More and more we are seeing games eschew the standard publishing model and turn to crowd funding. Whether Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Fig; fans are funding projects that the larger developers feel are too niche or risky to produce. One such game recently released after a successful Kickstarter campaign, The Dwarves developed by KING Art Games and published by Nordic THQ. Based on a fantasy novel of the same name it released fifteen months after the launching of the campaign. Warning the following will contain plot spoilers.
Beginning with a short introduction of the world of Girdlegard we are immediately introduced to the dwarves. Made of stone by their god Vraccas to defend the land from orcs and the alfar which are pretty much dark elves. The dwarves also have a burning hatred for elves because Vraccas the dwarven god and Sitalia the elven god made them that way. We then see the fall of the outer wall to the alfar and orcs from The Perished Land. The Perished Land being a place of darkness and desolation outside of Girdlegard, similar to that of Mordor from Lord of the Rings.
After the fall of the wall it cuts to 1,000 cycles or years in the future and we meet the protagonist Tungdil a dwarf that was raised in the vaults of the magus Lot-Ionan. Lot-Ionan sends him on an errand to return a special artifact to one of his famuli which is basically an apprentice magus. On his way he meets the twin warriors and secondlings Bondil and Boendal. They are seeking to bring him to the high king with urgency. After completing his errand he discovers that a fellow magus Nudin had betrayed them, he was really Nod’onn a magus from Lios Nudin, a kingdom from the Perished Land.
Escaping the vaults successfully Tungdil is brought before the high king of the dwarves whom is old and seeking an heir. It is here you learn that only a secondling or fourthling may make a claim to the throne, the thirdlings cannot because they are kin slayers, the fifthlings cannot because they died when the wall was breached and the firstlings are separated away into their own kingdom. The high king needs you to challenge the current heir apparent Gandogar, king of the fourth. Knowing full well that he has no claim to the throne the high king seeks to use him to prevent all-out war with the elves whom Gandogar blames for killing his father and brother.
No candidate gets a unanimous vote from the council and upon decree of the high king they are given a challenge. To create the legendary weapon Keenfire which can kill demons from beyond Girdlegard. Gandogar sets off for the hold of the fifthlings, meanwhile Tungdil sets off to find the firstlings looking for a smith that can work the metal required to create the weapon. On the way Tungdil picks up a theater troupe that was escaping the city and they make their way to the wall of the firstlings. There Tungdil meets the firstling smith Balyndis whom would help him forge the weapon.
The group then heads to the wall of the fifthlings to use the dragon forge as the weapon needs to be forged in the hottest fire. After reaching the dragon fire you learn that the fifthlings are still alive having been resurrected as undead by the power of the Perished Land. You meet Giselbert Ironeye the king of the fifthlings learning that they had taken the last thousand cycles to learn to harness their hatred and hold off the orcs keeping the forge lit. You forge the weapon and make your way to kill Nod’onn learning that the wall of the secondlings has fallen and the high king is dead. It is revealed that Bislipur was a thirdling trying to create a war between the dwarves and elves.
You attempt to kill him by bringing Narmora to sneak up on Nod’onn as only an enemy of the undergrounders can use the true power of Keenfire. She is knocked out, it is then revealed that Tungdil is in fact a thirdling, this would make him an enemy of the undergrounders. He then takes up Keenfire using it to kill Nod’onn. As he dies Nod’onn warns about a greater threat in the west. Ending with Gandogar giving a speech about how the now united humans, elves and dwarves will bring an era of peace, preparing for a future threat.
The plot borrows heavily from other sources of fiction, it’s easy to see the influences from Tolkien specifically. The villains however lack any motivation or if there is one it is never explained. Just the standard fantasy villains: orcs, dark elves, and a demon possessed mage. The heroes are also far from perfect which makes the setting nice, one of the twins Boindil has issues with rage, often time going berserk in combat. You later learn that he killed his love in during one of these berserker episodes, a plot point which comes up later when you are questing with her father, Bavragor the drunken stone mason. In this setting it works, but if you’re a fan of fantasy nothing here will be new short of the names.
