Back in 2003, Markus Heitz released the first book in a new fantasy series The Dwarves. Set in the mythical medieval Girdlegard, the fantasy adventure features races, including Dwarves. Now, after many books in the series, fans have a game set in this world. Developed by KING Art, The Dwarves is a fantasy RPG that, even outside of battle, asks you to really think about what to do next, as every choice could bring death.
This is, first and foremost, a story, and anyone who has any interest in, say, The Lord of the Rings or any other form of fantasy will be captivated by the plot. You play as Tungdil Goldhand, a young blacksmith, who is the only dwarf in Ionandar, one of Girdlegard’s five enchanted realms. These realms, rich in magical energy force fields, are ruled by magi, while other lands are ruled by the kings and queens of Girdlegard. When sent out on a quest to deliver some magical items to a friend of your adopted father, you are pitched into a war against Orcs.
Travel throughout the realm is by means of a world map, dotted with points of interest. Every time you move you consume food and resources, and it’s important to manage these resources on your travels. With each movement, there is narration; in fact, almost everything you do is narrated and moves the story forward. This narration – and the story – does an amazing job at bringing Girdlegard to life. Drawing heavily on the fantasy books, as you would expect, The Dwarves builds one of the most engaging and complete worlds we’ve ever encountered.
Thankfully, plentiful checkpoints and auto-saves meant decisions that led us to having our throats slit in our beds didn’t hinder our progress too much, but still every decision elicited the thrill of excitement.
Whilst the story is engaging and every decision had us second guessing ourselves, the time comes – as with so many fantasy RPGs before – to do battle. Going into a battle, you are given the chance to equip items which may help you, and as you level up, you will unlock new abilities. It feels very much like Diablo with an isometric camera giving you a decent view of the battle. You can switch between your allies at will, turning your focus on any area of the battle.
Battles are grand in scale, but with two opposing armies on screen the action can stutter and slow, which is disappointing given how much polish the rest of the game exudes. There’s still fun to be had but we can’t help feeling that the magnificent storytelling and compelling strategy deserved a better denouement. Our biggest issue with the combat system, though, is how easy it is to accidentally hurt friendly NPCs. So many enemies and friendlies on screen, all constantly moving, might be a realistic depiction of battle (between dwarves and orcs) but it’s all too easy to target an enemy with an ability or attack, only for them to move at the last second, your attack injuring friendly troops instead. It’s not an issue we’ve ever encountered in any other large scale battle game, and when it happens it feels like the game’s to blame, rather than any lack of skill on our part.
As clunky and repetitive as battles can feel, it was never quite enough for us to abandon our quest. The compelling story, married with pretty visuals, utterly stellar voice acting and a stunning sound track, kept us coming back for more. The musical score, in particular, tells its own tale of epic battles and the sheer scale of the journey you are on. Great stuff. The voice talent, too, is a cut above the usual – and feels just right for the world that KING Art has recreated.
So good is the story and the atmosphere we can forgive a few missteps along the way, in particular the merely average combat. The Dwarves offers one of the most descriptive and immersive storytelling experiences around, and we couldn’t help falling on love with it, despite its flaws.
The Dwarves is available in the Store, priced £31.99.
An amazing story that deserves less frustrating combat.
The Dwarves feeds off a rich vein of fantasy stories and offers an utterly compelling narrative. It’s the story that kept us going, when lesser narratives would have seen us put down our controllers with combat that’s frustrating and merely average. Here, it’s the story, the world and the characters that make the game.