Paradox are great at championing great niche projects and letting them shine, and A Game of Dwarves is just one of those projects. A management game wrapped up in a fantasy package, it brings back the core-but-not-hardcore management gameplay of the 90’s. The concept of Dwarves is fairly simple – the dwarves were tricked by a group of evil mages and had the stuffing kicked out of them and now, many years later, they want what was once theirs, and they are going to achieve total victory by… digging holes.
At the moment, Game of Dwarves has a story campaign and a skirmish mode. The latter does exactly what it says on the tin — you set some parameters, size, difficulty, available map resource — and then you just play. There’s no real end-goal, just dig and dig until you get bored really — all of the resources, items and techs are at your disposal, there’s some of the mini-game elements but they don’t really have much meaning, and of course all of the pre-set rooms are randomly generated. It’s a sandbox in its purest form, and the only limitations are what the game itself poses.
The campaign offers the most interesting variations on the basic concept. Sure, you’re basically digging and expanding, but it’s focused, and there are a lot more meta-games to play around with. There is something awfully slow paced about A Game of Dwarves… we’re not sure if it’s just how we’re approaching the game, but it can take a while to actually get anything done due to the desire to be prepared.
Dwarves is so casually unforgiving that, if you’re unable to handle what’s on the other side of the block you’re digging through, you’re essentially screwed. This can lead to preparation bordering on paranoia, and even going as far as attacking all of the pre-set rooms from the top so that you can see what’s in there before hand. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, it’s just that to achieve optimum preparation you have to have a certain amount of warrior dwarves, which have their own requirements, you have to get them to a certain level, research certain techs and so on — all of which require you either to gather the appropriate resources, or simply wait. It’s an odd state of affairs to be sure.
There are also a couple of things that can annoy with A Game of Dwarves — for starters, there’s a lot of functionality and items in the game that are geared towards home decoration. Unfortunately, it’s missing a few key features that stop it from letting you play the part of a home decorator properly — namely the fact that you can’t erect new walls or artificially ‘fill in’ blocks you dug up, and you can’t re-skin floorboards and tiles like you can normal earth.
This basically means you have to put in an unneeded level of thought and preparation into planning out your Dwarven holdings, if you’re ever wanting to spruce the place up a bit. Granted, you could very justifiably argue that this game is not about home decorating, except — well, why bother providing so many options if you don’t make it fully accessible?
It’s like The Sims: personally, I don’t really care what my house looks like and where everything is, but there’s functionality available should I want to. Game of Dwarves is exactly the same – there’s functionality that allows you dig yourself out a very grand home, but there’s a few things stopping it from being easy.
There’s a lot of potential here, and we just hope the team get given a chance to realise it. Dwarves operates on a ‘level’ system, to allow you to dig up and down, and naturally, this includes a level at the very top which is basically the outside world. At the moment, the game isn’t really doing much with that outside world right now, and we can’t help but feel it’s a missed opportunity.
It’s not there’s anything wrong with Dwarves at the moment – it’s just feeling somewhat incomplete. The campaign is good enough to see you through once, but once you’re seen everything there is to see, we don’t see much longevity in this game. There’s still some time yet before release, so hopefully the team will shore up the meta-game and the design aspects – as a veteran Sims player I’d happily spend hours digging away trying to make the perfect dwelling if it wasn’t for those bug bears. It’s a decent enough little title – but with games like Impire also on the way, it’s going to have some stiff competition.