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A Game of Dwarves


A Game of Dwarves

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: PC Games
Category: Real Time Strategy, Strategy

Now, if you've been keeping up on other reviews (you faithless, heartless people!), you'll have noticed that it's incredibly difficult to write about A Game of Dwarves without mentioning two cult classics: Dwarf Fortress (the incredibly detailed, but also incredibly difficult roguelike sim-strategy thing the Toady One makes) and Dungeon Keeper (the delightful classic by Bullfrog games, since copied in one aspect or another by many, many people). I make no promises that the same comparisons won't be made here.


The visuals are cartoony, but, in a way, that fits with the game's humour, and there's a fair variety of things to build which look different. Of course, the game going fullscreen every time I click the window to double check something is somewhat annoying, but it's a minor quibble. Overall, it's clear what's what, both in the UI and the game-world. Gold is yellow, Tourmaline is spikey and sort of green, monsters are generally anything that's not a dwarf that moves around, and each class has their own costume for easy identification. Despite not being amazing on the graphics front, it wins a lot of brownie points for that clarity.


The sound is one of the few things that seems slightly at odds with the rest of the game... there's an epic (pisstake) plot, but it's narrated by one person who can't decide if he's scottish or irish, and another who just decided “sod it, I don't really care about accents, just the petulance of my character”. Some of the sounds are quite amusing (Warrior dwarves quietly making “BASH!” noises as they wallop a foe or, more likely, an inoffensive spider-web), but not all of it seems... quite right. I'm not sure if it's the music, which is fairly serious compared to the gameplay, or some of the voice clips, but it isn't great.


The meat of the gameplay is, as many people have stated, a mashup of Dungeon Keeper and Dwarf Fortress: You control a number of dwarves by placing down dig orders, helpful buildings they can use, keeping them sane and happy, while you dig for treasure, fulfill mandates (like the second (and last) tutorial level's “build some traps”), and attempt to conquer the world dwarfdom once owned. Your overseer for this romp is the son of the dwarven king, a petulant, lazy good-for-nothing who has been sent on a quest that he doesn't really believe in. In this, and the fact that dwarves will follow strict AI rules first rather than your orders, is what brings many to compare it to Dwarf Fortress. For example, a dwarf will go off and sleep, or eat, or train, in the middle of anything that's not as important as a) running away, b) fulfilling one of those two needs, or c) murdering something. Dwarves have their priorities straight, even if that's something you will occasionally need to work around.

The comparisons to Dungeon Keeper come from the overworld map (a little unfair, because overworld maps have often looked like this in other games, and they didn't all get compared to Dungeon Keeper), the limited resource storage (improved by building containers), the limited population, the dwarven-teleporter-cum-dungeon-heart that brings your population in, and the ability to teleport people where they need to go, if you're desperate.

There are both good and bad touches to A Game of Dwarves, and those bad elements are often mitigated by features within the game, thankfully. For example, the dwarves are plodding creatures, to the point where I'd been playing for 3 hours and barely finished both of the tutorials. The answer to that is to move at high speed once you've got your infrastructure set down, slowing down or pausing for important events, but still... dwarves are slow. On the upside, the sense of humour that often infiltrates Paradox releases is still there, with the dwarven prince being a lazy bum who, until the beginning of the game, still lived in his dad's mountainhome, wood being gained from Log Plants (literally plants that bear logs as fruit), and the various descriptions of items and monsters (Moles aren't just moles, or even star-moles... no, they're EVIL MOLES.)

The campaign is split into several acts, and is basically a combination tutorial (first two maps) and challenge mode with a plot (not a bad one, just a cliched plot, although it's aware of that, and plays it up). Thing is, while the maps themselves are pre-genned, in the sense that caves and important sites are always the same place, the minerals are not, which led to me replaying the second tutorial to get enough Tourmaline for a researcher (the key to the bonus goals for the level). The variety of dwarves is not really that great (Warrior, Dwarfling, Scholar, Crafter, Digger, and the levelled up versions thereof), and traps requiring a fair amount of researching is a definite down-side, but, at the very least, it's moderately fun. Oh, and before I forget, one nice little touch is that warrior dwarves will occasionally break their training dummies. They're not that expensive, so it's a nice touch, rather than a frustration.

Overall, for the price Paradox are asking, A Game of Dwarves is not bad. It's not amazing, but it's light-hearted (despite the music seeming rather dramatic), it's fairly easy to get the hang of, and it's going to last you a while.


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