A Game of Dwarves, or as my very first thought about it dictates, “It’s really not that hard to find an real Scottish person to narrate your game”, is a game about dwarves, as opposed to top down Minecraft simulating.
Admittedly the only aspect in which the game is remotely similar to Minecraft is that you can dig and build things, which isn’t anything remotely close to plagiarism, but it’s what comes to mind when you start destroying cubes of dirt and stone in hopes of pulling something shiny out of the ruins. It looks only slightly less basic, but it’s still barebones in terms of visual and audio design. That doesn’t matter though, because this isn’t Mass Effect or Gears of War. It’s a Game of Dwarves. (Enter CSI: Miami YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH here).
You play as a Dwarven prince who has to go out into the big dark underworld and prove to his father (Aptly named King Father, I’m beginning to think subtlety isn’t this game’s strong point) that he can run things properly. There’s a slightly offputting hitch here – the slim story behind the game is steeped in Nordic mythology, and all of the Dwarves have appropriate names, apart from this one guy called Philip, he’s probably a foreign exchange dwarf or something. When they rarely speak/make assertive grunts, they sound quite Swedish. All except for King Father, who has the most obviously un-Scottish Scottish accent I’ve ever heard. Pick a breed of dwarf and stick with it, let’s have some kind of continuity here.
The first few cinematics seem to judder and fill you with some initial dread regarding the quality of the game you just installed, but genre die-hards are going to love it. It’s one of those games that looks intentionally outdated, and it’s been just cartoonised enough to be lovable rather than obnoxious. It’s a little rough around the edges but as you’re eased into running your own little Dwarf economy the satisfying simplicity begins to set in. You have five different types of Dwarves that you can assign to different tasks – Diggers, Workers, Craftsmen, Warriors, and Scholars – and in order to keep your rapidly expanding empire ticking over, they all have to be kept happy with adequate eating and sleeping space, or your miners will just work until they die of exhaustion, and who’ll do all of your gold-digging then? (Somewhere, Heather McCartney just had a small heart attack) Doing this is fairly easy, there’s a limited number of resources to manage and they’re all simple in their application. You can easily build a few beds which you can improve upon as you go along to give Dwarves better sleep so they can work for longer, and a table for them to congregate at and eat lemons and carrots (obviously). You provide food by assigning workers to fertile underground soil, powered by a Fertiliser Stone, which isn’t half as horrible as it sounds.
After the basics are covered you can start worrying about your dwarves living and working happily rather than just existing to serve your every whim, by decorating your halls with plants and tapestries, researching better equipment and food. Happy dwarves mean you can recruit new Dwarflings to train into one of the five types much faster, which becomes extremely important as your exploration gets more and more hazardous and Dwarves start dying left and right. Exploration is very well designed, again sticking to simple mechanics of blocks and different levels. You can discover treasure rooms or just monsters in the depths, and simple keyboard commands can take you from level to level to check up on your progress. It starts out fairly relaxed but picks up on intensity as more and more hazards and dwarves are added. You have to monitor all of your workers as you can’t directly control your dwarves movement beyond telling them to go dig somewhere or fight something. This is where the most forgiving tool you have in the game comes into play – at will, you can teleport a dwarf from one place to another, regardless of how far this might be. This varies in use from pulling a dwarf out of a pit he’s fallen into before he starves to death, or by dropping in reinforcements to a brawl quickly. It has a very short cooldown so it’s not an option you feel that you have to save for emergencies in the slightest.
It never gets frustrating, but it does get a bit painful watching your dwarves sit and die in the same spot because they don’t have the energy to climb a ladder and go to bed. That only really becomes a problem if you don’t keep up with where they are and what they’re doing, though. Saying that, micro-management is never a big deal because you don’t control dwarves individually – you simply set out a task that you want doing like mining gold or farming for wood and food, and the dwarves ready to work carry it out. It’s intuitive, and this is perhaps the game’s biggest credit. It has a hell of a lot of longevity, it’s a pleasure to build your settlement and watch technology advance, and each time you load a new level it’s randomly generated, ensuring every time you play you’ll get a different set of rules to play by and resources to work with. I can confidently say that if you can put aside some minor video and audio issues, for £7.99, this is as good as it gets.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.