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A Game of Dwarves Review

Andy Chalk | 23 Oct 2012 13:00
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Dwarves, so the stereotype goes, are a simple folk: short, thick, hairy, subterranean, good with their hands and ragingly alcoholic. As a Dwarf prince in A Game of Dwarves, you'll put those qualities to work to build and maintain underground colonies, keep your people fed, safe, busy and boozed up - and maybe, someday, to reclaim the long-lost glories of the old Kingdom.

A Game of Dwarves is a real-time strategy-management simulator set in various offshoots of the underground realm of Hemfort. As a layabout son of the King of Dwarves, you've been sent out on your own to prove your worth and expand the boundaries of the once-great Dwarven nation, which has been reduced to a tiny fraction of its past grandeur by a great war with mysterious, evil mages and their wicked minions. As sinister as it sounds, A Game of Dwarves is played for laughs, a fact made clear from the get-go by the charmingly amusing animated intro. But the story doesn't mean much either way, aside from a justification for escalating challenges, and the game is really more of a sandbox for people who dream of building and ruling their very own Khazad-dum but don't have the stomach for Dwarf Fortress.

A Game of Dwarves is played from a variable isometric perspective, with conventional camera controls that allow players to raise, lower, rotate and zoom the view. Keyboard functions are supported but just about everything can be controlled more easily via the mouse. The biggest weakness of the camera controls is the inability to look up, which can be problematic when you're tunneling vertically. The game allows players to dig up or down as well as along the directions of the compass, but doing so with any sort of precision can be tricky because it's difficult to gauge precisely where your diggers are going to put pick to earth.

The game's visuals are sufficient to get the job done but nothing that will bring a tear to anyone's eye. Textures and models are reasonably sharp but not particularly detailed, and as the world you dig through is essentially a three-dimensional grid, your warren is restricted to right-angled designs. The music is somewhat better and subtle enough to avoid becoming a distraction, but voice work, beyond a few random lines of dialog that serve only to alert you to the fact that someone is speaking, is non-existent.

Despite being cubically contained, you have a considerable amount of freedom with which to work. You can tunnel as far and as deep as you want, at least until you hit the impenetrable granite that borders your potential kingdom, and as you advance further into the game and unlock more of the tech tree, a wider variety of fixtures and furnishings becomes available. Most are fairly obvious in their function - beds, food tables, research stations, that sort of thing - but you'll also be able to unleash your inner Dwarven designer with a range of items that are purely decorative. Even those serve a purpose, helping keep your delving denizens happy and productive.

The biggest downside to ruling a clan of Dwarves is that your people aren't very bright. They'll take care of themselves for the most part, eating and sleeping as needed and carrying out your will in between, but they're prone to falling victim to their own lack of planning. They can sleep anywhere, although sleeping on the hard ground doesn't leave them nearly as well-prepared for a big day of work as a good night in a proper bed, but if they wander too far from a food table or are prevented from reaching it when they're hungry, they won't ask someone to bring them a sandwich - they'll just starve to death.

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