Friday, December 23, 2016

The Dwarves (PS4) Review

The Dwarves comes to current gen consoles and PC, and is based off a series of books.  I had not previously heard of the books, but that wasn't really a detriment to the game's setting or story.  Most things were explained enough that I got the basic gist, or were popular enough fantasy ideas (such as magic, the different races, etc.) that I wasn't lost.

While the game first appears to be an action game, you quickly discover it is a real time strategy game.  You will automatically attack whatever target you are facing, but can move around and use your special abilities.  It's also a good idea to move around to fight near your buddies, so they can cover your back.  It is super easy to get surrounded, and you lose health very quickly when you do.  It's also a quick trip to a game over.

The special abilities use the little shield icons that live under your character's health bar.  These are usually built up by taking and receiving damage, but there are a few other special circumstances that can also increase them.  The abilities are mapped to the d-pad, which works fairly well.  Press the direction once to set up the aiming, and then press the X Button to use it.  It's always worth the extra second or two to aim it, even if you are being attacked while doing so.  The X Button will also use the last ability you used, for quickly doing the same thing again.  I'll admit I'm not sure I like that, since I kept trying to hit X to attack, and ended up using an ability.  I'm sure others will like that function, though.  Also note that your special attacks appears to hit your friends (which can inconvenience them), but not damage them (which would be horrible).

The AI will control any characters that you are not currently using, but they will not use your special abilities, for better or worse.  Better because they won't waste them, but worse because you end up having to switch among your characters frequently to use the abilities, making it harder to keep track of any one person.  Considering the big melees you find your characters in, you need to keep track of them.  Thankfully, even when zoomed out enough to see the big picture of what's going on, it was easy enough to see my people and who they were targeting, even if it might not be so easy to do anything about it.

Besides battles, the flow of the game is unique as well.  At first you get a big battle that serves as a tutorial.  Fair enough.  After that, it kicks over to your main character.  There is a bit where you move around and talk to people before setting off to the world map.  Your starting quest is simple enough in premise, but quickly snowballs into an epic journey.  The world map is composed of many points connected by paths.  You can choose where to move along the webwork of places.  However, each move takes 1 day and 1 ration per character, so if you want to wander around, you'll need to find or buy more rations as you go.  There are a multitude of different events at the various points of the map, and they have different resolutions.  For these minor points, it's like a choose your own adventure, and it's actually really cool.  Plus, you can have unique experiences each time you play through the game.  Awesome.

While that's all fine and dandy, there are two huge downsides to the game.  First is the difficulty of the fights.  When your small group fights 3-5 enemies at a time, it works fine.  However, there are plenty of fights against 20 or more enemies, which is absurd.  You have to quickly switch between your characters and use their abilities, or move them out of danger, and then rinse and repeat until the battle is over.  If any one character loses all of their health, it's game over.

This, in turn, highlights the next problem: the load times.  They are long and frequent.  Moving to a new area?  Loading screen.  Plot scene?  Loading.  Died in combat again?  Loading.  Sure, the game looks really pretty, but having to load often and taking its sweet time doing it really drags down the experience, especially after the third time trying a difficult fight.  Yuck.

Overall, The Dwarves has a unique battle system marred by its unforgiving difficulty, and a great map/event system marred by long loading times.  It can be a fun game when it wants to be.  It also has a lot of replay value, if you can get past its hurdles.

The Good:
Battles are unique and can be fun.  The choose your own adventure style map and events gives a lot of replay value.

The Bad:
The battles can be way too difficult, which then highlights the very long (and frequent) load times.

The SaHD:
Is the sequel to this going to be The Elves?

(Review code for The Dwarves was provided by the publisher)

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