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A Game of Dwarves

Score: 98%
ESRB: Not Yet Rated
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Zeal Game Studio
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle/ Real-Time Strategy/ God Games


Graphics & Sound:

A Game of Dwarves is a fun little casual game that has you taking charge of your own clan of dwarves and working your way through a series of levels as you retake the lands that were once part of the Dwarven Empire. As you play, your overbearing father, the king (King Father, it seems), will give you tips and suggestions and annoy you as he reminds you of things you know, but you're not ready to attempt yet. The banter between your avatar, the Prince, and your overbearing father makes up most of the in-game voice acting, but it's handled in a way that truly annoys me. Basically, every time there is a change of speaker, there is a vocal clip that is played and a word bubble with text to read what they're saying. The annoying aspect is that these aren't the same thing. The audio clips are the Prince or the King (whichever is speaking at the time) brow-beating or retorting to the other, while the text is relevant to whatever is actually going on. I found this approach amusing - at first - but, after a while, I turned down the speech volume so I didn't have to hear these. On the upside... you can adjust speech separately from other levels, such as music, ambient noise and sound effects, so you can do away with the voice acting if you'd rather not hear it.

The graphics do the job, but have a cartoon-ish quality to them. The design, itself, is consistent and suits the game, but the 3D views of the inside of the caverns will require a good bit of moving the camera around to determine what new resources you've uncovered. Additionally, only a few layers at a time are rendered, so you'll need to move the camera up and down the levels as you work and then quickly move between the different levels and around the area when you're managing multiple tasks across your underground complex. Clicking on the icon of the type of Dwarf you're looking for will jump to one of those Dwarves and then cycle through, which is quite handy, but sometimes this would be off a bit and the zoom would take me to an area that's all black and I'd have to either go up or down a level to find what I was looking for or keep cycling through that type of Dwarf until he came up again.

The best part of the presentation in A Game of Dwarves has got to be the music, however. This is one of the few games that my wife will actually enjoy listening to while she's in the room and not even watching me play the game. The music has the feel of a Renaissance Faire and is quite soothing just to have in the background - with or without playing the game.


Gameplay:

So, this is your basic, typical, work-a-day, run-of-the-mill Puzzle / Real-Time Strategy / God Game. Um, actually... that's not really typical, I guess, so let me explain a bit. A Game of Dwarves is sort of a Sims-esque game, where you can set up tasks to be done by your dwarves. (The fact that you can mine for materials and that you need those materials to create other things draws an obvious parallel to Minecraft, but it doesn't have the Alchemy-esque combination aspect. Rather, simple material costs to make things and the costs are spelled out in the Build Menu, so the comparisons mostly end there.) Each different type of task requires a specific type of dwarf, so you'll need Diggers if you want to mine, Warriors if you have baddies to dispatch, enough workers to work your crops... that sort of thing. These dwarves can die (and can easily do so if not watched carefully) and, when they do, you won't have that dwarf anymore. If you need that function to be performed, you'll have to request a new dwarf. The dwarves get more adept as they gain experience, so you'll want to be extra careful with dwarves with a few levels of experience, as losing them means you'll be starting over with a noob dwarf.

I felt the need to put the Puzzle thing in there too, mainly due to one experience I had. On the Trial level, after working a good way through the level, I found that I needed a Researcher to proceed. To get a Researcher, I needed to raise the cap. To raise the cap, I needed one thousand gold. To have one thousand gold on hand, I needed to upgrade my storage capabilities so that I could hold at least a thousand of something. Oh, and I needed to find some gold. At that point, I had squandered a great deal of money and had mined every bit of wealth I could find. The only other option would have been to block off one of my dwarves and let him starve to death so I'd have room on the roster. Oh, and I also would need to build a research table for him to work at and then wait for him to finish researching something. It was at this moment I realized that A Game of Dwarves had a bit of resource management at its core and that some things aren't always easy to come by; reckless decisions made early in the game can drastically limit your options later in the game. This felt very puzzle-like, to me.

