated too. Although, this is not that much of a problem as all of the ability keys are located in the same area on the keyboard meaning the player should have no problem using them all simultaneously.
GameplayStrategy games are not the type of games that you can rush into head first. You need to take time to learn the controls and how the enemy's work. This is yet another problem that We Are The Dwarves! manages to avoid, not by throwing you into the action and yelling "learn as you play!" but by giving you short, snappy and to-the-point tutorials incorporated into the character dialogue. These tutorials consist of no more than 5 bullet points, each a sentence long. This allows the player to learn how to play without having to slow the pace of the game down. For example, below is a picture of one of the first tutorial that you get in the game.
As you can see, the points that it is telling the player are no bigger than two sentences. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why I could keep playing the game. Once I came to a area where I knew I was going to have a tutorial, I could continue with ease as I remembered that I would not have to sit through pages and pages of text telling me how to play. Not only does We Are The Dwarfs! keep the tutorials short but it instantly throws you into a situation where you will have to put your new knowledge to the test. The tutorial above happens just before you encounter your first two enemies that you have to fight. Speaking of enemies, the variety in the game is immense. Within the first two areas you fight 10+ enemies that each are different and have their own attack set. Players will also need to forget the mindset that they can blast through the whole campaign, this is a strategy game...remember? Different enemies kill you in a different number of hits. Those two enemies that you fight after the tutorial, they can kill you in 4 hits. Thats two from each if you get tag-teamed. This is when the player must take advantage of the "Active Pause" button. This is one thing that I forgot to do on a regular basis and found myself getting angry when it was my own fault. As said before, the "Active Pause" button slows down the gameplay, giving the player time to think about their next move. This mechanic is incredibly useful when fighting a swarm of enemies. You get the chance to chain your skills and auto attacks while also keeping track of your cooldowns and your special abilities. The "Active Pause" button has the potential to turn any quick defeat into a fair fight if used correctly. The game then encourages the use of this button by giving the dwarf Forcer straight line abilities that he would struggle to hit accurately whilst moving in the heat of combat. Branching off from abilities, each dwarf has their own individual skill set and skill tree that players can earn points to upgrade both the skills and the dwarfs spacesuit. The three skill trees for the three dwarves are all different and upgrade different things, however the upgrade for the spacesuit remain the same for all, consisting of a flashlight, heath regeneration and other such utensils that will be useful later in the game. These are all displayed around a 3D model of the dwarf you are playing as, as seen below.
Looking at the skill tree, you will notice that some abilities cost 1 "dwarven stone" to upgrade and some cost 2. Dwarven stone is the currency used to purchase the abilities and can be found scattered throughout the level. Repairing the spacesuit and applying things like armour and the flashlight will be paid for in something called energy ore. These too are found throughout levels but are found more often than the dwarven stone. These types of currency only strengthen the games appeal for players as they are found so regularly and so often that you can constantly change your playstyle. You will be able to tell the difference as the energy ore is blue and the dwarven stone is yellow. The varying prices of abilities gives players a chance to play the game in a different way every time. In one play through, like I did, they might find one dwarven stone and instantly spend it on the first available skill. However, wiser players or people on their second run through of the game might save these stones and get the bigger and better abilities earlier in the game. Alongside these abilities, the dwarf also has a unique ability, special to them. Forcers ability, for example, is a forcefield that will block all incoming projectiles for a short amount of time. These can also be upgraded but they can only be used once a certain requirement is met. Smashfist requirement is that he must take enough damage in combat in order to activate his "invincibility" mode. Finally, each environment makes you play in a different way. Not always as a direct result of the layout or the colours of the map, but because of the number of environment hazards that are put in the level. The first level, Forcer's level, you start at the top of a tree surrounded by vines. You have to traverse the branches of the trees to get to the different areas of the level. Any ordinary game would have invisible walls that make it impossible for the player to fall off the trees, not We Are The Dwarves! however. There are no walls to stop you from falling, meaning you could happily walk off the edge. In Smashfist's level, there are egg pods that explode and damage you alongside floating eel plants that give off poisonous gasses that damage you over the time. Personally, I think this mechanic is a great way to make sure the player is paying attention to everything and not just the enemies.
Music and soundWhile you're busy slaying goblins and everything that stands before you, the atmosphere and your overall enjoyment of the game is boosted by not only the visuals, but the sounds that come from the game. This covers everything from simple walking noises to the full blown orchestral score that picks up in tempo once you enter a fight. The music is incredible to say the least, it adds an extra flourish of life to the game. Each area of the game has a different set of music that can play ambiently, whilst in a fight or whilst nearing an objective and it does nothing but enhance your experience. Alongside this, you have the game sound themselves, everything from the stabbing of Shadows daggers to the idle noises of the enemies whilst they stand around, the game gets the sound right. Whilst clambering through the slime in the swamps of the early levels, you can hear each individual footstep, similarly, in Shadow's introduction, you get the feel that you are really in a zero-gravity environment as everything just sounds muffled and so distant. We Are The Dwarves! combines their brilliant art style with their apparent knowledge of sound to create a wonderful atmosphere in their game.
BugsFor the most part, my experience with We Are The Dwarves! was very smooth, encountering few bugs as I played. However, as I progressed and the areas started to get bigger, more and more bugs became apparent to me. For starters, I am a person that likes to alt + tab out of their games to check other things on my desktop. When I performed this with We Are The Dwarves! the first time, nothing bad happened, but as I began to do it more frequently, the frame rate of in-game cutscenes or just gameplay in general would start to drop. Alongside this, character models would take a while to render and animations would cause enemies in the distance to spot me long before they should be able too. Another problem that I encountered was that opening the journal would sometime cause my game to freeze for a moment, before returning to normal. How is that bug you might ask? After normalising, the game would not allow me to open my journal again. I would have to close the game down and open it up again. Other than these, I did not encounter any game breaking bugs.
Positives of we are the dwarves!
- Gameplay is smooth as seamless when all the elements are combined
- Character skills and skill trees are all different and each have a unique feel to them
- Enemies are varied and difficult, giving the player a challenge
- Art style is fun yet fitting, making the player lose themselves in the world
- No tedious tutorials to sit through
negatives of we are the dwarves!
- Player who forget to use the "Active Pause" button will find themselves dying a lot
- Saves can only happen on Rune Stones which are found too far away from level to level
- Skill tree screen can take a while to figure out if not looked at carefully
- Although balanced with the mechanics of the game, enemies can be placed in swarms of almost 20 and the player will struggle to get through them with such high cooldowns on abilities for some characters.