Dwarves are a staple of the fantasy genre, across all of its mediums. You find them in every novel, movie, and game and they’re often lovable, hardy supporting characters, but rarely are they the leads, overlooked in their short stature and affinity for digging beneath the ground. Enter King Art Games’, The Dwarves, a tactical RPG that builds off of the novel of the same name by Markus Heitz. The game puts the spotlight on the Dwarves and features a strong narrative focus and real-time battles with an interesting take on the overworld map. The game’s story takes center stage with its RPG strcuture more supportive than essential, while its gameplay mechanics can be tough to manage especially when the battles get big, but offers some fun skill play.
Developed by: King Art Games
Published by: THQ Nordic, EuroVideo Medien
Release date: December 1st, 2016
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed on PC)
Launch Price: 39.99 USD
The Dwarves Features
- Tactical real-time battles: You’re fighting hundreds of foes with just a handfull of heroes. You can pause anytime to tactically plan the next smart move.
- Crowd Combat: All creatures on the battlefield are rendered with physical complexity – that’s why the battles feel especially dynamic and “real”, and enabling a lot of tactical finesse.
- Captivating story: Join the dwarf Tungdil on his adventurous journey across Girdlegard.
- Explore the world: Uncover secrets, learn more about the game world and its inhabitants, and solve optional puzzles.
- Delve into the world map: Girdlegard ranges from snow-covered summits to shimmering deserts. You can move freely on the world map, meet numerous characters, and experience adventures. But beware: A lot of your actions on the world map have far-reaching consequences!
Story & Setting
The story of the game is its absolute strength and is one of the better narrated fantasy gaming experiences of the year. The land of Girdlegard is similar in many ways to worlds of other seminal fantasy stories, and it features many of the same races and and stereotypes you would expect. The story’s primary plot is also a fairly standard foray into the world of sinister baddies, loyal allies and an ordinary person that rises to become an extraordinary hero.
However, within those familiar genre confines, the game’s Dwarven perpsective provides a refreshing twist on the convention. Heitz’s story, is predictable but engaging and supremely fun along the way much in the vein of many of R.A. Salvatore’s D&D novels. The characters are lively and all crafted to the genre’s conventional perfection. The villain is villainous, the boisterous friend is lovable as much as obnoxious and the dialogue between them all is well written and humorous.
The story revolves around a dwarf named Tungdil who has never met any other of his own kind, and is sent on an errand that changes his life as he is whisked away to a world of plots and far reaching consequences. The game’s events follow along with those of the novel so those familiar with the work will know what to expect as it progresses. Along the way you will make certain story choices but they won’t have dramatic impacts on how the game resolves, as it does tend to stick to the novel’s core plot.
The game alternates between a board game like overworld map where you move your band of heroes from point to point to a real time top down perspective where you will engage in the game’s battles and deeper exploration. For the most part this combination works and is fun to switch in and out of.
When exploring the overworld, you move your “piece” from node to node, stopping along the way at towns, inns, and other points of interest. At these points of interest the game will prompt you with events that are occurring and give you a few choices you can make on how to proceed. You can opt to move on and ignore the situations or you can dig deeper, having conversations and explorations. This exploration is fun and has its own management element where you have to procure provisions to endure the travels and it delivers a bit of fun anticipation when you land on a new node and wonder what you might encounter.
At points, these events will trigger either combat or a deeper bit of story and exploration opportunities. When this happens, the game switches to the top down real time perspective where you will be facing off with some foes or exploring the surrounding landscape. These break out moments are the meat of the game’s tactical gameplay and are where you are using your strategy and skills. Combat is straightforward, each hero has a few skills equipped and they can be triggered on targets in real time. The game has a pause feature that lets you queue up some skills from your heroes and is useful when dealing with a large battle of many heroes and enemies.
These larger engagements are where the gameplay suffers some, as the camera can’t be manipulated to survey the battlefield as effectively as possible. Managing your heroes can be tricky because it’s easy to lose them in the middle of a fracas, and their AI tends to idle if not being actively directed. You’ll have to be constantly managing your party, directing them around the battlefield and telling them how and when to use their skills, lest they stand around. The combat can be challenging however, so those expecting a walk in the park should be prepared for some surprisingly overwhelming odds and a few deaths along the way.
Exploration is fun, although not entirely rewarding as far as itemization goes of which there isn’t much. Exploring the environment, looking for clues opens up further narrative rewards and really gives the story an opportunity to shine. Players who want a great yarn will find a lot to love here, but if you’re more of the loot hound type, the game is probably not going to satisfy your instincts.
The RPG system of the game is quite light. You level up your character by earning experience from completing quests and killing enemies and as you level up you can choose between a couple of skills. You wind up with a handful of skills at your disposal, and that’s about it. The skills themselves can be really gratifying, especially when you’re sweeping a bunch of orcs off of a bridge to their deaths, or charging through a mass of foes like a heroic battering ram. The system suits the story and not vice versa, and is there mostly to give some semblance of progression.
Visual & Audio
The game has impressive visual design elements for a smaller release. The art style is not hyper real, and is instead a more whimsical fantasy art style that really suits the narrative and setting. The animated cutscenes are well done, and the game’s menus and map all have very pleasing visual design. The music is also very well done and appropriate for the game and provides a good backdrop to the experience.
The recorded dialogue and narration is similarly impressive and was never annoying or eye rolling. I laughed at the banter between characters, paid attention to every cutscene and listened to every piece of narration. I found myself really enjoying the experience with the game and was very invested in how the story played out. The combination of good writing with good delivery made me want to explore and see as much as I could.
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