The Dwarves Review

By Lexley Ford,
When it comes to high fantasy, Dwarves are one of the most well-known species, yet they are often relegated to smaller roles behind their human and elven counterparts. The Dwarves, an action RPG based on Markus Heitz's 2003 novel of the same name, puts the often overlooked people front and centre, but how do they fare in the limelight?

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The Dwarves tells the tale of Tungdil, a dwarven foundling who has been raised by a human mage and whose only knowledge of his own kind comes from the books in his master's library. As the story begins, the mage who raised him sends him out on a lengthy errand to return a selection of artefacts to an old acquaintance. Of course, things are never quite as simple as they first seem and Tungdil is thrown into the middle of a conflict that will decide the fate of the land of Girdlegard.

It's easy to draw parallels to other fantasy works, such as Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, as well as more contemporary works like Warcraft, and all of the usual tropes are present. Humans, Elves and Dwarves live in a state of uneasy peace, each one unsure of the intentions of their neighbours. Meanwhile, an army of Orcs and Undead that is led by an evil mage is secretly growing in power, ready to bring untold destruction to the world. Fans of the genre will feel right at home, but even those with limited knowledge will not find it too difficult to grasp.

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There's a lot of world building and much of the game is taken up by conversations between the numerous characters that join Tungdil on his journey — at times it feels more like a choose-your-own-adventure book than an RPG. When arriving at many of the locations that are dotted around the game's map, you are presented with some information on the location as well as a few possible choices on how to proceed. Some choices can lead to an instant game over if the incorrect one is picked, so vigilant saving is often needed. Correct choices will move the story forward as well as providing additional XP and increasing the bond between characters, which in turn helps to generate extra ability points in battle.

The narration and voice acting that accompanies these sections, as well as the cut-scenes, is a delight and you can't help but grow to like the cast of characters, wishing to learn more about their pasts. Unfortunately, there isn't any form of in-game glossary or text log that collects all of the information, so players have to try to remember all of the important information as best they can. While the quest log does provide enough to proceed with the game, having a way to look back at previous conversations or to learn more about the world, especially in a game with such a large focus on story, would have been a nice added touch.

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When you do get to fight, combat takes place from a top-down perspective akin to action-RPGs like Diablo, although your characters automatically attack enemies with basic melee attacks as soon as you get close enough to them. These attacks are fairly weak and reliance upon them will often lead to quick defeat. Each character can also use a selection of more powerful abilities that deal more damage and are often accompanied by a knock-back effect that can be used to knock enemies off a nearby cliff edge, or into fires and other environmental hazards. The action can be paused giving you the opportunity to survey your surroundings and issue commands to your party members.

Players also need to think tactically about their character placement. Environmental hazards can be a hindrance as much as a blessing, and having a party member in the open can lead to them being surrounded by large numbers of enemies and ultimately killed. Switching between characters to frequentlymake use of their abilities or looking out for bottlenecks to slow the enemy advance to create a little bit extra of breathing room is of the utmost importance. Party members will regenerate health if they're not taking damage, too, so making sure that you can retreat to a safe distance should always be in the back of your mind.

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The biggest issue with The Dwarves' approach to combat encounters is that the swarm of enemies can easily overwhelm your party and certain battles are accompanied by some rather steep difficulty spikes. Some fights can be completed with only one party member left standing, but others require that all four combatants survive the encounter. With no way to revive fallen comrades, as soon as one party member falls in these scenarios then the battle is lost. Losing track of a party member, letting them become surrounded or not having enough healing potions in these scenarios can lead to an almost impossible fight even on the easiest difficulty.

For an RPG, The Dwarves has a surprisingly low level cap. Each of the 15 characters can only be raised to level 10 and can unlock five combat skills, of which only three can be equipped at any one time. There are also very few opportunities to grind out additional XP. Those looking for a deep customisation system may be disappointed as characters do not earn new armour or weapons through combat either, and can only equip an extra accessory to bolster their abilities. Accessories can be found after battles but are quite rare, and those that you do find from traders command a large price tag. A more complex system for both levelling and equipping items would have meant that players could put their own mark on the characters and outfit them in a way that suits their individual play styles.

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In the interest of honesty, it needs to be noted that the game did receive a patch just prior to its launch and as such this review is more favourable than it originally would have been. Thankfully, the patch does improve performance considerably and many issues have been rectified, or at least made less apparent. The frame rate is certainly more stable but still has a tendency to drop when there is a lot of action on screen. Unfortunately, loading times are still quite horrendous. The patch also introduced an extra issue on the game's map screen; the cursor flickers uncontrollably when selecting locations to travel to, making this a far more infuriating task than it should ever be.

The achievements are largely straightforward. There are a total of 31 available with a large number being unlocked through story progression and reaching specific locations along the journey. There are a few others that are awarded for reaching 1000 total kills and finishing a fight without any party members being hurt. A few will prove to be a little more tricky to unlock without a guide or at least a few playthroughs, though, as players will need to figure out exactly which choices will lead to certain outcomes and which side locations will need visiting. For example, early on players may or may not choose to pass through the village of Goodwater so may miss the opportunity to unlock the A warm bed achievement, while giving less than perfect answers to the Council will mean that players may need to reload an old save to unlock Silvertongue.

Summary

The Dwarves is a game that has a heavy focus on its strong story. Thanks to being taken from a bestselling novel, it doesn't disappoint in this aspect; of course, being backed up by likeable and well-voiced characters doesn't hurt either. Unfortunately, it is still not problem free even after a patch. Underwhelming RPG elements and character customisation, poor loading times and a map screen that now seems to have a mind of its own do hold back the game from being something great. Those with a penchant for a tightly woven narrative and tactical thinking will enjoy the experience, but it is difficult to overlook some of the more glaringly obvious problems.
7 / 10
The Dwarves
Positives
  • Strong story
  • Likeable characters
Negatives
  • Some frame rate issues
  • Poor loading times
  • Unruly map screen
  • Very little customisation
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately 15 hours guiding Tungdil and his newfound allies across the land of Girdlegard. He earned 10 of the game's 31 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Lexley Ford
Written by Lexley Ford
Lex has been gaming for nearly three decades and has been a Newshound for TrueAchievements since 2011. When he’s not writing news he can normally be found immersing himself in a good story, both written and in-game, or just blowing stuff up (only in games).