Many years ago, I experienced The Lost Vikings for the first time, which cemented my love for Norse mythology mixed with sci-fi. Imagine my surprise then, when I heard about a game pitched as “vikings in space,” with a touch of RTS woven into the gameplay. We are the Dwarves scratches a particular itch in some ways, but it needs a bit more polish.
Shadow, Smashfist, and Forcer are three dwarves who happen to be on a really important mission to save their race, only to come across some problems and are split up. By way of several tutorials for each character you’ll learn their ins and outs, which is all cleverly done, albeit with menu upon menu of explanations for all of the tactical nuances.
Interestingly enough, Dwarves is a strategy game with RTS elements. Clicking a location moves your character to it, and a spread of keys, much like an old school game like Warcraft (or MOBAs, really) trigger your abilities, which range from the offensive (area-of-effect blasts) to defensive healing powers. To facilitate the fact that you’re not controlling all three at the same time, you can place them in three stances, which range from passive, to a mix, to severely aggressive (appropriately named “Berserker”). In addition to a more action-oriented approach, players can also pause the game to plan out their tactics. So far so good, right?
That’s because it works. Pretty much anyone will be able to pick it up and play, though there is a steep learning curve involved. If you find yourself yawning at the prospect of an average strategy game, We are the Dwarves is probably your huckleberry. While learning the game I died on the hardcore difficulty settingin the first few minutes to the first set of enemies. Even on the normal setting, the challenge persists throughout. Normally, this would be music to my ears if it weren’t for a litany of other issues.
That’s partially due to a balance issue that tries to constantly inject stealth into the game. Coming up to strike enemies in a surprise fashion is greatly beneficial, but at times, it gets to the point where you basically always need to do it to survive and it can get tedious with the unnecessarily lengthy map designs. There’s a “sight, smell, and hearing” distinction when it comes to stealth, but they’re all sort of homogenized into proximity, and not done nearly as well as other games, like Thief for instance.
It’s also a problem during forced combat sequences, where droves of enemies keep advancing on you with little in the way of variation. Sometimes the strategy bits actually feel…strategic, but at points it’s like the dev team didn’t know how to approach a given situation.
Where We are the Dwarves fails to deliver is mission balance, plain and simple. There’s a lot of trial and error involved because the game is so unforgiving, and it doesn’t feel like scenarios are all that planned out. Sometimes I let out a belted laugh when something insta-killed me and sent me back to a far-away checkpoint, but given that the experience isn’t peppered equally with actual moments of accomplishment, my grind faded over time.