What happens when you mix a peaceful town-building sim with an N64 inspired adventure platformer? You get Dwarrows, a delightful little game that started life via a Kickstarter campaign, before being released on Steam in 2020 to some pretty solid reviews, how does it hold up on Xbox?
Pretty darn well, as it turns out.
After spending more than a few hours in the land of the Wood Elves, I can safely say that Dwarrows is a brilliantly casual experience that any age of player will appreciate.
Years after a great flood destroyed their homeland, the elf queen has decided that the Wood Elves deserve a new village to revive their civilization and their culture. She enlists the help of three heroes from the Royal Company of Colonizers to carry out the task.
You’ll control these three protagonists – The Miner, The Builder and The Explorer – to transform a rather sad-looking keep into a beautiful village that any Wood Elf would be happy to call home. Build a variety of buildings, from marketplaces to mansions (and everything in between), to boost the economy, culture and quality of life of your town. The ultimate aim? Building a settlement worthy of the vaunted five-star rating.
To start, you’ll need to farm a ton of wood, stone and gold. And you’ll need some Wood Elves to live in all those brand new houses you’ve built. After all, what good’s a shiny new settlement if there’s no-one to live in it? Forget building it and waiting for them to come. You’ll need to venture out into the woods and find the displaced Elves who will become your new citizens.
You’ll also quickly find that most of the buildings aren’t immediately available to you. You didn’t think a five-star rating would be that easy, did you? Instead, you’ll need to venture out to find special artifacts that will unlock the blueprints you need. You might be lucky enough to stumble across one on your travels. More often than not though, you’ll need to seek out and solve the many puzzles scattered across the world.
You’ll also earn some shiny artifacts from helping people out whilst on your travels. Duskenvale is a place full of different stories just waiting to be discovered, whether that be uncovering the story of a long-forgotten civilization or travelling across the world to help a grandmother find her party animal grandson.
Quests turn up everywhere and anywhere and there’s no real indicator on who might need your help. And that’s not a bad thing. It forces you to interact with the world; to talk to almost everyone to uncover the world’s tales. The fact that those who don’t have quests might still part with some useful knowledge ensures your time isn’t wasted either.
And by offering these artifacts as rewards, Dwarrows manages to skilfully link together it’s exploration and town-building elements together, into one neat package. By themselves, these elements are nothing particularly special. Together, they make a remarkably entertaining, and downright addictive, gameplay loop. What starts as a simple outing to collect resources always seems to turn into a mini-adventure of its own as you stumble across more puzzles to solve and people to help.
One outing for gold ended with me helping a giant stone face in his fight against a giant bird who had stolen his gemstone. This kind of interaction is not untypical of Dwarrows. It’s a wonderfully whimsical world that players can get lost in. Duskenvale and the surrounding Woodlands are teeming with life, personality and mystery.
In fact, the setting has all the hallmarks of a solid N64 platformer. There’s the bizarre characters, the charming little villages and those not-so-subtle destructible walls. In fact, the only thing missing is a smart-talking bird sidekick. The graphics, whilst a little rough around the edges, only feed into the notion that this is a real love letter to those classic games of old.
The world also takes full advantage of the three character set-up. There is ample opportunity to use all three across the game, and you won’t find one dominating the other two. You’ll go out to chop some trees with the miner, but then might stumble across a pile of rubble that requires the builder’s magic hammer or a race for the explorer to complete. Furthermore, most of the puzzles require you to use all three heroes to open doors, light torches, open chests and the like.
There’s very little that Dwarrows gets wrong. Even so, there’s a few missteps. The pet system, where you can tame various animals, feels entirely tacked on. There’s no real point to it. Your pets supposedly give you bonuses to collecting resources or finding treasure, but there’s very little effect in practice.
Resource gathering can feel very grindy as well, especially after you’ve uncovered most of the artifacts and are looking to build some of the late-game buildings. Upgrades to your tools do go some way to alleviating this but it can still become a slog.
In practice, the relatively minor gripes don’t ever detract from the overall experience. Dwarrows remains an absolutely brilliant game. The fact that a basic cycle of solving puzzles, collecting resources and building stuff is so captivating is a testament to how beautifully immersive the world of Dwarrows and its inhabitants are. With so much to do, so many areas to explore and an entire town to build, it’s remarkably easy to get sucked in. Expect plenty of hours of enjoyment from this one.