Game: The Dwarves
Release Date: December 1st, 2016
Platform: Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: King Art Games, THQ Nordic
The Dwarves is a tactical role playing games based on the four part novel series of the same name by author Markus Heitz. You play the role of dwarf Tungdil, who was abandoned at birth and raised by the human mage Lot-Ionan. You're set off on a quest that is portrayed to you as a favor to the mage, but quickly you realize it's much more. Dwarves, elves and humans all battle together to fight the orcs in order to protect the land of Girdlegard from the perished land's undead.
The first thing you should know about playing The Dwarves is. To. Slow. Down. Although it has RPG elements being a fantasy based game, it's an RTS game at its heart. The simplest thing needs to be carefully executed and considered, even things like moving around the map. If you try and run and gun through combat you'll just end up gettting pissed off and want to rage quit. I know because I did it. Only once I realized how the game is meant to be played did I truly start enjoying The Dwarves.
The fantasy story of the novels is impeccably portrayed in game and is fully narrated. Lines are delivered in ways such as "What can be in here? *you say to yourself as you approach the chest*" Voice acting I found to be quite superb with a strong sense of emotion to it, and it is pretty obvious that maintaining its tie in with the novel was THQNordic's top priority. There is a lot of voice acting in The Dwarves, and it's integrated into the map navigation quite well. Traversing the map is different than most games. It uses a connect the dots type setup and your character is portrayed as something like a chess piece that you move from spot to spot. Resembling the Game of Thrones pre-show overlay, it's an interactive map that shows traveling merchants, towns and enemy orc hordes all as the same chess pieces.
Your entire journey is narrated as your characters indulge in conversations with each other, meet villagers in towns and explore areas you happen to come across. Although you are free to select any adjacent spot to move to on the map, you'll need to consider things like your rations supply. These continuously deplete as you travel at a varying rate per in game day. Should you run out, you won't be able to heal any injuries sustained in battle until you find a merchant. Strategy is key as you'll want to try and avoid enemy orc hordes until you reach your objective if this is the case.
The main part of a great fantasy novel or game is its lore. The Dwarves pulls this off quite well as each of the more than dozen playable characters in the game brings something to the storyline. There are no fluff characters or side stories, and it really expands the immersion for the game. You can switch characters for your party at any point on the map with a maximum of four active heroes. Prior to battle, you'll be alerted and able to select which characters and their abilities you want to bring along with you. It's a routine setup, but the immersion of the story I found to influence some of my decisions. Characters I liked more were in my party longer, although they may not have been the best choice for the fight at hand.
Combat in The Dwarves is not your standard fighting battle. First off, there are a max of four characters for you vs an average of 50 or so enemies each fight. The physics based fighting is where The Dwarves really shines, and is EXACTLY what I meant above by taking. It. Slowly. Each character can learn multiple abilities, but must choose a limit of 3 to bring into battle. The controls are similar to a MOBA with each special ability mapped to the D-pad, but the execution is nothing like it. At all. From a top down perspective, all of your heroes fight on their own and attack nearby enemies. Bumper buttons lets you switch to any character and you can call the ones you are not controlling to your location simply by pressing Y. You automatically attack when you are near an enemy without pressing a button, leaving you the ability plan strategy for your specials.
Active Combat Pausing is the best and you should always use it. With over 10 enemies per one hero, you quickly become outnumbered. The pause allows you to plan your attacks with each character using the physics based combat. Meaning should your jump ability knock enemies back, you can then use another character's dash to knock them into a pit. Of course, there is friendly fire (which I found out the hard way), which also plays into your strategy. The graphics are beautiful and the detailed environments truly add to the immersion factor.
Pacing of the game is slower than normal, but it really wasn't an issue and I rather enjoyed it. Since the game is based on a fantasy novel, I am happy that THQNordic and KingArt took the time to stick to this mantra. In a world of "I want what I want and I want it now", the experience of a good book is often lost, especially on today's youth. It would have been so easy to go with the typical massive battle and progression system, but the lore of Heitz' novels would suffer as a result. You can skip dialogue if you choose, but I recommend not too. Although it speeds up the game, you miss out on the amazing dialogue exchange as a result.
A day one patch came through early and fixed the frame rate issues we experienced, and the battles now go off without any hitch. A side quest marker was added along with a few other fixes, but nothing of major importance. If you like fantasy novels then I'd defintely recommend The Dwarves. It functions as a video book in game form opposed to a game that tells a story. If you like your RPG's fast and furious then you probably won't be as keen on The Dwarves as I am. I still recommend it as you should experience the difference. If patience isn't your thing or simply don't like the RTS setting, then it may not be your cup of tea. Either way, I think THQ and KingArt did a great job with a visual depiction of the novel, and I enjoyed the change of pace.