Way back in 2020, the indie game Dwerve already made a name for itself by giving its emerging fanbase a little taste of what to expect. The demo proved to be a sneak peek of the game’s engaging and dynamic tower defense gameplay. However, it would take nearly two more years for the complete experience to be playable on Steam. Although it was originally set for release in 2021, the game just wasn’t ready yet – and the developers didn’t want to release it during the holiday season. Thankfully, the additional time Half Human Games invested in Dwerve showed while playing for review. It’s all one would expect from playing or watching the demo – and far beyond it, too.
Dwerve does more than ask, “What would a mix between dungeon crawling and tower defense be like?” Thanks to engaging and creative gameplay mechanics, Half Human Games‘ very first game also owns the genre. So come with me as I walk you through the wonderous, colorful, and fascinating world of Dwerve. The game that actively rewards fighting dirty.
Dwerve is available on PC for $18,02 USD.
Story: It was a bright and quiet day… until it wasn’t.
Once upon a time, in a hollow mountain, the dwarfs were a prosperous society. They were digging a hole – as dwarves do – where they came across mighty power stones, with which they powered their war machinery and even their cities.
Over time, the dwarfs dug deeper in search of more power stones. However, they went too far. Instead of encountering what they looked for, they uncovered an army of trolls and monsters, who waged terror on them. The dwarves realized that the trolls couldn’t bear sunlight, as it turned them to stone. So they fled their mountain homes and settled in sunnier lands. From here on, they turned from mountainous craftspeople into rural warring and raiding tribes. However, the dark past continues to linger – as dark pasts tend to do.
Against this background, we pick up the story with the title character, Dwerve himself. His life is mostly calm and simple, although danger and evil are never far away. In search of his mother, the journey starts with Dwerve exploring a dangerous forest, where she was last seen. After he barely survives the onslaught of vicious wolves and bees in those dangerous woods, his father tells him he shouldn’t go out into the woods ever again.
His grandfather, on the contrary, realizes that Dwerve probably will continue to sneak out to find traces of his mom. So he teaches him about the ancient craft of the warsmiths. Dwarves are too slow to fight hordes of enemies, so they need to work with tools to outsmart and out-tech their enemies.
It won’t take long before Dwerve gets to use his newfound warsmithing power. Almost immediately after Dwerve learns all about the ancient ways, the Dwarven city is on fire. It turns out that it’s being raided by Trolls, which most Dwarves by now thought were just some ancient myth. It’s up to Dwerve and his arsenal of violent turrets and traps to foil the Troll plan and save the land!
As direct as the Dwarves themselves
The story isn’t any more complex than it needs to be. Although the overarching story does gain additional depth as you progress through it, the setup is pretty simple. Thanks to this straightforward story, the gameplay feels very directed. It’s very clear where Dwerve has to go and why he has to go there.
Although the directness of the story helps keep the gameplay fast and dynamic, it tends to leave the story and the character development a little blunt at times. The story establishes that over centuries, the dwarves forgot their roots as inventive mountain people, only for the warsmith tradition to be revived on the spot so Dwerve can defend himself when looking for his mother. Dwerve learns about the warsmith crafts, and that just so happens to be the day a people who haven’t been seen for decades decide to raid.
Furthermore, characters tend to get around to Dwerve’s point of view pretty fast. For example, his father is strongly against Dwerve doing anything that might put him in danger but comes around to the idea very quickly after Dwerve’s grandpa taught him how to use weapons. Although the world has some nice flavor and plenty of diverse characters, the gameplay-centric character writing leaves some nuance to the imagination.
I’ve briefly mentioned the gameplay a couple of times before already, so now let’s finally get into it properly. To me, the gameplay of Dwerve is a great mix between bravery and cowardice. While you venture deep into hostile territory, you use your buildings to shield your advance. Although tower defense purely serves to indicate how the game functions, you’re not really defending your tower. You’re defending yourself. And unlike a tower, you can move.
When I say tower defense, you may think that it’s just a matter of building traps and turrets in smart positions. Wait for the battle to begin, and hope for the best. If that were the combat of Dwerve, it would grow stale immensely fast. Thankfully, it isn’t.
Like tower defense, you’re dealing with enormous hordes of enemies, that you couldn’t possibly face by yourself. The intro of the game makes that perfectly clear. The enemies will also come from multiple sides. They come in all sorts and measures – sometimes they’re spiders (actually, loads of times they’re spiders. But even noted arachnophobe yours truly isn’t scared of them, so you’ll be fine), but they can also be flying insects, archers, shieldbearers, and so on. The field constantly shifts while you’re battling on it. Sometimes, spawn locations shift, or different creatures join the fray later on. Adapt, improvise, overcome.
The turrets themselves also vary massively. Different kinds of turrets are more effective against different kinds of enemies. Don’t think your short-range spinning blades are going to do much against an archer. Oh, I forgot to mention, your buildings of course have health. But it’s more likely they get destroyed than not. So while you’re fighting, you have to remove, replace or repair buildings to live another day. Unless you’re some master tactician, your fight will likely end with good old chaos.