Meanwhile, the action generally plays as a real-time strategy, in that you'll select actions to be done, such as mining areas out, and then your Diggers will take time working on that task, taking breaks as needed to eat and sleep as necessary and available...


Difficulty:

Yes, I said available, since it is quite possible to end up blocking a dwarf's path from a bed or food... in fact, it's quite easy to do without knowing it. Mining downward causes your Digger to fall into the hole he dug and, unless you supply a ladder, he may not be able to get back to a table for food or a bed or chair to rest. Go without rest for too long and your dwarf can pass out and sleep (though not comfortably) on the cold, hard floor. Go too long without food and... well, it becomes time to request more dwarves.

Other easy to make blunders that can cost your dwarves dearly? Simple things such as planting a crop in a fertilized square that happens to be the only path for your worker to actually make it to the food table. Another favorite has to be digging a square under a ladder and not realizing that all of the ladders above fall down one square, leaving the last cube lacking a ladder and, hence, preventing your dwarves from going back up. And the number one killer of dwarves? Using the fast-forward option to speed things up and get your areas mined, but failing to keep a close enough watch on things, causing a pre-existing blockage condition or a newly opened path to baddies to get really bad, really fast.


Game Mechanics:

A Game of Dwaves is a cute game and can be fun, especially for tweakers who enjoy actually building out elaborate subterranean environments for the dwarves. However, the game is not without its occasional problems... I would call them "glitches" more than anything else, and most are only slight inconveniences. I once dug up into an area (which requires placing a ladder), had a bed placed right next to that square and then, after clearing out the above alcove, moved the bed elsewhere and put them to use. For some reason, however, my dwarves would return to where the ladder had been and then would "jump into bed" on the ladder (where there was no bed) and would be stuck there, sleeping, until I realized where they were and used the teleport to move them elsewhere. They would only do it one at a time, but this behavior continued to occur even after I moved the ladder elsewhere. To stop the problem, I built a small stone column in the square that they had been levitating and sleeping in.

Once, while briefly playing on a laptop and using the touchpad, I scrolled in too far, somehow, and ended up messing up the camera angle. It flipped all the way, such that it inverted and I saw nothing but black and the name tags that float above the dwarves. Getting out of the game and back in fixed the issue and this only happened to me once, but then, I didn't play on that laptop very much.

There are some small glitches that occur from time to time and the banter of the voicework can get a bit old, but I find I keep coming back to A Game of Dwarves to play a little bit more. Even after completing a level, I would sometimes continue playing on that level to finish off the room I was building or to open all of the secret areas. If you have similar compulsions - and you're looking for something to take up lots of your time - check out A Game of Dwarves.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows Vista/7, Dual Core 2.4 GHz processor CPU, 4 GB RAM, 3 GB HD space, 4.0 compatible card (minimum Nvidia GeForce 8000 / AMD Radeon 2000), DirectX compatible sound card, DirectX 10. Broadband internet connection (Steam). Controller support: 3 button mouse, keyboard and speakers.
 

Test System:



AMD Athlon(tm) II X2 220 Processor 2.80 GHz, 4 GB dual-channel DDR3, ASUS Mainboard, CoolerMaster 850watt power supply, Dual boot: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit / Windows XP Home Edition (played in Windows 7), Graphics: ATI Radeon 3000 (on motherboard) / XFX ATI Radeon HD 5750 1GB graphics card, Dual Monitors (Gateway HD2201 21" HDMI / Sony SDM-HS73), 1.5 TB Western Digital Caviar Green SATA Hard Drive, 750 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 SATA 3Gb/s Hard Drive, Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mouse, Logitech G710+ Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, Logitech Z313 2.1-CH PC multimedia speaker system, A30 Gaming Headset/Ear Force Sierra: Call of Duty: Black Ops II Limited Edition/Skullcandy SLYR Gaming Headset, Cable Modem, 8GB Einstein Mimobot USB Flash Drive running as dedicated ReadyBoost Cache

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