A Game Of Dwarves – Hands-On Preview

Title   A Game Of Dwarves
Developer  Zeal Game Studio
Publisher  Paradox Interactive
Platform  PC
Genre  Strategy
Release Date  Q4 2012
Official Site  http://www.paradoxplaza.com/games/a-game-of-dwarves

A Game of Dwarves is the latest strategy title to hack a piece out of the fantasy underworld and lay out its wares, and, on the whole, it is a pretty successful affair.  Far from setting you in the boots of  the traditional, evil underground dweller, complete with self-flagellating Dark Mistresses and corpulent Bile Demons, this game sees you in the role of the good guys – simple, downtrodden dwarves looking to reclaim the lands that were cruelly taken from them.  Someone managed to take something from dwarves and didn’t get their legs chopped off at the knees?

Well, it seems that our beardy chums were altogether too trusting, as a posse of mages swanned in years ago, and, presumably not liking the look of their beards, promptly duffed up our dwarven heroes with the help of a motley crew of Orcs.  The dragons, fighting on the side of the dwarves, were blasted from the skies and the elves, seeing which way the wind was blowing, packed up their wind-chimes and ear-warmers and buggered off, leaving dwarf kind to retreat and lick its wounds, ready for the day when they would take back what was once theirs.

This is where you come in.  You are a layabout prince, whose father has had enough of you swigging ale and laying around getting your socks sticky over the pages of Bouncy & Beardy and wants to make a dwarf of you.  He chucks you out on your ear with a directive for you to start your own clan and slowly reclaim the former dwarven lands from the evil that has overtaken them.

To that end, you set about expanding your crude, underground kingdom, digging out rock, mining gems, growing food, and training up a military force.  In a similar way to certain classic underground titles, you can direct dwarves to dig out earth in order to expand your settlement, while mining whatever precious gems and ore they comes across.  However, un-unionised imps these guys ain’t and they like nothing more than sloping off to bed, smoking pipes, or lurking round one of your expensive banqueting tables.  A few hearty slaps would do them the world of good, but, alas, softly softly is the order of the day.

Each area, in addition to a main goal, features a number of bonus ‘King’s Quests’, which are designed to help encourage you to get to know some of the features better, such as researching and trap building, and when completed, add to your reputation within the dwarf community.  And the dwarf community is where the character call stops.  This isn’t a multi-creature feature; it is what it says on the box – A Game of Dwarves.  A such, that’s all you get, and there are only so many types that you can have – workers, warriors, diggers, etc., which does lead to the game feeling a little limited – at least in the early stages in which I played.

True, the handful of dwarf types may be all that you really need, after all, a cluster-fuck smorgasbord of Lemmings 2 proportions would be unnecessary, but a few more could have livened things up and provided a more diverse gameplay experience.  At the time of writing, I hadn’t unlocked many upgrades from the research tree, so this may well be at least partially solved a little later.  I hope so, because my military dwarves could have done with some beefing up – ranged backup would be ideal and bring a new and more strategic dimension to fights, but at the moment, all I have is a bit of extra armour to protect my grave-bait.

The game keeps the interface simple – a relief in a game such as this – with a small roster of commands at your disposal, from digging, to selling unwanted items.  Build menus are easily accessible and clear, and there are a range of decorations to make your underground home more palatial.  The objects you’ll mostly be after, however, are the functional ones, although they each come with a cost in not only gold, but resources such as wood, stone, and iron – all of which demand some steady mining and exploration.

The darkness surrounding your settlement hides much, and there is no way of telling what lurks there, except for clusters of question marks, signalling areas of interest to be reached.  I found this to be somewhat irritating, as there was no way of knowing whether you were wasting your time digging, only for the cursor to eventually turn red, signifying that the block you’d highlighted could not be mined, meaning that your previous work was pointless.

The digging frustrations continued with the inclusion of levels.  While the ability to create a multi-level complex is to be applauded, allowing for some truly impressive underground chambers to be created, it is difficult to handle, and it is often hard to tell just what level the areas of interest are on, and which layers you are effectively tagging to be mined.  There is a numerical level guide on the slider, but I found it of little use and it made me wonder whether this could have been handled differently.

With this sort of game, exploration is often the name of the game, and it can be tempting to bolt out of the starting blocks and strike out in all directions, lured by areas of interest.  However, “carefully carefully, carefully” should be the miners’ mantra.  Early on, in one of the first areas, I made the mistake of mining down two levels, following the area of interest tags, and ended up with two goblins smashing up my settlement and slaughtering my dwarves.  Sadly, my one lone military dwarf – let’s call him Dead Bastard – failed to serve and protect and ended up shuffling off to the great brewery in the sky with alarming rapidity.

I promptly learned my lesson, and subsequently worked harder to level up my military dwarves before heading out to explore, but there is that devilish balance to be maintained: do you risk running out of gold and resources while you level, or do you risk expanding in the search of more riches when there is a high chance of getting soundly spanked?  Essentially, A Game of Dwarves is like most strategy management titles here – a case of careful exploration balanced with smart resource management and combat.  Overreaching in one area or shooting your load too soon can leave you woefully deficient and exposed in another, and can cost you your game in one fell swoop.

Digging wasn’t the only frustration, however, as I found the teleport interaction to be somewhat faffy, not always obeying where I wanted to place my dwarves.  Surely the simple ability to be able to just grab an idle dwarf and chuck him in front of a workstation would have been better?  Some of the vocals sounded like placeholders – and I hope they were – but the visuals are on the money, with colourful graphics mocking what we would expect from a game set largely underground.  The dwarves themselves were cutsey and charming, with their bug-eyes and bright beards helping the game to stand out from more realistic looking fare, and resembling characters from the maligned-but-actually-pretty-decent Fairytale Fights.

While not as complex as other titles in the genre, A Game of Dwarves is a good place to start for newcomers, and offers a nice diversion for veterans looking for something a little different.  Time will tell as to whether or not is gets any deeper and diverse than it initially appears, but on the face of it the laid back gameplay and almost-casual feel is engaging enough, helping to combat the frustrations.

Inoffensive, able, and with some pretty visuals to shore up the interesting premise, A Game of Dwarves is more of a clipped, attractive beard that is slightly frizzing at the edges, as opposed to a luxurious, complexly-woven chin-rug that is more absorbing than a cartload of Kleenex. Some smart humour, a few risks, and more depth would be great, but A Game of Dwarves is still the most charming, beardy strategy experience you’ll have this year.  It’ll be chopping the legs off the competition in Q4.

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One Comment

  1. Stu stu says:

    Nice write-up, I’m actually pretty taken with this as it looks a little different to the usual. Hadn’t even heard of it before this article so it’s definitely on my radar now.

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