Taking inspiration from other games is nothing new, especially in a strategy game. A Game of Dwarves borrows heavily from Dwarf Fortress and Dungeon Keeper, while adding its own layer of tweaks to the formula.
The game plays out with you as a dwarven prince, overseeing an underground settlement of dwarves: building, exploring and preparing for attack. This entails managing food and resources as well as training soldiers to defend your dwarves. Dwarves are not directly controlled by the player, however you issue orders that will be carried out by the first available dwarf of the correct class. There is a minor amount of control over combat, as the game allows you to teleport dwarves around. For example, this allows you to bring in your soldiers before a threat can attack your workers. Still, you cannot directly issue move or attack orders.
The game does include a campaign mode, where you manage a series of fortresses, with specific goals for each one. Though there is a story, I find that it never got that relevant, as every fortress exists wholly underground, which means most of them just look like the same pile of dirt. Each level has its own hidden rooms and such to explore, but they don’t feel particularly special, other than following a gradually-increasing difficulty curve as you move further into the campaign.
While this game seems to be an attempt to bring Dwarf Fortress to the average gamer who isn’t quite so well-versed in ASCII worlds, it does so at a cost. Much of the depth that keeps Dwarf Fortress fun is lost. The biggest omission is the robust random generation present in Dwarf Fortress. Things like trading with other settlements, planning your construction and building elaborate traps are gone, in favor of a more Dungeon Keeper like take on fortress building, which plays out more like an RTS.
It’s a tall order to expect a game to come along and bring something like Dwarf Fortress into the realm of graphics and standardized controls, and any game aiming to go this route must dance a fine line between complexity and learning curve. The only game that has come close is Minecraft, though it isn’t a strategy game.
A Game of Dwarves doesn’t really make the 3D underground any easier to manage. In my attempts to build in three dimensions, I found myself facing awkward controls and viewpoints, and could not see important features of the floor above or below without switching to those levels. I found this particularly awkward when building ladders to connect different levels together. Item placement was also a bit odd here, as I could select a block to be mined, and was unable to cancel the order if the block wasn’t reachable by my digger dwarves.
The cartoon graphics and style feel a bit tired at this point, as does all of the referential humor spread throughout the game. I feel like so many games have been going this route, and in this case, I think I’ve hit my quota. I am usually one to laugh at a few references and nerdy in-jokes, but the meme-related jokes are getting a bit stale. The game’s title is merely a sign of what is to come.
When it comes down to it, A Game of Dwarves has made a good attempt at filling what I still consider an underserved niche in the strategy genre, but it falls quite a bit short of what it could have been with a bit more complexity and depth.
Pros: Sandbox mode included
Cons: Controls aren’t intuitive, game lacks depth