Turrets and Traps
The way of the warsmith is all about being clever with turrets and traps. Dwerve doesn’t lack any variety when it comes to tinkering. During its humble beginnings, the arsenal isn’t too special. It just features spinning blades, a bow and arrow, and a tar trap that slows enemies down. However, you can expand the arsenal real fast, in more ways than one. You can upgrade your weapons at workbenches all over the map. Whether you want them to do more damage, have their effects last longer, or have higher health, there are plenty of choices. Weapon upgrades are constantly available, so you won’t need to backtrack across the map. There’s very little grinding in this game – aside from meat grinding with your turrets, of course.
Aside from upgrading, you can also unlock new weapons as the game progresses. These become crazier the further you get. From battle-ax turrets that behave like a mobile guillotine to massive electric and fire beams, it won’t take long before you’re scorching enemies to ash, grinding them to dirt and chopping their heads off like a raving lunatic. There’s something about winning while being massively outnumbered, and walking over a multitude of dead spiders, trolls, and bees after you’re done. It just feels great.
Tryna Catch Me Fightin’ Dirty
About that ‘master tactician’ part. Dwerve isn’t the kind of game that offers a fair fight. Not to you, anyway. You’re there alone, and the game just sends hordes of enemies toward you. So you have to make the most of what you have. You have better tech, and you have your wits. That means you have to fight dirty. Turtling, spawn killing – every cowardly and cheap tactic is fair game. I always try looking for an area where I can jam myself behind some spinblade turrets, with my back against the wall. In Dwerve, the goal justifies any means.
So try and shoot enemies off the map! Set up your spinblade turrets directly next to a spawning location so you can grind them all to dust before they can even get near you! Use a tar trap, various spikes trap and a battle-ax to let your enemies walk a slow and painful death march to finally get axed! You can outwit your enemies in every situation – and it feels magnificent. And if your plan falls through, you can always try to frantically build new defenses while you run away from the hordes chasing you.
Nobody said it was going to be easy
So, does that mean Dwerve is easy to cheese? No. Every time I thought I figured out a meta that I could apply to any theoretical battle, the game gut-punched me into reconsidering my strategy. Thankfully, you don’t have to walk far when you die. The game saves almost continuously, especially before a major engagement. So although the game is punishing, it’s punishing in a pretty acceptable way. You’ll have to face a battle from square one if you lose, but you don’t have to spend ages getting back to that point.
The tricky thing is, when your initial strategy falls through, it’s quite hard to make a backup plan. It’s possible, but Dwerve himself only has a fairly pathetic boomerang that does barely any damage. It takes some time before you can re-build a destroyed building, allowing enemies to catch up with you. When you start wrong, in most cases you may as well forfeit. But if a particular battle is too hard for you, you can always decrease the difficulty. Or you can increase it, in case it’s too easy for you.
Audio and Graphics: Cute and appealing, despite the bloodshed
There’s no getting around it – despite its insane violence, the world of Dwerve looks cute. Although it’s no secret that I’m easily charmed by beautiful pixel art, I can’t help mentioning it whenever I encounter it. Maybe that’s also why I played Dwerve for review in the first place.
The environments are very well crafted, and bring the vibe of adventure and uncharted territory with them. From the safety and calm of home to the dangerous forest and the even more dangerous and mysterious caves, Dwerve managed to build a world that feels both inhabited, whether cultivated or wild. It feels real. The choice for pixel art evokes some 2D The Legend of Zelda vibes. Similar to games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Dwerve has this top-down perspective while you crawl through the landscape and dungeons, solve puzzles, and enter combat zones – never knowing what comes next. The combat also feels very smooth. I haven’t experienced a single frame drop during my entire adventure.
The graphics play more than just an aesthetic role. They’re important feedback tools during combat. Whether your turret is effective, how much health your turret has left, where your enemies come from, and when they’re going to spawn… although the game is far from easy, it’s possible to anticipate the onslaught that’s coming.
The choice for pixel art doesn’t mean the game is minimalistic. The houses and environments have all sorts of detail and flavor. The bosses are colossal creatures that tower over my towers, giving them that little extra intimidation that feels so good to eventually triumph over. And many of the important players have their own fully developed portraits, which for instance pop up during dialogue, which makes the world even more engaging.
The music does much to help the game’s atmosphere. It’s usually quiet and atmospherical, but when combat suddenly ensues it flares up to become a heroic and more intense battling theme. I believe that I wouldn’t enjoy the area around my home farm so much if there wasn’t a little music playing to emphasize the simple and quiet life. With its audiovisuals, Dwerve makes for the complete package as a tower-defense dungeon-crawling hybrid.
Dwerve was played for review on PC, with a key generously provided by Vicarious PR.