Review: A GAME OF DWARVES attempts to take the mining, combat and management from games like Dungeon Keeper or Dwarf Fortress and craft it into its own Dwarven haven, but is it a fine place to live or best confined to the depths?
Dwarves: they mine, they build, they fight and so much more. Taking cues from the recent resurgence of management sims such as Prison Architect and Towns, and the unforgettable classics like Dungeon Keeper, A Game of Dwarves aims to recapture the fun of building your own little self-sustaining community.
And it’s Dungeon Keeper that probably comes closest to what A Game of Dwarves hopes to be. The Bullfrog classic had the sadistic charm of being an evil overlord taking out some pompous heroes with traps and minions, and with A Game of Dwarves, Zeal Game Studios tries to infuse a friendlier charm into the dwarves. However, it turns out these dwarves aren’t all that loveable, nor is battling a bunch of common goblins, orcs and wizards as fun taking on some arrogant heroes.
The dwarves are personalised in some ways – they each have their own name, level and job types with branching tiers – so it is easy to end up with some seemingly unique dwarves, but they don’t have any qualities that make you really care about them beyond their base value. It’s like you’re a cruel CEO who has hundreds of faceless workers beneath you, all of which are easily replaceable and just a means to a end.
If you accidentally forget about a miner down in the depths and he digs himself into a hole before starving to death, it isn’t a big deal. You can send for a new dwarf and have that miner replaced by spending a mere fifty food. Each dwarf does level, which improves speed, health, strength and skill, but as long as you have the resources and time it is pretty easy to replace anyone. But that does mean it has the adverse effect of making you not care about any individual dwarf beyond your prince.
The dwarven prince that you lead through the campaign does feel like your own special dwarf, due to the fact he can be customised and upgraded with better equipment and skills. He even becomes very important for combat on the later, more challenging levels, because you generally don’t have the resources early on to train your warriors and the first couple of encounters will go poorly without your mighty prince evening the odds.
There can be tough enemies, and it is possible to lose if you don’t have your dwarven warriors trained to a high enough level, but you could sit there all day working on whatever you want and no one will attack you. You only encounter enemies when you break into new areas and they never launch assaults on your base, or anything that would really challenge you, so there’s never a sense of urgency to defend your base or dwarves.