The Dwarves Preview: A Narrative Gold Mine
The Dwarves is a virtual realization of Markus Heitz’s internationally bestselling fantasy book, The Dwarves. For those unfamiliar with Heitz’s work, don’t be deterred: The Dwarves (the game) is here to introduce you, and my time with the game at E3 showed me it’s worth discovering.
The tutorial segment I was shown acted as a prologue to the game’s main narrative, teaching you the foundation of the game’s story and its gameplay elements simultaneously. After playing through this initial section, you’ll understand exactly how the dark forces of present day rose to power while familiarizing yourself with the controls. The third-person, top down perspective immediately presents The Dwarves as a dungeon crawler, but the initial camera angle is about the only commonality it has with the genre.
Gameplay focuses around tactical movement, ability usage, and general decision making. Players can pause at any time during battle to assess the situation and map out their plan of attack. Environmental awareness comes into play with the ability to control the camera angle as thoroughly examining your surroundings can change your battle strategy. Knocking 4 or 5 orcs off a bridge with a displacement grenade will turn the tide of battle a lot easier than spearheading your way through enemy lines.
Being outnumbered is a feeling you will quickly become familiar with when playing. The main story begins with the dark forces already established in power; it certainly feels like the odds are not in your favor, and it plays the same way. While there are fifteen characters that eventually become available to the player, you can only bring four of them with you into battle. Tungdil, the game’s dwarven protagonist, is a permanent character in the group, but his companions can be chosen by the player. Each one will have their own relationship with Tungdil, and it’s up to you to decide how to cultivate these companionships. Bonuses for your group will unlock as you raise your relationship with each companion, but The Dwarves ensures players that they won’t be reprimanded if they opt out of pursuing a companion’s story.
Four characters can still pose a pretty giant threat to the horde of incoming enemies, however, and The Dwarves provides a few mechanics to help aid players throughout their journey. Performing a specific input while standing overtop an enemy lying on the ground will cause the character to perform an instant kill maneuver, effectively executing any unlucky soul knocked off their feet. Action points, a resource consumed with the use of powerful abilities, can be gained by performing these executions. Things get particularly interesting once players discover that enemies can knock each other down when they collide. This shows how The Dwarves integrates collision detection into its strategic gameplay, and grants players another opportunity to gain an advantage in unfavorable situations.
Players must be mindful of their own attacks in addition to their enemy’s. Executing a flawless dwarf toss into a group of orcs is all well and good until you land on one of your friends. Friendly fire is definitely turned on and must be accounted for before making any rash decisions. Harming one of your teammates may just be the best tactical option, however, as the game tends to promote aggressive gameplay over defensive turtling. Party members will do no more than auto attack when you’re not controlling them. This is used to promote playing each character in order to best utilize their abilities since you must manually activate their skills. This ideology is reinforced even outside of battle as health levels aren’t automatically regenerated; players must cycle through their group of heroes to maximize their party’s effectiveness.
The Dwarves uses its source material to draw out the personality traits of each race and deliberately incorporates them into the fabric of the game. Brutish ogres will not concern themselves with harming their allies. If anything is in the way of their bloodlust, they will not hesitate to swing. The Dwarves themselves bring humor with them wherever they go, which seems to stay true even in the darkest situations. Some companions (of various races) will identify themselves as an actor or jeweler – definitely not your everyday warrior, but they’ll do. Actors play the role of your typical rogue with a twist as they utilize costumes to stealth around areas. Jewelers have the ability to throw shiny gems and diamonds on the ground in order to distract enemies with shiny loot. Subtle inclusions such as these really help to passively deepen the narrative without removing players from battle.
Speaking of narrative, the game incorporates elements of storytelling that runs the gamut from books to cinema. Voice acting is present throughout the entirety of the game, including narrated quotes from the original book that will often appear to help set the scene. The demo I saw had a memorable moment of an elf seemingly nailed to a tree, bloody and lifeless. As Tungdil approached the scene, a beautifully written excerpt from the book appeared, engrossing me further into the moment. This allows The Dwarves to utilize its source material with a natural consistency, making the merging of narrative mediums an effective one.
Author Markus Heitz has been involved with this project from the beginning, permitting certain deviations from the book for the sake of the transition. Decisions will have an affect on the world around you, but only to a certain extent. You’re going to be the good guy in order to follow the book’s narrative, but the events that transpire throughout your journey give players a wider range of flexibility. Your decisions can determine whether or not groups of people live or die, providing consequences for your actions as you play through the game. And with hundreds of areas that promote exploration, fighting, and decision making, there seems to be no shortage of content here.
E3 gave me the opportunity to see this game first-hand, and I’m incredibly glad I did. The Dwarves uses a high quality recipe for its core design: attention to detail, tactical gameplay, and deep narrative all combine to create what looks like an extremely exciting experience. Make sure to check out the screenshots below.
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