Earlier this year, I finished Dungeon Keeper 2. I know what you’re saying: “welcome to 1999”. Still, it was great fun to play through a piece at a time – an hour here, an hour there – and it dominated my quite limited personal gaming time for about a month and a half. Since finishing it, I’ve been trying to find a replacement, but it did many things so uniquely that it’s been a near impossible task. For a brief moment, I thought I’d found a replacement in A Game of Dwarves from Paradox, but the more I play, the more I’m convinced my initial judgement was wrong.
A Game Of Dwarves puts you in the role of a young, lazy dwarf prince who is given the task of reviving a once glorious nation struck down at the height of their power. You’ll do this by building “dungeons” in a linear path across a world map. The campaign mode is massive, and each map will take you anywhere up to an hour (and more, if you’re as useless as I am) if you plan to do absolutely everything on offer. There’s an awful lot of game here, and if it clicks for you, you’ll find the day slipping away.
This is where the strategy element comes in. Your primary goal, as a dwarf, is to dig, and so you’ll spend the majority of your time expanding your realm and overlooking the digger dwarves. This is where things get slightly confusing. Unlike many other games in the genre, A Game of Dwarves works on multiple levels, meaning you don’t only have to think about how you’re laying out your city on a single plane, but on up to twenty. This becomes something of a mess when you have three or more busy areas above or below one another, because it shows very level at once.
If you can get your head around that, there are other issues. Sometimes, you’ll manage to click a dig order in the wrong place, on a different level, and you won’t be able to actually undo it. This doesn’t matter all that much, because your digger dwarves probably can’t get to that point anyway, but it’s just another thing to clog up your view. You’ll spend an awful lot of time frustrated, trying to work out exactly what it is you’re supposed to be seeing, and placing items (like ladders) so that your dwarves don’t dig themselves into a hole and starve to death.
Digging isn’t all you’ll be doing, though, and it’s important to maintain your various resources. Wood and food must be grown in a special fertile area and be attended to by worker dwarves; research dwarves will find ways to make certain tasks easier; and military dwarves will practise in preparation for defending your realm. In this regard, A Game of Dwarves is very “strategy”. Before long though, you’ll start to notice that other popular genres have bled in as well, and The Sims will probably come to mind.
Your Dwarves have to be given food and rest. They’ll do this automatically, providing they can reach a bed or a table (where the food is kept). If they can’t get there, they’ll moan and eventually die. This can sometimes delay your digging activities and can be quite annoying. More than that though, it means you have to constantly keep an eye on resource levels and play it safe. It adds another facet to the gameplay that some will love for making things that much more challenging, but others will loathe; this could make this game unplayable for them.
There are some other problems in the game besides the map presentation, but that is my most major complaint. Speeding up time can make your dwarves work faster, but it doesn’t speed up all processes and that makes it easy to cheat a little bit. You can, for instance, summon dwarves during a fight, which will take the same amount of time whether you have the game on full speed or on normal. I’m amazed that this exploit hasn’t been fixed in a game that’s all about being prepared ahead of time.
A Game of Dwarves is very good, but it probably won’t replace Dungeon Keeper for me. There’s something in Paradox’s latest that just lacks something. The humour is there – parts of the game are laugh-out-loud funny – and the strategy is there, but the structure of the levels just isn’t there. You’re given too much to do, too much to explore, and it’s intimidating at times. It’s still the best game I’ve played in the strategy/management genre in a long, long time, and at the £7.99 price point, fans of that genre are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t check it out. With some minor patching and changes to the presentation of levels, this could be an absolute gem – but until then, it isn’t quite.