If Elden Ring has taught us anything, it’s that the soulslike genre still has a lot more to give. However, as evidenced by countless imitators, FromSoftware seems to be the only studio able to evolve its own fabled action RPG formula.
Dolmen tries to separate itself from the swords and sworcery of its inspirations, immersing players in a gritty sci-fi world. You arrive on Revion Prime, a world besieged by aliens as realities collide – the result of humans meddling with the game’s titular radioactive crystals. Excited by how Dolmen could help revolutionise space exploration, scientists unwittingly open the door to all kinds of cosmic horrors.
That’s where you come in – a faceless, armoured agent tasked with collecting crystals while mowing down extraterrestrial enemies. While there are definitely some interesting elements at play, Dolmen left us frustrated with little motivation to carry on past those initial couple of hours.
Soulsborne fans will instantly pick up on the similarities to their beloved series. In combat, you’ll lock onto enemies, carefully kiting them until you see an opportunity to attack, either dodging, blocking, or parrying incoming blows. Even the most meagre of foes can kill you in just a few hits, forcing players to think carefully about each encounter, monitoring their health, stamina, and energy.
Energy is one of the concepts Dolmen introduces. Your suit is powered by a blue gauge that drains as you perform actions such as healing or firing your ranged weapon. This can only be restored by consuming batteries which behave similarly to flasks from the Soulsborne saga, replenishing each time you reach a bonfi- err, Beacon.
From the get go you have access to several character archetypes. These include the sword-wielding tank, dual-bladed assassin, and gun-toting sharpshooter. However, there’s also the option to roll as a recruit, which gives you more initial freedom in levelling up the stats to suit your own playstyle.
No matter your loadout, Dolmen’s combat isn’t much fun. You and your enemies will simply flail around, taking chunks out of each other’s health bars with no real sense of mastery, your defence options never feeling particularly useful. Not only that, Dolmen loves to douse you in status ailments, whether it’s poison or slowing your movement. You’ll die a lot and, in true soulslike fashion, leave a ghostly spectre where you fell. Fail to return to that point with your next life and all the experience you had accrued will be lost.
Manage to get back to the ship, however, and you’ll be free to spend it on character upgrades. Genre fans should be able to intuit what each of your agent’s attributes govern, though newcomers will be left scratching their heads, unsure what to spend their experience on. Meanwhile, a crafting table will allow you to repurpose any resources and materials scavenged from Revion Prime.
Each time you beam back down to the surface, you’ll continue to explore this world’s labyrinthian layout. Again, this is very similar to FromSoftware’s penchant for non-linear environments, giving players a false sense of freedom, often gating off areas or populating them with tough-as-nails enemies. Just minutes into Dolmen, there’s a treasure cave crawling with spider-like creatures lying in wait. Not long after defeating the first boss, there’s another ambush site, flashing players the middle finger.
Of course, perseverance is key. Once you’ve overcome Dolmen’s learning curve, there’s some satisfaction to be had from turning the tables on your enemies. However, the patience this requires may be more than you’re willing to commit.
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives and directly compare Dolmen to one of the most esteemed franchises of all time, it’s a solid first attempt by game developer Massive Work Studio. It’s clear to see the passion this Brazilian team has for the genre, though their debut RPG ends up being a troubled Soulsborne tribute.