The Dwarves is one of the few games I can't get out of my head since seeing it at E3. While the comparison might be a tad unfair, The Dwarves reminds me of the Lord of the Rings movie tie-in video games that released across the PC, PS2, and Xbox over a decade ago. If you never played them, they were a fantastic blend of action RPG that saw members of the fellowship taking up swords in the iconic set piece fights of the movie. And while I'm unfamiliar with best selling novel The Dwarves, for which the video game is based on, I get the same impression that this is another wonderful recreation.
But what really has me giddy is the size of some of the battles. I got a chance to sit down and watch a hands-off preview, which was tortuous after seeing how fun The Dwarves actually looks. I've never wanted to steal the controller away so badly in my life.
Our demo opened up on the scene of a battle on the side of a mountain where, on its face, was carved an elaborate gate leading into what I presume to be a dwarf city. A horde of orcs is pushing forward on the gate across a narrow bridge, and our character is charged with leading the defense against the horde along with a handful of NPC allies.
Like a lot of action RPGs, our hero comes with a basic attack as well as some unique abilities mapped to the face buttons of the controller. Immediately he leaps from a parapet into the action, and begins chopping at dozens of orcs as they press onto the bridge. While the density of numbers isn't quite high enough to be astonishing, there was always the feeling that this was a fight against overwhelming odds. But as I watched as this dwarf chopped and hacked orc after orc, I realized that The Dwarves is the essence of an RPG: a pure power fantasy.
That doesn't mean you're invincible, however, but it'll take quite a bit to take you down. Part of that is because The Dwarves is also plausible at any time. In this current fight, we were only controlling our one dwarf so we rarely needed to pause the combat. But in a typical setup, where you have a party of four, being able to pause, give commands, and swap which dwarf you're controlling becomes key.
Another distinguishing factor of The Dwarves is that physics plays a big role in combat. Our dwarf captain has a powerful charge ability, which will knock orcs out of the way as he cleaves deeper into their ranks. It looks marvelous seeing the horde part as you push through, and the deadly fall from the narrow bridge ends of the life of more than a few orcs as we charge about.
Using these abilities requires action points, which you slowly accrue over time but can earn instantly by performing and execution. A knockdown ability like charging, or a powerful swipe that chops orc legs and sends them sprawling are both great openers to make your foe vulnerable for a follow up execution.
And as the fight rages ever on, we even get access to grenades that we can toss to do massive damage to our assailants and push them back—as long as we're careful not to catch our own ally dwarves in the blast. If enough of them fall in battle, we'll lose the objective and need to retry the mission again.
As far as an opening for a demo goes, The Dwarves left me excited for when the game releases later this year. But if I was already sold by the idea of defending the gates of a dwarven city against a vicious horde of orcs, where the demo went next was just icing on the cake.
The Dwarves doesn't just borrow the setting of the book by the same name, it's essentially a broad strokes retelling of the first novel in the series, and so narrative is just as important as the epic action on screen. While we didn't spend too much time getting wrapped up in the story, I did get a glimpse of a few branching dialogue trees and more than an earful of the voiceovers which sound suitably dwarfish in nature.
But what really impressed me is that The Dwarves isn't just a linear narrative holding your hand from one big battle to the next. When the demo gave me a tour of the open world, I was a bit taken aback by just how big it was. There's roughly 200 points of interest on the map, which itself is alive with hordes of orcs, mobilizing armies, and various NPCs traveling the roads just as you will be.
And, aside from many of the main story beats, much of it is randomly generated too. At one point we arrived in a village only to find it beset by a gang of brigands. When we arrived with our squad of dwarves to kick some ass, the rep running the demo admitted that he had never seen this quest before. We pressed into the village, encountered the brigands, and were promptly slaughtered.
Loading our save we decided to head in a different direction, and I got a preview of true squad-based combat in action. We arrived in an elven village that had been massacred, finding a few corpses and a fresh painting that used the blood of the recently slain elves to capture the scene in gruesome detail. It turns out that while traditional enemies of dwarves are always present, like orcs and goblins, they've earned some new enemies as well. In this case, dark elves.
One arrives on a zombie horse and picks a fight with us that quickly spirals out of control. The elf's horse begins stampeding around the map, meanwhile the elf raises the bodies of the slain elves to fight for him, quickly turning the fight against our favor. It was here that it became evident how important pausing and playing tactically can be. The rep running the demo split the four dwarves up, with two of them focused on the zombie horde and the other two taking down the dark elf and his nightmare steed. In the end, he was overwhelmed and his dwarves slaughtered one by one. A fitting end to the demo.
The Dwarves was the kind of game that continued to surprise me the longer the demo went on. It's evident that this isn't just a meager tie-in to the novel, but a game that uses it as a foundation to explore a cool fantasy universe and rich game systems. The physics-based combat looks like a great deal of fun, and I can't wait to wade into hordes of orcs, axe in hand, in what should be a game worthy of the affections of both fans and newcomers to the series.