We Are The Dwarves

We Are The Dwarves is a debut with a handful of good ideas but which remains rough around the edges.

By Woozie, Posted 20 Mar 2016

Dwarves can be astronauts too. Or so Whale Rock Studios seem to believe in their debut title, We Are The Dwarves. What is We Are The Dwarves? An isometric real time tactics game with a penchant for challenge. From the get-go the setting and the game’s difficulty will be evident, but are they done in a good enough fashion? We are going to explore that right away.

We Are The Dwarves, Screenshot, Review

Normally, we’re used to dwarves living underground and, at times, coming above to trade or aid surface-dwellers in various tasks. In Whale Rock Studios’ vision, the dwarves do still live underground, but this time around their well-being is centered around entities called stars. There’s a certain cosmic element to their world which does catch ones attention fairly easily. You get to command a crew of dwarves set on an expedition in what they, presumably, perceive as being space but, which, in fact is an ancient unexplored ocean. It’s a really interesting twist on already familiar fantasy tropes. The in-game lore was also given attention with journal entries for every relevant element in the world from enemies, to anomalies, from the dwarves themselves and their equipment to the environments you’ll roam through in your journey. It’s really great to see an indie developer pay attention to what many would just discard as flavor text. All they’ve done does leave one wishing they’d have expanded the lore even more.

We Are The Dwarves is a real time tactics game that attempts to provide a decent challenge to those who give it a try. Now it’s pretty clear who’s to be blamed for this recent “trend”, if we can even call it that, of games adopting a higher difficulty, but challenge is not always easy to do. Over the course of the game, you get to control three dwarves: Forcer, a rifle-wielding artillery-oriented fighter, Smashfist, a bruiser that likes to get up close and Shadow, a bow-wielding assassin-type character. Each of these characters look, play and feel different. Apart from the set of four active skills, each of the dwarves has a skill tree which provides some passive bonuses or buffs to already existing skills. Some of these alter enough to make a difference, while others just feel like they’re rarely there once unlocked. The dwarves’ suits can also be customized and upgraded, using a special resource found in the levels, making them save the dwarves from falling from a ledge, or providing some much-needed health regeneration while out of combat. There’s a decent amount of things to upgrade, my only complaint would be that the resources for the dwarves’ suits were a tad too scarce making it so that I could rarely take advantage of a fully upgraded suit.

We Are The Dwarves, Screenshot, Review

You’ll fall off ledges a lot in the first few levels of We Are The Dwarves. It takes some time to get used to the recoil behind Forcer’s skills. On top of that, and this is one of the game’s biggest issues, the controls are terribly clumsy. It’s not only a question of getting used to the controls; it’s also one of the controls being unresponsive. Movement commands will sometimes make your dwarves bump into another or get stuck in terrain. Sometimes, skills will fire quicker than you’d want them to, or you’ll be stuck with having to fire a skill you don’t want to anymore solely because the enemies have moved away and you can’t cancel out of the skill. On a couple of occasion, I got knocked back into an area from where I couldn’t get out. “Luckily”, the collision issue was only present on my side, as the enemies could fire through terrain and made short work of my jailed dwarf.  The enemies react differently to being attacked. Your characters can get easily overwhelmed and that will be the cause of many a death on your part. Arguably, in order to master the game, you need to go through a lot of trial-and-error before you can plunge into certain enemy packs and kill them in the first try.

If the first few levels have you playing with one dwarf at a time, the game is built around the idea of controlling all three dwarves at once. Needless to say, the pause button (which doesn’t actually pause the game as much as it slows it down to a crawl) is a must in these cases. Switching between the dwarves is fiddly especially when you try to click on them directly. In these combat scenarios, you need to take into account character collision (your dwarves won’t pass through each other) and friendly fire. It’s very easy to overlook this detail, especially when fights are more crowded, filling your allies, instead of your foes, with lead.

We Are The Dwarves, Screenshot, Review

Navigating the levels is something that requires planning. Enemies can not only see you, but also hear your footsteps or attacks. They’re quick to investigate, so, a wrong step can have you dealing with three packs of enemies instead of one, leading to a swift death. While, the game does mention these things early on, the tutorial is kind of barebones, overall. I’m not sure, even now, how to make certain enemies not hear me at times. The game doesn’t push you towards cleaning every level of mobs, however, doing so may be a good idea as those packs that are off path usually guard currency used for upgrades. While there were plenty of times when dying felt unfair due to clumsy or unresponsive controls, there were plenty others where I had to acknowledge the fact that I may have attacked an enemy too quickly or that I may have struck at the wrong enemy.

Visually, the game looks quite nice. Despite taking place mostly in caverns, these environments are often sprinkled with color which shrugs off the brown, familiar feel that you’d expect in places like these. Enemies and bosses have great design and the lighting does its job in a fairly good manner. The sound quality is also up to par, however the sound effects and overall ambiance do end up wearing the player down. Instead of being in the background, their repetitiveness comes out to the forefront, at times, breaking immersion. There’s some obvious effort put into the writing, at least on the lore side of things. That being said, there are a good couple of places where the language is clumsily used, particularly in certain skill descriptions. While this doesn’t stop one from understanding, or at least getting a feel, of what said skill does, it is a place where improvements, even by the community, could and should be done.

We Are The Dwarves, Screenshot, Review

We Are The Dwarves is, perhaps, the classic case of a debut: it has good ideas, it even implements a couple of them well, but its edges remain a bit too rough. The clunky controls and collision issues alongside a barebones tutorial that doesn’t go into explaining necessary concepts in depth detract from the overall enjoyment the game can offer. If, however, you manage to look past these things, the game offers a real challenge on both its difficulty levels, a campaign that’s far from being short and a pretty refreshing take on the world of dwarves.

MateÈ™ Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Whale Rock Games
Developer(s): Whale Rock Games
Genres: Real Time Tactics
Themes: Strategy, Isometric
Release Date: 2016-02-26

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