What happens when you take dwarves out of their natural fantasy setting and go all space marine on them? You get Ukranian developer Whale Rock Games' new offering We Are The Dwarves. The studio have attempted to combine the much loved lore and history of dwarves and combined them with a sci-fi setting, complete with shotguns and dual wielding, hilariously poorly voice acted space troopers. As the player, you take control of a team of 3 dwarfs, who have crash landed their space ship in search of a new energy source. And by crash landed I mean munched by a random cave monster who inside its stomach has its own sentient world. Bear with me because it gets better...then it gets worse.
Title : We Are The Dwarves (Review Copy)
Genre: Real-time tactics
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Distribution ways : Steam, DRM free
Play mode: Single-player with active pause
Price : $14.99USD
Players : 1
Release Date : 26th Feb, 2016
You start out with three dwarven characters that each have their own unique skill set and play style. Your goal is to take control of the characters and complete each mission without losing any of them. Friendly fire is also a thing, there are even perks for you to lessen the damage you inflict on your peers but who cares about that? Just upgrade your damage and cross your fingers...or you could just die in a matter of seconds because of how ridiculously powerful some of the enemies can be.
The game has a fixed camera perspective that uses the right mouse button to swing the camera in only a horizontal direction. This presents itself a problem because you can't move the camera in a vertical fashion, so it limits your ability to properly scope out your surroundings. This is especially important because the levels themselves are not all on a single plane, with some of the levels having vertical environments which can lead to accidentally clicking on the higher terrain, forcing your dwarf to move into oncoming traffic. There are some rather clever uses of the camera, such as hiding power-ups in certain spots that can't be seen without moving it around in the first place, or using it to look for enemies that are hiding. Still, the camera needs major improvement as, for the most part, it's extremely clunky and frustrating.
The dwarves come in three flavours; Forcer, Smashfist and Shadow. Each have their own set of skills, fighting style and what can be considered a unique voice actor. Whether you feel like boomstick action with a shotgun, hammer smashing faces with a dual wielding dwarven torch or being sneaky, you'll find a dwarf to fit your tastes. If you can stomach the fact that you have to control all 3 anyway. This game prides itself on having an "action pause" function, which allows the player to make a tactical pause and plan their next move, a pseudo turn based concept. This in itself is extremely important as, more often than not, pausing the game allows you to actually figure out how the hell you're going to clean up the creep mobs. By having these 3 unique dwarves, you're expected to utilise their specific abilities to your advantage, but this is in itself can be quite a task. You'll be sorely tempted to just let your troops go rambo and hope for the best, but do try to use a little bit of your brain power to scrape by, otherwise you'll be playing the same frustrating missions again and again.
Visually, this game is brilliant. The cavernous world environment coupled with the unique inhabitants and a slightly soft, cartoonish art style offer up some great vibrance. The three dwarves themselves have quite a distinct look from each other which is always a good thing in the heat of battle. Tree roots encompass much of the landscape, split between wetlands and dry, almost desert like, mountain climbs. The colour palette changes throughout the game, adding variety and never tiring out the players' eyes. I must confess that I never really noticed the music. Maybe because I was paying attention more to not dying due to shotgun recoil launching me off the terrain, but it didn't really grab me. The sound effects themselves were fine, nothing felt out of place or out of sync, but I wasn't really into the soundtrack. Not that it was bad, but rather that it wasn't really memorable. The voice acting on the other hand, was well worth it. I get why they chose to do the voice overs in English instead of Russian, but it leads to one of those "this was a dub of a foreign film" kind of thing which in itself isn't actually a bad thing as it's quite amusing to see. There is this weird filter on the voice over of Smashfist which makes it sound like he's speaking through a helmet even though it's nowhere in sight.
For all the little nitpicks, there is one major issue that really got to me in the end; the horribly inaccurate and unintuitive input system. Sometimes, when you use certain targeted abilities, it simply won't select the enemy. Other times your characters will just stop because the movement clicks aren't registering. If you mouse click in the middle of an ability, it'll cancel the ability altogether and put the skill on cooldown; this is especially annoying when you're panicking because you're being bumrushed by low tier mobs. I feel that this game really needs to have a tighter input system, as such it's let down by it's clunky inputs and aggravating camera controls. It's not like this issue prevents you from playing or breaks the game, but it can really affect your ability to complete a mission without having to restart due to a misclick getting you wrecked.
The bottom line is; I enjoyed the game...for the most part. The concept of space dwarves instead of the typical medieval fantasty, blacksmithing bottom dwellers , is a great change. The environments are considerably beautiful and appealing, and having the "action pause" really adds another layer to the gameplay. It's the input system itself that mars the experience, as in some instances it works and in others it just drops you on your arse forcing you to reload time after time. We Are The Dwarves is a good game, but it's not a great game, it has its fair share of flaws that you'll definitely notice. Still though, space dwarves. Do it for the shotgun slinging, hammer smashing, bow fletching dwarves in outer space.