My detailed review of the indie tactical game We are the Dwarves

We are the Dwarves is a stylish but brutally difficult real-time tactical adventure where you take control of a trio of Dwarven astronauts on a mission that has gone terribly wrong, leaving them stranded in the stony void between the stars.

It features some well designed levels filled with devious traps, cunning enemies and encounters you will only be able to handle through the proper use of strategy, your Dwarven abilities and whole lot of violence. While all of that is incredibly fun the roller-coaster of a difficulty curve made my experience with We are the Dwarves a lot more frustrating than it needed to be.

 

But to explain what I mean we'll have to start from the very beginning, or rather the end of the Dwarven era. The great Dwarven Stars, ancient crystalline formations that once powered entire civilizations, are now growing dimmer with each passing day and along with them the Dwarven race. With the end of days clearly in sight the leaders of all the Dwarven clans gathered their bravest and finest in order to launch an expedition to the far reaches of space in order to find another Star that might bring life back to their dying world. As it so often happens the expedition suffers a terrible accident forcing your trio of Dwarven astronauts to crash land on an unknown world littered with poisonous swamps, hostile aliens and ancient beings that lurk in the dark corners of the universe.

If the premise sounds as incredible to you as it once did for me then I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you because besides the intro cinematic the story in We are the Dwarves is cheesy, poorly translated and overall very forgettable. Rather than the developers being bad writers I believe the majority of the blame falls down on the translation which seemingly always goes for the lazy route of translating the text word for word which results in some fairly flavorless dialogue. Which is a real shame because the developers behind We are the Dwarves spent a lot of time making up lore for every single creature you meet and yet its almost unreadable.

Luckily these are issues that can be fixed in a couple of weeks and I do hope the developers take the opportunity to do so once the pre-launch frenzy goes away. We are the Dwarves has such an interesting setting filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and environments that doing anything else would be a great disservice both to the guy that came up with all of it and to us as the players.

We are the Dwarves has some cool alien life

Every single thing in this screenshot has a codex entry about it

While the ship carrying the Dwarven astronauts may have crashed, burned and splintered in to a thousand fragments the crew themselves managed to survive unscathed, though the impact scattered them to the far corners of the great swamp. This is where the early stages of We are the Dwarves take place as you attempt to reunite the team and proceed with your mission. However, despite the whole reunion serving as an extended tutorial these missions are some of the hardest in the game and so frustrating at times that you will feel like burning the game to a CD just so you can chuck it out of a window.

The reason for the frustration is that you will constantly face multiple enemies with only a single dwarf under your control. It might not sound bad at first but every single enemy in We are the Dwarves is well designed, unique in their tactics and very tricky to deal with, even when you have the full trio under your control.  So when you're faced off alone against a dozen enemies barely 30 minutes after you've started your playthrough its easy to see how one might get frustrated, especially when you consider that death in We are the Dwarves comes swiftly to those that fumble their plans.

I don't know why the tutorial sections are designed in such a cutthroat way because later on, when you have all three Dwarves at your disposal, you will have enough abilities on hand to survive a couple of mistakes. A courtesy the first few hours simply do not offer, instead you will be paying frequent visits to the death screen.

To the developer's credit, We are the Dwarves might be the fastest loading game I've played the past few years with loading times that take barely a second which helps remedy some of the death-induced frustration. On the other hand I did notice what seems to be a memory leak as the FPS and loading times would start to chug after playing for over an hour. It can be avoided by restarting the game but its still something I'd like to see fixed as soon as possible because in a game as fast paced as We are the Dwarves you don't want to be restarting, you want to get right back in there.

We are the Dwarves has some insanely difficult tutorials

Second tutorial mission with this character? Better send in 10 guys after him!

I've managed to talk a lot about the Dwarves without ever mentioning their names or what exactly they do so let's correct that by starting with the clearly most intellectual one, Smashfist.

Smashfist is your brutish front-liner with the ability to charge straight in to battle, soak up immense amounts of punishment while dishing out equally devastating damage in return, and most most importantly he's capable of keeping the enemies stunned for a long period of time. Smashfist is undeniably useful and incredibly powerful but he is also the most difficult of the Dwarves to actually position properly and utilize without simply getting shredded. As I mentioned before, We are the Dwarves features some nasty enemies that aren't content to simply stand there as you wail on them, they will try to run away and dodge your attacks. So to get good use out of ol' Smashfist you will need to pay constant attention to his positioning and what the enemies are doing or you're just going to be left encircled by enemies who are more than happy to stay out of the reach of your axes.

Forcer on the other hand is the main engineer and leader of your ragtag group. With his trusty shotgun and bombardment attacks he is the damage powerhouse of the team though you will need to be very careful where you point your boomstick at as friendly fire is a very dangerous thing. Forcer is the natural partner to Smashfist as he excels at dishing out damage from range against ideally stationary enemies and because he needs help in order to peel enemies off him if they ever start getting close because while the shotgun is powerful, its also very slow to reload.

