Review: The Dwarves (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC, Mac

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: The Dwarves
Format: PSN (11.2 GB)
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Publisher: Nordic Games
Developer: KING Art Games
Original MSRP: $39.99 (US), €39.99 (EU), £34.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I never get many chances to play a fantasy role-playing game like The Dwarves, but I was anxious to dive into the story-driven adventure that was apparently based on a book of the same name by Markus Heitz.

Gameplay:
You are thrust into a daunting learn-as-you-play tutorial that briefly explains the controls and dynamics of the game that sets it apart from most others. The main thing you will do in this game is pause the action. With a press of the Square button, you freeze the game as if everyone instantly takes part in that silly mannequin challenge. You are free to move the camera, switch between any available characters, and queue up their next move.

Basic attacks are made automatically when a character is within range of an enemy, but those do little damage and if left unchecked could quickly leave them overwhelmed. You will select and aim a special move. This could be anything from a hefty swipe of a hammer, a quick charge, a spell, or much more besides depending on the individual and their upgraded abilities.

You will end up continually pausing, selecting each individual under your control, choosing a move and aiming it, then un-pausing to watch your efforts unfold. You keep doing that repeatedly until your objectives are accomplished. You might have to kill a certain amount of the enemy, reach an exit, reclaim a stolen item, or even defeat the head honcho before you are killed in a never-ending swarm of orcs.

It’s an interesting way of playing a game and it can be quite entertaining once you’ve mastered the moves and how best to use them. However, even on the easy difficulty, I struggled to acclimatize to the constant pausing and switching and had to restart several encounters. Once I settled in and got used to the never ending juggling it still felt like quite a strange way to play a game and I never felt in full control.

Each special move enters a cool-down once pressed which is part of the reasoning behind the constant switching. Successful kills award action points that help to refill everyone’s abilities. You can stun an enemy and therefore the next attack is usually a critical one.

… a large amount of screen tearing …
Strikes toward a fallen enemy can often result in their death. You can push enemies into fires or chasms but be careful not to send a character charging into them as a death means complete failure and a restart.

I should really get back to explaining how you travel from one area to the next so I should probably start at the beginning of the game. You play as a Dwarf and have been asked to embark on a long journey across a treacherous landscape.

After a few cutscenes, you set off on an adventure that takes you across a varied landscape. You move a wooden piece across a large map, following some guidelines and one space at a time, occasionally settling on an area of importance that moves the story along. This might be told is a storyboard representation or a small but well-crafted area you can freely explore and investigate.

Looking at the many routes you can take, it might seem like an open story adventure but you are guided down certain avenues and even nudged along one path if you try to venture off back toward certain things.

You can equip items that buff your character or replenish health and when traveling on the map, each day restores some health if you have enough provisions. Most choices you make during this part of the journey usually result in the same overall outcome but you might get more experience points or valuables depending on what you say or do.

Visuals:
The graphics are great, with large amounts of enemies that swarm in like a gaggle of Agent Smiths in The Matrix Reloaded. Characters and environments are impressively detailed but the game does suffer from a large amount of screen tearing.

The game features some nice cutscenes and artwork that really help bring the story to life, even if some may grow weary of the slow narrative and skip through the plentiful dialog sections. Lighting and effects are mostly great with the minor exception of silly little things, like some candlelight reflecting off the edge of some eyelids in a cutscene.

… it falls ever so slightly short …
Magical spells that draw in a circle of enemies and fling them back out or a charge attack that spills outward like the wake of a speedboat are a joy to behold. Slam into an enemy and they might stumble back causing the one behind to take a small amount of damage and maybe even fall over.

Audio:
The developers at King Art Games stuck with their regular composer, Benny Oschmann. They even managed to get some of it recorded with a live orchestra. There is a large amount of speech work and all the voice actors do a fine job.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
The Dwarves does many things right, it has some great graphics and an interesting fighting mechanic that, if tweaked here and there, could become very popular indeed. This attempt might not have won me over but it has a nice linear story and a few clever ideas. It might not appeal to everyone but it should entertain fans of the series.

Overall, The Dwarves comes close to being a great game but it falls ever so slightly short. The unique combat kept me intrigued and entertained during the first part of my adventure in the fantasy world. After several hours, the process eventually became repetitive and put me off wanting to finish the game, largely due to the lack of control.

Even when you order a character to move to a location, they will often run back into the fray and get themselves hurt. There is no way to lock onto an enemy or get characters into any kind of formation so it usually results in a messy brawl where a character quickly gets surrounded and beaten to death. I feel like I am babysitting some idiotic powerful brutes that have no common sense. This is probably the reason why I gave up on the game.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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