Set in a fantasy world, The Dwarves gives you control of the long standing race, and soon enough you’re going to be battling your little butts off against elves, orcs, orges and everything else you can imagine.
The Dwarves starts off very positively. You control Tungdil a young blacksmith who’s soon trusted with an errand that takes him across the land. In true RPG fashion you’ll have to perform a few menial tasks first such as fixing the cooking pot, and finding a weapon to take with you, but it’s all a neat introduction into the world of The Dwarves made popular by the novels from Markus Heitz.
Tungdil needs to learn as he progresses, but thankfully you’ll meet over a dozen other characters who can help you along the way, as you start to encounter stronger enemies from different races. There’s a good mixture of powers, enemies, locations and dialogue, but unfortunately The Dwarves has something missing, and I think it’s down to a bit of a personality disorder.
Soon after starting you’ll realise gameplay seems to fall much more along the lines of a turn based RPG, rather than action, yet with free roaming movement. It’s hard to gauge your enemies, especially when the playing field has changed considerably by the time your powers have recharged. Moving around is easy enough, but you’ll want to smash one of your face buttons pretty soon, with ally dwarves only performing a very basic automatic attack without your input.
The problems arrive when you’ve exhausted your main attacks, which in the introductory section you’ll realise only two are of much use. When these are exhausted there’s quite a lengthy wait before you can use them again. Even for the small enemies, they’ll be needing 2 or 3 hits each, and with enemies always greatly outnumbering your team it often feels like a bit if a grind, making even the simplest of battles quite a chore.
The camera control doesn’t help either. With the standard zoom far away from the action, the battleground soon becomes a bit of a mish-mash of heads and bodies. There’s no distant pointer or magic floating halo to show you where your player controllable dwarves are. So as well as watching the charge of your skills, the location of every enemy that packs a punch, and where the guys you got down to half health have gone, you’re also trying to keep an eye on the individual dwarves so you can move one away from danger, as the A.I often fails at safeguarding him.
Later in the game, things do get a little easier in combat, but the camera issues remain. Zooming in and out with the triggers is a big help, but I found myself constantly zooming in for major attacks and then out for movement, meaning a lot of time was lost when I was also trying to monitor the chaotic field of enemies and each individual.
There is a pause action option which lets you pause the game and give your dwarves individual controls for their next action, but sadly this isn’t the easiest thing to manage, and feels a little too much hard work every few seconds for it to become a major tool of the dwarven trade.
Graphically The Dwarves is not a sloppy performance; there’s a nice gloss that presents some well made and intriguing locations. Zooming in close to the dwarves does offer some detail, but past the initial novelty, you’ll only ever be doing this when you’ve already missed 4 attacks and you want to make sure the next one hits the mark. With many other textures a little below par things aren’t quite as nice when you’re zoomed out which unfortunately becomes the default state.
Audio is a different kettle of fish, and I have to say is the best part of the game by some distance. Firstly the soundtrack does a perfect job of setting the atmosphere, the background noises and ambience are all above par, but the real highlight is the voice acting and narration that really helps to give the characters personality and the journey ahead some meaning, whether it’s by the humor of the drawf brothers, or the sinister growl of the orc.
Combined, it’s a pretty effective audio-visual feast which can’t be criticised too deeply, and beside the story, characters and the adventure side of proceedings, it all equates to a very good game.
Unfortunately though, the combat issues do take some major strides to ruining the experience and it’ll take a large dose of patience to get past the inadequacies. Generally once you get past the first hour or two you’ll start to get to grips with things; mastering the art of trial and error, and managing your team with potions, re-positioning and making the most of their available attacks.
With that in hand, there’s a deep and interesting adventure with some fantastic characters and narration to carry you through. It’s hard to recommend over some of the big name RPG titles, but at £31.99 it may well prove a worthy title for those who feel they have the patience to overlook the technical difficulties.