The final, and my personal favorite, is the mysterious Shadow. As you might imagine from the name he is an expert in stealth, scouting and taking out enemies before they even have a chance to react. While he can instantly kill almost any enemy with his trusty bow it comes at a price, once you pick your target and start pulling the string back you will need to pay close attention and release the arrow at just the right time or risk your enemy surviving the blow and alerting all of his friends. This is an easy task to do while you're hidden in a bush but if the enemies are barreling towards you I hope your prediction and timing skills are on point or you're about to become shishkebab.

Then again, you don't actually have to engage the enemy, even after you mess up given that Shadow has the ability to teleport from cover to cover. The bush-teleporting-only restriction might seem strange at first glance but it makes for some compelling and rather fun stealth gameplay given that you can't just cheat your way through levels like in Dishonored. Even though its not the main focus of We are the Dwarves the stealth-only sections were some of my favorite parts given how cleverly they were designed.

We are the Dwarves - Shadow is a really interesting character

Dispatching guards while a massive patrol wonders by? No problem for Shadow!

Each of the Dwarves complements the others and once together there are no challenges you won't be able to dismantle through the proper use of positioning, planning and your Dwarven abilities. But despite looking like an action game its important to once again reiterate that We are the Dwarves is primarily a tactical game with battles so hectic and enemies so overwhelming you actually get unlimited uses of the slow-time button as otherwise the whole thing would be near impossible.

Even though there are occasional missions where the difficulty curve spikes so much it creates holes in the roof, We are the Dwarves is for the most part a fair and balanced game that expects you to use all of your Dwarves to the their utmost potential. Its one of those cases like Dark Souls where the content is so challenging it makes you think its impossible right up until you've mastered the mechanics and suddenly everything clicks and you find yourself enjoying what once was "complete bullshit". Though my complaints about the tutorial being the most difficult part of the game still stand.

If you find yourself in need help you can turn to the in-game equipment and leveling systems for a bit of a boost. The way equipment works in We are the Dwarves is that you have four layers of armor on each Dwarf which you need to maintain by collecting and spending hidden, or difficult to reach, resources. Each layer of armor increases your damage resistance and provides various bonuses, from health regeneration to built in jetpacks that can help you out if your Dwarves are as suicidal as mine when it comes to falling down cliffs. The upgrades are expensive and definitely worth it but you will need to make sure you don't take too many hits to the noggin as it will slowly degrade your armor resulting in a constant drain on your very limited resources.

The more permanent talent points are collected in a similar way, by defeating the toughest and usually optional challenges each level offers. The bonuses you get from talents are for the most part small and non-mandatory but they do add up over time. So ironically, if you're having trouble with We are the Dwarves you'll need to seek out the tougher challenges in each map in order to improve your chances on future ones.

We are the Dwarves has a good team dynamic

Press [space] to end the pause and unleash chaos

As a final note I just wanted to mention how stylish and alien the world of We are the Dwarves really is. The environments and the enemies that inhabit them feel like they fit each other perfectly and the land itself is filled with tiny little details you won't even notice for the most part but they add a lot to the ambiance and make the world feel just a bit more realistic.

The same goes for your Dwarven buddies, they along with their magnificent beards look amazing and the majority of their abilities feel great to use. The Forcer's shotgun for example sounds great and the huge recoil that actually knocks your Dwarf backwards is a nice touch that helps further reinforce how powerful the weapon is. The same goes for the Shadow and his bow, the slow pull of the string and the inevitable TWANG as the arrow fires and subsequently knocks someone off the cliff is a very satisfying feeling. Unfortunately, Smashfist, the most visceral fighter out of the bunch doesn't have many flashy effects and his attacks tend to look like he's attempting to massage air rather than erupt in to a whirlwind of blades.

Despite a couple of issues the design aspects of We are the Dwarves are well done and contribute greatly towards making the gameplay and exploration an enjoyable experience.

Verdict

We are the Dwarves is a very challenging tactical game with plenty of tricky encounters to overcome and tools that allow you to do so. It is a great deal of fun and while I don't regret spending my time with it I have to warn you that due to the difficulty curve being all over the place some levels can be a living nightmare to beat.

If you cannot handle dying dozens of times on difficult sections then We are the Dwarves is not a game for you but if you are capable of embracing the challenge and powering through the couple of unfair levels then you will find a game well worth your time and effort to complete.

For those on the fence I'd recommend using Steam to demo We are the Dwarves for up to two hours because if you can survive through the brutally unfair tutorial levels and come out saying "I had fun" odds are you will find the rest of We are the Dwarves even more enjoyable as it gets better the further in you go.

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