For months I sat alone inside my Canadian igloo, void of internet and heat. However, recent innovations in Moose and Beaver technology have finally allowed me access to the internet again, and I was able to celebrate that new-found internet access with a game called ‘We are the Dwarves’ by Whale Rock Games. To describe it in a minimizing and reductionist way, it’s a bit of Diablo-meets-League of Legends. Sporting a load of interesting ideas and an unfortunate lack of anti-frustration features, it may well be my new benchmark for “Pretty Decent”.
The gameplay of We are the Dwarves is certainly interesting and is brimming with potential. The game focuses on recon, decision-making, and quick thinking, and it is not afraid to punish you for slipping up when doing so. Primarily, you will find yourself orchestrating the command of three Dwarven characters: Forcer, Smashfist, and Shadow, whom use balanced, melee, and ranged tactics respectfully to conquer enemies in a number of interesting ways ranging from knocking enemies off of cliffs, to stabbing them in the back of the face, to stabbing them in the front of the face.
The game offers a top-down, free-rotating view and time-slowing mechanic for the player to be able to coordinate and execute the actions of their three dwarves. As such, players have a good deal of flexibility in how they want to overcome obstacles and are able to emphasize the strengths of their dwarves in a way that is unique to each player. The flexibility of gameplay is further complimented by complex tech trees which allow every player to tailor their experience in a way which is just right for them.
One aspect of the game which really impressed me was how much thought clearly went into making the stealth mechanics of the game feel challenging and immersive. Enemies vary in their ability to track down your dwarves. Some enemies will rely on simply sight, while others may have great hearing or the ability to follow you by tracking your scent. Such diversity in enemy abilities really compliments the strategic and punishing nature of the game.
However, I would be lying if I told you that I felt like these great ideas were always executed correctly. Though the enemies and objectives felt unique and complex, so too did they sometimes feel underwhelming or inconsistent. Though the game offered a great deal of complexity with its tech tree, I did not feel properly introduced to these mechanics and felt like I was fumbling about and being either left devoid of sufficient information or having so much information stuffed into my face at once that it all just went over my head. To put it simply—the ideas found within this game were all great, but the presentation and application of them felt inconsistent with regard to difficulty and learning curve, which really took away from my enjoyment of the game.
One last thing that I feel obliged to mention is that this game crashed for me very often. The game itself is already quite frustrating to begin with because it punishes mistakes harshly and having the game close itself often (seriously often, sometimes up to twice and hour) did not bode well for my ability to enjoy it. And, while I’m mentioning things that made me angry about this game, the resource and objective markers need to be clearer! Nothing annoys me quite like walking around and being unsure of what I’m supposed to do.
Story and Modes
The gameplay for We are the Dwarves is centrally focused around the campaign mode, which is available in multiple difficulties. The game uses a combinations of cut scenes, animations, and in-game dialogue to tell the story of a dying dwarven race and does a decent job building urgency and suspension of disbelief but it is by no means an extraordinary storytelling experience. I feel quite strongly that the story is not the primary reason why someone would pick up this game but it is told well enough to keep the campaign from feeling bland or pointless. The gameplay mechanics and unique ideas for how enemies and player characters interact are far more enticing. I believe that I would have been far more into the story if the characters did not feel so bland and basic, but unfortunately the characterization and voice acting was just so plain and predictable that I did not feel too attached to the environment.
We are the Dwarves does offer written descriptions of the various creatures, flora, items, and aspects of the game that you come across, however, and those were interesting and immersive to read.
Visuals and Sound
The visuals of We are the Dwarves were very nice and it was one of the aspects of the game that I appreciated most. The visual design of the characters, enemies, and scenery were all clearly produced with love and I think that the game lacks nothing in that regard.
A regard in which the does game lack, however, is voice acting. I as a player consider voice-acting to be non-negotiable. The characters must have passion for what they are doing, or else I feel reminded that I am just using plastic devices to complete tasks that basically amount to 1’s and 0’s. Whenever Forcer spoke, it felt like listening to a fourteen hour lecture about fish food. The voice actor simply sounded either disinterested or unable to produce any level of passion or care toward his character and as such I did not feel any passion or care for the character either. Were I the creator of We are the Dwarves, I would consider scrapping the voice acting and starting again. It really dragged my enjoyment of the game down, especially since I loved the visuals so much.
I believe that originality is a strong point for We are the Dwarves. Though I so haphazardly referred to it as Diablo-meets-League at the beginning of this review, the game truly does offer uniqueness in terms of the triple-character control and complex stealth mechanics which I have not seen much of in top-down real time strategy. In that regard, I really enjoyed We are the Dwarves and would certainly suggest it as something ‘different’.
The control scheme is quite like that of a lot of dungeon-crawler games and is easy to pick up. At times the control scheme did feel unintuitive and bulky, with incorrect key-presses feeling stressful because some of my dwarves abilities would refuse to “unclick” and go away. In that way, an avid player of dungeon-crawling games with very smooth controls such as Diablo or Torchlight which are very similar but not quite the same might find themselves frustrated.
The story is somewhat unique, but makes use of a lot of basic fantasy and sci-fi tropes so I would not call We are the Dwarves very original in that regard.
As I write this, We are the Dwarves retails at 14.99. Another game in a similar price range would be SpeedRunners, also at 14.99. Now, would I say that We are the Dwarves is worth your fifteen dollars? I would, but not strongly. It’s certainly a game that will make you say to yourself “Hey, that’s clever” and is a great way to kill some hours but I cannot say that I was wowed by it and I would not suggest it over a game like SpeedRunners. For that reason, I would suggest caution before deciding to buy We are the Dwarves and I would suggest looking at some gameplay footage or Let’s Plays before making a decision. That said, the game has a number of patches and it seems that the creators are interested in maintaining and improving the game, so whether or not it’s ultimately worth your 15 dollars it is certainly worth considering.