We are the Dwarves is a classic example of a game featuring an awe-inspiring, imaginative atmosphere but failing to properly follow through in its execution. I was convinced by the setting’s sleight of hand the minute I was dropped into its impressive and authentically alien environment. It’s disappointing when a well-crafted world such as this is pushed to the wayside due to faulty mechanics, unintuitive gameplay and an overall half-finished product.
We are the Dwarves is an action-based, tactical adventure that follows three disparate dwarves: Forcer, Smashfist, and Shadow. These dwarves are astronauts (yes, cosmonaut dwarves! How cool is that?) sent on an energy source expedition into the depths of a Stone Universe composed of stars that host a variety of alien life. At first, the dwarves must reunite in order to explore the distant star they’ve crash landed on. However, survival is going to be much harder than they expected as the hostile inhabitants of the star are hell-bent on vanquishing them, the last hope for the dwarven species, altogether.
The story begins with a whimper and a short opening cinematic. You start as Forcer–never mind his strange name–a gun-slinging dwarf with a forceful shotgun. You learn that Forcer is not alone, and that you must rejoin with Smashfist, another dwarf who is part of the crew and located somewhere on the star. Immediately, the high bluffs, dark dwellings, and the strange atmosphere surrounding you catch your eye. Indeed, it’s an interesting world you’re on. Ahead, there are weird Jar Jar Binks-looking creatures that shoot blow darts at you. Through a lightly guided tutorial, you’re instructed on Forcer’s abilities and how enemies use their senses to detect you. The tutorial quickly flies out of the window when you first encounter them. You try to blow the baddies away with your shotgun, using the default attack and the two abilities currently at your disposal. However, you recoil backward from getting hit or shooting your gun and subsequently fall off a cliff to your death. You’re then greeted with the “You Are Dead” screen, reminiscent of Resident Evil. So what, who cares? You reload the game; let’s do this again. However, the same thing happens. You die. Over and over again.
Is this game difficult? Yes. Is it a fun, enjoyable challenge like the old-school Ninja Gaiden or TMNT games? No. It’s a frustrating, buggy, untactful challenge that runs your interest into the ground until you don’t want to see that damn “You Are Dead” screen one more time. We are the Dwarves doesn’t include a difficulty slider either. Nonetheless, I don’t think an “Easy” setting would have changed my outlook whatsoever.
Now, you may think at this point that I’m just complaining. I’m just a bad gamer, a sore loser who has a vendetta against a hard game. I can try to assure you that isn’t the case, but if you may, let’s put aside the debate over my gaming prowess for a moment and get down to brass tacks. The layout, GUI, and overall feel of We are the Dwarves most closely resembles the Diablo series. Even back in 1996, Blizzard presented a game with flowing combat, easily accessible action bars, and a smooth system of movement. We are the Dwarves fundamentally lacks all of the aforementioned traits that even Diablo, a 20-year-old game, somehow implemented successfully.
Let us start at the most essential component of nearly any game: movement. When clicking around the admittedly gorgeous map to move your character(s), not all of the clicks register. Often, my dwarf wouldn’t even attack my intended target in the first place. The pause mechanic slows down the battle to award you much needed time within an engagement, and although I utilized this frequently, most of the time my character spent more time moving idly around rather than properly attacking. There isn’t a single keyboard shortcut to highlight an enemy and focus your attack, so instead I was often left fumbling about to no avail.
We are the Dwarves offers limited in-game save points and consistently scattered life replenishment objects, “Stones of Life,” that are much like Diablo’s fountains. Constantly backtracking to these save points and health replenishment stones is crucial, because each enemy encounter will inevitably lead to multiple deaths until you get lucky enough to survive. Due to the squishiness of the dwarves and the constant jeopardy of losing your in-game progress, the incessant backtracking to save points becomes absurd and time-consuming. This obstacle doesn’t disappear even after upgrading Shadow, Forcer, and Smashfist.
Speaking of which, most of the talent tree skills are pointless, and would be even if you weren’t forced to put all the points you scrounge up into survivability. Constantly renewing your armor is also a factor, but it’s more of an annoyance than anything else, for the armor is once again nullified after a few blows. Also, picking up environmental objects, like crystals and gems, found on the floor occasionally requires several clicks before registering. Due to the subtle, hard-to-detect nature of these objects, they can easily go unnoticed.
Another glaring issue is with grammar and the proper translation of English. After scouring the website, which–much like the game–is also half-finished, I discovered the developers to be Russian, which explains the atrocious English. Still, somewhat coherent sentences and commonsense wording should be a prerequisite for any modern title. The lore gathered from exploration points (glowing circles to be explored on the map) might be interesting if the corresponding journal entries were coherent. The fundamental issues of We are the Dwarves don’t stop there; sounds effects are often entirely missing from cut scenes, lacking any voice narration, and the game can become so quiet at times, you wonder if you accidentally muted the sound.
The graphical options are extremely restricted, too. No setting above the 1920x1080p resolution works, and there exists only five graphical presets, completely excluding any advanced graphical tweaking. When playing We are the Dwarves on a monitor that supports higher resolutions than 1080p, the game perpetually remains in Windowed mode, occupying only 66% of the screen, not to mention the fact that any form of “windows setting” is absent, barring the full screen or borderless window options. Camera zoom, which is found in nearly every similarly styled game, is missing as well. Despite all these mishaps, the game tended to run well and looked just as good when set to “beautiful.”
We are the Dwarves has elements that are interesting, but these hidden gems are either underdeveloped or overshadowed by the overall jejune experience. It is undoubtedly an unfinished game. Its inception began as a Steam Greenlight title with a subsequent Kickstarter campaign. I can’t help but to believe that We are the Dwarves should have remained a concept instead of a reality or at the very least, it should be delayed until it can provide gamers with a smooth, enjoyable experience that we deserve. Sadly, as of late, an abundance of game companies are committing the sin of launching a game that isn’t ready for prime time.
We are the Dwarves happens to be a cardinal example of this. Dwarves tend to stay inside the dark bowels of caves for a reason.
Publisher: Whale Rock Games | Developer: Whale Rock Games | Genre: Action/Adventure, Strategy | Platforms: PC, Mac | ESRB: TBD | Release Date: February 26, 2016 | Controls: Mouse/Keyboard
We are the Dwarves was played on PC and was provided by the developer.