A Game of Dwarves is an interesting take on a simplified RTS exploration game in the same vein as Dungeon Keeper. Large scale management and building games have lost some of their popularity, so it is somewhat surprising that Paradox Interactive have released this title. Come on now, I’m sure more than just myself wondered how hard the Mines of Moria were to carve into stone and now we have a chance to do exactly that. A Game of Dwarves has great moments, fun surprises and represents great value, though some of its joy is marred by buggy controls and a lack of depth.
Hundreds of years ago, evil, vaguely familiar looking mages tricked the dwarves into giving up their land for the little freedom they had left. Now, the slacker Dwarf Prince has been given a grand quest by his King Father: to retake the land, drive the mages out, and bring the elves back out of hiding – no pressure at all for our dim witted and lazy protagonist.
Over the course of the 14 levels, which the developers estimate will each take about two hours to beat, there really isn’t much in terms of the story to maintain your interest. There is the odd video game or pop culture reference splashed in, but overall it is simplistic and generic. Then again, the narrative isn’t what usually draws people to games like this.
There is also a custom game mode in which each “cave” is procedurally generated, and it’s up to the prince to make it into his kingdom. This is where the exploring and exploiting parts of the game shine brightest. As the dwarves dig out chambers for building an underground city, it reveals question marks deep within the ground outlining chambers that are already there. When the wall next to a question mark is removed, the chamber opens up showing the spoils. It could be anything, from monsters guarding hordes of treasure to friendly gnomes whose home you’ve just disturbed.
Within the city, dwarves can be specialized to carry out specific tasks that are needed to keep the kingdom running. There are five base specialization that are pretty straight forward: diggers, workers, scholars, military, and crafters. The scholar and the military dwarves can be specialized even further, provided the technology has been unlocked and the resources needed are at hand. Though, sadly this is the end of being able to customize your peons, but the entire base is open for creativity.
The look, shape and feel of the main chamber is completely up to the user. Missing the feel of the forest, there are floor and wall tiles for that. Feeling a bit more evil and twisted, there are floor and wall tiles for that as well. Adding decorations make your dwarves happy, and happy dwarves are busy dwarves. Decorations aren’t just important for looks and happiness either, some are needed to increase how much storage space you have for the many different items needed to run the kingdom.
The game does have its flaws, mostly in how everything is controlled. The further down your kingdom and chambers go, the harder it is to keep track of where the action is happening. The camera can only view so many levels at one time, so it’s very easy to get lost within the large expanse of the map. Sometimes when trying to pan the camera around the game will glitch, sending the camera off into one direction and resulting in the screen ending up as nothing but black space. Another bug I experienced, was losing function of my middle mouse button. This controls the pan and zoom of the camera and without it things become very difficult.
The lack of multiplayer is slightly disheartening but completely understandable. After all, The dwarves don’t appear to be the kind of race that would fight among themselves right? I could see two player PVP matches, where one person is the dwarf prince and the other controls the evil mages. It isn’t necessary, as this is a single player experience, but it would have added a great deal of value to the game.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with A Game of Dwarves, and I plan on spending more time with the game. I also went into this title knowing that it was more like Dungeon Keeper than it was Dwarf Fortress. Despite it’s bugs, simplicity and generic story I find myself having a lot of fun when I’m playing. Oddly enough, a friend and I will discuss how we build our bases to get the most out of our workers and scholars. There are other titles that have more value for the price point (FTL comes to mind) but A Game of Dwarves isn’t something to just pass right over. If you are looking for a simple, easy to play RTS exploration title, definitely give this one a go.