In modern literature, Dwarves have always had two significant traits at which they excel, that of Drinking and mining, and it is with this second trait in mind that A Game of Dwarves core game takes form.
You take control of the pampered, layabout son of the dwarven King. Raised with tales of the glorious empire of the dwarves, and their downfall at the hands of the greenskins manipulated by the mysterious race of Mages.
The Prince’s indignation to these tales finally pushes the King too far and he decides to take action, forcing the Prince to leave the comforts of his home in Hemland and venture forth to make your own clan.This is where you come in.
A Game of Dwarves is a blend of gameplay elements with a clear, yet distant influence from the likes of Dungeon Keeper, and a subtle nod to Orcs must Die! and even Minecraft. You are tasked with managing and developing your excavations, filling rooms with traps to dissuade would be invaders, issuing commands to your peons in order to support and expand the settlement and reclaim the relics and “land” of your dwarven ancestors. From the outset, the design and gameplay style indicate that AGOD is trying very hard to emulate what made Dungeon Keeper great, with wide expanses of area to build in, and a huge selection of tile sets and items with which to create your own personal dwarven stronghold.
The two modes available come in decidedly vanilla flavours, of campaign and custom games. The custom game allows you to pick the size of the environment, frequency of events and availability of materials and lets you get down to the gritty business of building, free of the burden of a story.
Following the campaign tasks you with returning to lost Dwarven strongholds to recover these bases and discover what happened to the dwarven colonies left behind and their dark attackers.
The actual area in which you build your settlements, is represented as a big black void. Many different things are hidden inside this void, the more you dig the more you will be able to use the newly made rooms and paths to create a proper home for your dwarves. In the general campaign areas of interest are marked out with question marks which can give you an indication of the size and depth of the rooms. The game area is made up of multiple stacked layers within which these areas are situated. Although relatively simplistic this layered design never truly feels intuitive, and throughout the game I found myself marking the incorrect section I want to dig, or getting lost in the warren of tunnels that I have revealed to track those elusive rare materials. This is mainly due to the clunky control system for manoeuvring your camera and changing layers.
To facilitate the quest your father has laid out before you, you have a range of dwarves perfectly suited to the task of rebuilding your empire. Each of these dwarves have three primary needs: rest, food and happiness. Your role as leader is to ensure they have the environment to fulfil these needs, and to give you a happy hard working peon at your command.
First up are your digger, worker, crafter and military castes whose roles are rather obvious. Your diggers excavate new areas and ore for you to utilise in building your environment, the worker harvests the foodstuff, ale and wood to keep your settlement alive, the crafter uses these materials to create the beds, statues and decorations in your stronghold and the military defend it.
Finally you have the scholar and the dwarvling castes. The Scholar is without a doubt the backbone of your workforce. Placing these dwarves at a research table will provide you with research points with which you can upgrade all other dwarves and creations, whether it be a faster digger, the ability to select and enhance ranged or close combat military dwarves, to improved resource gathering and stronger crafted items. Utilising these RP are essential to overcoming the traps and enemies that populate the many rooms awaiting you in each dungeon.
The Dwarvlings are unique in and of themselves. Not having a particular caste, these young dwarves do nothing but eat and sleep, although unlike their brethren who have specific roles, these dwarflings gain experience by simply existing. Each of the other classes must perform their specific roles or utilise experience boosting items (once again unlocked by the scholar class) to gain experience, and it is very easy to find yourself overpowered and your entire base destroyed if your military dwarves are not powerful enough to defeat any enemies encountered during your journey. This is where the dwarflings come into their own, as although they are essentially a drain on your resources, the ability to change them instantly to a specific caste at their higher level make them a formidable reserve force should your front lines be overrun.
To further aid you in this situation, you have the ability to trade with your fathers holding in Hemland, selling off excess materials or utilising collected wealth to purchase those materials more uncommon, but necessary for you to build a specific fortification, trap or upgrade your military fighters.
This brings us to the AI present in all of your dwarves. During the game, you only have true control over the tasks you lay out for you minions, rather than taking direct control yourself. As such you can command that they dig certain sections, defend a certain area or craft an item in a specific place, but how they approach these tasks is left in the control of the AI, which regrettably is particularly stupid. This in itself would not be a problem, if there was a more focused notification system to alert you to any problems occurring.
You will find yourself creating more and more diggers as they dig a hole they cannot escape from and starve to death, or a crafter who builds an item which blocks himself into in inescapable area, with the only inkling that something is wrong being a small icon on the top bar to indicate a problem. When you are busy decorating and training up the other dwarves at your disposal, it is entirely likely that the first time you know one of your workers has died is when you stumble on the tombstone left behind in his wake, or when the work you had ordered abruptly stops.
The game also seems to heavily rely on grinding. Its entirely possible you will encounter a room containing level one spiders on your first excavation, only to moments later break through to an adjacent room containing level eight orcs who will massacre your underpowered and inexperienced military before destroying everything you have created and possibly routing the prince himself, which will end the game. As noted above, the dwarflings provide a way out of this situation, but it feels like this was occurring far too often to be a random unlucky event. This led in turn to a situation where I would spend up to an hour waiting for a new batch of dwarflings to level up before delving any further into the uncovered areas of the map.
Adapting and absorbing the best parts of well established and accomplished games such as Dungeon keeper can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, you have the luxury of appealing to established fan bases, but at the same time you run the risk of being too closely associated and compared to the very titles which influence its design. Unfortunately in my eyes, A Game of Dwarves falls into the second category.
AGOD’s simplistic AI, clumsy controls and grind heavy focus on development overshadows the fun that could be had excavating your own version of Khazad-Dum and littering it with pillars and statues to your greatness.
All in all, this is a somewhat underwhelming title, which fails to pull together the same appeal of the titles by which it was clearly influenced, but may find a place in the heart of some of those more patient of its foibles.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: PC Release Date: 23/10/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of A Game of Dwarves for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.