A Game of Dwarves – Preview
Ever since I was about five years old, I’ve known exactly what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’. People around me had different ideas of course – they wanted to be pilots, astronauts or archaeologists. I even knew someone who had their stall set out to be a pirate. I refused to be swayed though. I knew what I wanted to be and I was sticking to my guns: when I grew up I wanted to be a dwarf. Not one of those namby pamby Snow White dwarves – I wanted nothing to do with their girls (eww, cooties) or their singing and whistling (I suck at whistling). No, I wanted to be a real fantasy dwarf, one of those swaggering, pot-bellied paragons of sheer awesomeness. I mean, just think of the way that they live their lives! Eating meat, drinking mead and searching for treasure. What more could a man want? Fighting? Well they’ve got that covered too. Nobody messes with the dwarves and leaves with their knees intact. Nobody.
Sadly though, we all have to grow up and, in my case, it happened quite literally. I’m now a bit too tall to fulfill their strict criteria, but my love of dwarves has never left me. A spark caught a long time ago and it never died out. Thankfully it seems that someone at Zeal Game Studio shares my enthusiasm for short-bearded drunkards. Having already put out the fiendishly absorbing ‘Dwarfs!?’ they are venturing once again into the depths that only those shorter than four and half foot can reach, with A Game of Dwarves – a game that thrusts you into the role of a dwarven prince who has just left home with a bunch of his chums in tow. It’s your task to set up a colony and start supporting yourself and your subjects as soon as possible. To do that you’ll need to dig, fight and eat your way to supremacy, hopefully picking up plenty of gold on the way.
The gameplay draws inspiration from many of the management games from the late eighties and nineties, putting you in charge of the whole colony of dwarves. Within the colony, you can have a small bunch of dwarves, or you can have three dozen. Micromanaging three dozen dwarves, however, is a nigh on impossible task, especially if they are scattered all over the map; thankfully the game doesn’t force you to, instead letting the dwarves get on with their lives when you’re not instructing them. For some, like the warriors, this means chilling in the dining room and eating. The more industrious types – ‘workers’, on the other hand – will potter around doing outstanding task, be it gathering munchies for the rest of them or doing some digging.
The fact that they can take care of themselves means that you’re free to do all the cool stuff. There is plenty of space on the map to explore and dig, and there are several hidden rooms scattered throughout. You have no idea what you’re getting when you open up one of these rooms, though, because it may well be anything. Well, not anything, but you may be disturbing a room full of monsters that are out for your blood, but it may also contain a lot of treasure, and, as we know, dwarves like treasure. A lot.
As your colony continues to grow, more and more dwarf options will become available for you to make use of, from your basic workers to the advanced scientific dwarves. When you create scientific dwarves you unlock a tech tree that allows you to get even further into the management aspect of the game, deciding on the path that the dwarven prince (and thus the colony) will go down. Most of this choice is taken from the decisions that you make throughout the game – what technologies you choose to research and types of dwarves you choose to make. As you venture down certain paths, the dwarven prince also begins to change in appearance and stats to reflect your style of play. If you are a militaristic expansionist style player, then your prince will become a warrior-style character – and a mighty good one at that. Other choices mean that your prince changes in other ways, but his changes will always support the way that you play.
The way that the prince changes visually is important, because these visuals play a vital part in setting the mood of the game. Many dungeon master style games of the past (which this undeniably is) have a dark and brooding setting that gives the games their dungeon feel – often because the player takes the role of the bad guy. There’s none of that in A Game of Dwarves. The graphics take a cartoony bent that means the atmosphere of the game is light and charming throughout, even when you have to listen to your whiny father, the king. In fact, the game shows off some remarkably bright colours, especially for a game set underground.
And there is a lot of underground for it to be set in. A Game of Dwarves has some pretty hefty map sizes to be explored and populated, whether it be in story mode or the ‘play forever’ sandbox mode. There was every indication that you could play the game for a lot of hours on a single map and the storyline was promised to be a decent length, which means that the game should provide plenty of entertainment for a long time.
A Game of Dwarves looks to be a charming and intense title that shows these underground dwellers in the best possible light – as awesome drunken miners who are obsessed with food and gold. Colourful graphics combine with some steady gameplay to create an experience that will happily consume dozens of hours when it comes out later this year, and from what I saw of it, they won’t feel like hours wasted. After all, if I can’t be a dwarf in real life, then this game is definitely the next best thing.
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