The game play is the biggest issue, being a tactical real time combat system with a pause feature. While this combat is a standard feature in computer RPGs here it has one glaring issue. Every attack or ability has friendly fire, combine this with maps that have bottomless pits or environmental hazards and you will find yourself restarting battles over and over. No quick save option and minimal checkpoints also means that restarting is frequent. This tends to break up the pacing of the game, as some missions have urgency and repeating a difficult section breaks immersion. Combine this with random difficulty spikes and you have a combat system that on any difficulty except easy kills you for anything less than perfection. The non-combat sections of the game play out with an over world that has nodes, some nodes have encounters that trigger when stop on them and others have question marks indicating a quest. The nodes with encounters have choices, but choose carefully the incorrect choice often leads to your death with no warning or indication of the choice being risky.
Before every encounter there is a pre-combat menu which lets you select up to three party members which will work with Tungdil. From this screen you select the skills you would like and one item or piece of equipment to be used in combat. From this menu the relationship information for other party members can also be seen. Higher relationships increase the likelihood of gaining action points when a favored ally gains action points. Some items you can select from this menu are magical items that go on a cool down, others are elixirs or bombs which are consumed.
During combat you have to carefully space your units so they don’t hit each other, yet are unable to get surrounded by orcs as being surrounded will lead to probable defeat. Keyboard controls are fairly standard for this type of game. Keys 1-4 select your party members. They have three abilities that they can use in combat which are bound to ‘Q’, ‘W’ or ‘E’. Each character also has one item or piece of equipment that can be used in combat which is bound to ‘R’. All abilities and equipment costs action points, you regen action points periodically but also gain one when an enemy is defeated. However unlike most games of this genre you can move the map by holding down the middle mouse button which allows viewing of objectives from different angles. This does allow for a more tactical approach, specifically when orc archers are raining down arrows from a location that cannot be seen due to the camera positioning in relative to the selected character. Unfortunately the keys cannot be rebound for this game from either a menu or an ini file. For any PC game this is a huge problem, choice and flexibility is one of the staples of PC gaming and the developers failed here.
The music is the standard fare that has been associated with high fantasy RPGs since their inception, orchestral sweeps with plenty of lutes and woodwind instruments. However like with the story it sounds like a generic fantasy sound track. There is one quest where you can unlock the Blind Guardian, hearing a song from the German power metal band Blind Guardian. Beyond that the music isn’t overly special. The sound effects themselves for the weapons and attacks are average. In all there is nothing special about the scoring or sound design of this game.
Visually the game looks great, the maps are bright and colorful, with varied environments ranging from open fields to gloomy forests, the frozen lands of the firstlings and the desolated land of the fifthlings near the Perished Land. The Unity engine is used to great effect here to render the scenes. Not the most visually stunning game in existence, the art style and use of color create a charming world.
The performance is the biggest problem the game had. Frame rate was fine with no noticeable screen tearing. However the game would frequently crash to desktop during loading screens. The developers also failed to create a proper options menu for the game with the graphic settings being options being Fastest, Fast, Simple, Good, Beautiful and Fantastic. However this gives you no feedback as to what options are turned on, this doesn’t tell you if AA, v-sync or ambient occlusion are on. This gives you no feedback on shadow detail, texture resolution or lighting options. It’s frankly sloppy that this is how the developer handled an option menu for a PC game. The minimum specs for the game are: Q9650 or AMD Phenom II X4 940, 6 GB RAM, GTX660 or Radeon 7870. The recommended specs are: i7 3770 or AMD FX-8350, 8 GB RAM, GTX770 or R9 290. 25 GB of free storage space is also required, with the game currently taking up 17 GB there could be DLC coming in the future. Again this game should run on most pcs out there, however with the crashing during menus waiting for more stability patches would be recommended. This crashing persisted across multiple game installs on more than one machine.
To sum it up the story is fun but nothing new, the characters are unique and fun. However the game is bogged down by poor design choices for the combat system and controls. The performance issues practically make the game unfit for purpose. Until there are some updates to deal with the instability during loading screens. It is hard to recommend this game to all but the most hardcore fans of fantasy RPGs until the game gets some patches. Which is why the game gets a final verdict: pass, while fun the headache just isn’t worth it at this time. Later down the line when the game has been discounted and has been patched to fix the crashing it would be easier to recommend. The Dwarves is currently available on Steam or GOG for $39.99 or your regional equivalent.