When most people think of nerds in their natural habitat, they assume that all are into the High Fantasy world of Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons; taking a party of adventurers on an adventure, beating down Orcs along the way. The Dwarves, based on the novel by Markus Heitz, is essentially what happens when your party mostly consists of just one race of melee fighters.
The Dwarves takes place in a world called Girdlegard, a world under siege by Orcs and an impending disaster known as “The Perished Land” being wrought upon the land by one of the five Magi betraying the other four. Following the adventures of Tungdil, the plot follows the novel very closely to the point where it feels like it’s going through the motions at times. Those who feel that High Fantasy is somewhat pretentious will find that here, but if you enjoy it then it’s a decent romp.
I found a lot to like with the cast of characters themselves; Boïndil in particular is as charming as a bloodthirsty Dwarf with a penchant for Orc slaughtering can be, but something always felt off about how the game was presented. Dialogue is mixed with narration in text boxes, suggesting that the developers may have just cut and pasted the text directly from the novel. It’s a design choice that broke my immersion numerous times.
However, despite being as cheesy and clichéd as High Fantasy games can be presented, the game does look fairly nice. Environments are varied and the characters look and sound great no matter the perspective. I would have liked to have heard more in the way of music in battles though, as the same tune plays throughout most encounters.
When you’re not in battle, Girdlegard is realised as a map with destination dots to click on and navigate the world. If you’ve played any of the Sorcery! series on mobile platforms then this concept should be familiar to you, but it breaks down to you having a specific encounter and having to choose your answer. It’s basic, but works very well.
Yet, despite the fact that you can go anywhere on the map, The Dwarves feels hamstrung by the fact it’s based on a novel. It has to go through the linear plot points that are integral to the story, giving a somewhat disjointed feel to the game. Unlike similar games built from the ground up, it doesn’t feel as if your choices really matter, except for those that result in your immediate death. Thankfully, loading a previous auto-save when the instant failure states happen is painless.
Combat is another story. At first glance it seems competent if basic, yet there are several problems. Firstly, your skills can hit multiple targets, including friendly ones. Depending on the character this accidentally hits, you may end up severely hurting that character by accident. Pausing the game can off-set this, but occasionally the AI messes things up and hits your character anyway. As the combat is physics based, there will also be times where you run off a cliff with a charge attack, which is hilarious when it happens the first time, but not so amusing on subsequent occasions.
Crucially, another issue is that there are very few ways to heal characters. Since there are no magic users that heal other targets, you’ll either be chugging potions like beers on a Friday night, or backing off from combat to regenerate health. This wouldn’t be so bad if the AI didn’t take over your characters when deselected, running them right back into the fray.
Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for one brutal reality: if one character dies, it’s game over. There’s no way to revive characters on death, meaning that the whole scenario has to be restarted. Given that combat is prone to difficulty spikes in weird places – one encounter with a horde of Orcs and a magic user proved to be a massacre numerous times – these issues add up to produce a game that’s more of a chore than a fun, if short romp through a High Fantasy land.
There’s a lot of love that went into the creation of The Dwarves but the glimmers of brilliance are dulled by the numerous problems with the combat, as well as the conflicting nature of the narrative with the few moments where you are able to make your own choices. Chances are those who will enjoy this game the most are fans of the books, but it’s a largely forgettable game for everyone else.
Version Tested: PC