The Dwarves, developed by KING Art Games and published by THQ Nordic, is a fantasy RPG that tells a story of 15 playable dwarves, one being the main protagonist Tungdil Goldhand (a humble and kind blacksmith who works for the wealthy), as players travel across the land of Girdlegard in a quest to prevent evil from releasing full reign. There used to be six Magi who acted as peace keepers for the realm, but when one of them went against the cause and killed the other 5, things begin looking grim for all the humans, elves, and dwarfs. The game, focused on battling against armies of enemies at once in a physics-based combat, mixed with optional tactical pause-and-resume mechanics, throws players into battles that should inevitably end in pure demise. The only thing that can be a sure thing is that these dwarves have hearts too big to succumb to evil.
Gameplay and Performance
The game opens up with a cutscene introducing you to the severity of the things going on, the societal order that has been, and basically how badass dwarves are. Immediately after it ends you're thrown into a battle. Panning the camera shows a bridge full of attacking orcs, and fellow dwarves holding the ground closest to the castle. Not only will players see a massive battle taking place, but they'll also immediately see the performance issues that will continue to appear throughout the game. I'll get it over with from the start by saying these technical issues are pretty bad; so much so that just walking around a nearly empty blacksmithing and dining area, with little NPCs around and little to no movements, resulted in a bunch of screen tearing and stuttering. These issues don't let up either and combat will be hit r miss with how bad it gets. With that being said, back to the beginning of the new game.
It starts off with a small tutorial, but in the end there isn't much to truly learn. The game maps the controls in extremely simple ways, the only hurdle you'll have to overcome will be panning the uncooperative top-down isometric camera. While the main protagonist is Tungdil, you'll be able to play as the other 14 dwarves over time, and many times a couple of them simultaneously (up to four at a time). You'll switch between them at a press of a button, and will need to do so fairly regularly in order to be the most sufficient in combat. The way the system is set up is that your dwarves will automatically attack wether you are controlling them or not, you'll just need to guide them around the field. Your main focus is to manage when you empower them to use is the special attacks such as an axe swing, hammer pound, or dashing charge. You'll be able to learn more as you play (not too many) and only be able to equip 3 at a time, as well as one type of item (grenades and health potions).
Each character will have a stamina bar that will drain depending on which of the special attacks you use (some take 2 squares while some may take 3 out of several available). When not using them though, it'll replenish back up for more to be used. This is when moments of slow gameplay begin and things change from an action game to a tactical waiting game. When you don't have a special to use, you simply just stand there and let the basic attacks fly automatically. Players will also learn that they can pause the game at will in order to better plan the next moves. Everything is a double edge sword though; no matter how much pausing may help in situations, often times damaging allies is unavoidable.
For example, when throwing a grenade into a crowd of orcs, it's almost guaranteed that you'll cause friendly fire. When the game is based on large armies pushing against one another, its incredibly easy to loose sight of who is friendly and who is not (even though most specials highlight them differently). If you play too conservatively as to avoid this, you'll waste precious special attacks that play a major damage-per-second role. The other gameplay aspect that could potentially immerse player into the game is the large world map that can be explored. It fails to boast much content inbetween the main story points, and I found myself to be less interested in the possibilities, but it is there. You'll need to keep tabs on a resource meter as well, throwing in another dynamic. Be aware though that the choices made in the world map can have some unique consequences as you continue to play.
Sound and Graphics
I was a little thrown off when hearing the musical choice after launching the game as it had a strong Star Wars vibe to it. It didn't match up to a dwarf and Orc setting, but to be fair it did accomplish it's goal of sounding triumphant and adventurous (just a weird similarity that I noticed). That's really my only gripe regarding audio though as everything else was great. All the musical choices though feel great and I never took another second to question them upon launching a new game. My ears were also met with battle chatter, clashing of swords and armor, voice acting that was well done, and a narration that would have been amazing had it been used a little differently. The dwarves are incredibly fun to watch and listen to, and the narrator, voiced by an older woman, makes you feel as if you're being read a deep and descriptive novel of a story similar to The Hobbit.
I talked about the performance issues that have the game in a choke hold in terms of being enjoyable, which is a pure shame because the environments you'll travel through are extremely well done and lore friendly. The character models, while not shooting for realistic, offer great detail and animation qualities; you can even see the emotions from each person, depending on the dialog and story moment, as facial expressions were nicely polished. As you'll fight the many foes and hordes of enemies throughout the title, you'll never feel things be too repetitive when it comes to who tastes death via your weapons. Wether it's battling Ogres who look down upon you from their high stature or Orc warriors who thinking fighting in large armies will help, you're in to see some pretty crazy battles.
The Dwarves had so much potential that it pains me to have actually played what it ended up being due to how torn I feel about it in the end. It was a title I had kept an eye on for months in anticipation, but in the end my hopes and expectations weren't met. There's a chance that perhaps I had them too high, or that I'm being too hard on it, but it truly felt like a bit of a let down. The technical issues are extremely frequent, and I saw the stuttering within seconds of moving my guy for the first time. On the plus side, the fantasy tale and characters are amazing and just as awesome as anyone could hope for.
The combat is unique with its strong focus on massive armies and physics (it was fun trying to push orcs off of bridges and ledges). Players can expect to find nearly, if not more, than a dozen hours, but if you're not a huge fanatic of the setting or storytelling behind it, it may be a little too unbearable with its present faults. In the state that it is in, I believe the score given for it is pretty fair, but if it sees some patches that can alleviate the pain of technical struggles like I sincerely hope to see someday, Ill be the first one to hop on and edit this as to reflect it's then updated status.
|+ The dwarves are badass and awesome||– Plagued with technical issues|
|+ Good fantasy RPG story even if a tad cliche||– Combat is not fun|
|+ It can only get better with updates||– A.I. lack intelligence at times|
|– High price|