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The Dwarves Review

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KING Art Games are probably best known for their point-and-click adventures with Unwritten Tales and The Raven. But now, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, they’ve tried their hand at a tactical role-playing game titled The Dwarves – based on a fantasy novel of the same name by Markus Heitz. Can KING Art deliver a tactical masterpiece which also offers glorious storytelling adapted from the novel?

Well, given that the developers are better versed in the story side of games, it came as no surprise to see that aspect thriving. The Dwarves focuses on an orphan dwarf blacksmith, Tungdil, who has become isolated from his kind and raised by humans in Ionandar. One day, Tungdil is sent on a seemingly insignificant errand by Lot-Ionan, his foster father of sorts and an acclaimed magus (sorcerer). Little does he know that this magical realm in Girdlegard is under severe threat from the Perished Land spell, and meeting other dwarves for the first time – Boindil and Boendal – is just the beginning of a treacherous and exciting adventure.

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It’s a tale of betrayal, but most importantly about embracing destiny and making bonds to overcome the odds. Although the story presents a whole load of interesting names, places and unravelling arcs to take in – almost too much – if you can handle it, then there’s a really great tale to be discovered and enjoyed. The characters are well voiced, thus ensuring attention is paid to the dialogue, whilst the narration is of an equally high standard. Judging The Dwarves on storytelling alone, the developers have done a bloody good job.

Realistically, that doesn’t mean an awful lot unless the gameplay can hold its own too. There are two components to the goings on, the first of which involves a top down view of the world in map form. Travelling from place to place occurs via selecting nearby nodes and moving one node at a time, which equates to a whole day in-game. You’ll know where you need to be, but the path you wish to take is completely in your hands; you can try to avoid coming across any armies roaming the map, visit points of interest, or go for a direct route no matter the obstacles. On occasion it’ll allow you to make text-based decisions such as approaching people and places. I appreciate the freedom, even if one eye is always on the ever-depleting supplies after each movement.

It’s not without issues though. Simply moving the cursor around the map can prove quite a task all too often, for nearly every time I tried to select a node, the cursor would just rapidly jerk around on and off the spot. The only way for it to acknowledge my choice was to keep pressing the confirm button a number of times. And if you think that’s irritating, the worst is yet to come.

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The real crux of the gameplay comes when a map interaction transports you into a location either for exploration, or a battle. Exploring is a very simple affair, wandering around a generally small area for items of interest. Battles on the other hand consist of Tungdil and any accompanying party members facing a multitude of enemies, ranging from orcs to the undead. Only four characters can be active in battle at once and so choosing wisely before chaos ensues is vital. I like the fact that amongst the 15 playable characters, there are more than just dwarves, with the beast-like Djerun being a personal favourite to use.

Each of the chosen characters will automatically perform simple attacks against any incoming enemy, your job is to select which special abilities to use and when – dependant on how many ability points have regenerated. During the mayhem, that’s a tricky task to perform, but thankfully the action can be paused as often as needed to give each character an action. Due to the large numbers attacking you, unleashing less powerful attacks with a wider target area can often be more effective than pounding a single one; especially when enemies can be knocked into environmental hazards such as fires.

Objectives whilst in the midst of these conflicts can vary between annihilating every enemy, to just targeting a sole foe, or even saving innocent villagers. I would’ve enjoyed such variety, if it wasn’t for the numerous issues plaguing my experience. The first of which is the often terrible camera. Despite being able to rotate it yourself and zoom in at will from an almost top-down view, the view itself is regularly obscured by houses and trees etc. Not ideal when it’s difficult enough to keep an eye on where your characters are; they tend to blend into the hordes.

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Then there are the horrendously long loading times for areas that aren’t particular attractive, hence I’ve no idea what takes it so long. The camera and the loading problems are how the developers designed them to be unfortunately. But what about the problems they clearly didn’t anticipate? When the action is paused, the instructions given sometimes occur but with no actual affect on the enemies. This leads to a lot of frustration. That’s nothing though compared to the constant freezing and lagging. Even when there’s hardly anyone on screen, the game struggles immensely and freezes up for no apparent reason, for an unpredictable amount of time, which really ruins the flow.

I’m not usually one to bother about the difficulty of a game, as long as it’s not pointlessly tough. However, when The Dwarves has so many big and small irritations, it irks me more to find that, to the untrained eye, the easiest difficulty is barely any different to the medium. There’s nothing worse than plodding on through issues, only to fail because a hero has died as a result of technical problems.

There’s no doubt KING Art Games have managed to tell a fantastical story via the medium of text, narration, voiceovers and cutscenes to the best of their ability. But with The Dwarves being a game, I’m extremely disappointed at how poorly the gameplay has been executed. As an RPG, I feel it could’ve done with a higher level cap and more abilities to unlock along the way. Without the issues, it would’ve been an exciting task of few heroes versus many enemies, whilst tactically moving and attacking smartly. Sadly, when the map screen becomes a chore, there’s very little hope for enjoyment. The screen tearing, freezing and lagging makes it borderline unplayable and almost definitely unbearable.

The Dwarves has a story to share, but I don’t recommend playing the game in order to embrace the fantasy world. Take the easier route and pick up the novel instead.

James Birks
James Birks
Been gaming casually since the SNES as a youngster but found my true passion for games on the Playstation 1 (the forbidden word ooo). My addiction grew to its pinnacle with the purchase of an Xbox 360 & Xbox Live Service. A recovering GS hunter that will still play literally any game.
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