Developer: Whale Rock Games
Publisher: Whale Rock Games
Genre: Strategy, Indie, RPG, Adventure
Platform: PC (on Steam)
Rating: NR, fantasy violence
Release Date: February 26, 2016
** NOTE ** I played the beta review version, and Steam does not seem to be showing my appropriate play time.
It’s not unusual to see interesting concepts and ideas come out for independently developed games nowadays. A lot of games appeal to the fantasy portion of science fiction, usually in a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler. Some games are role-playing games that require players to overcome puzzles with unique solutions. Nearly all fantasy games stick to the familiar tropes of swords, magic, elves and other Tolkien-esque concepts, We Are The Dwarves by Whale Rock Games takes one specific fantasy concept – that of the short, hard-working, brutal dwarfs – and turns it on its ear by giving it a more futuristic science fiction vibe. Despite the D&D pull that the game uses to drag you in, I cannot bring myself to use the strange pluralization of dwarf, so I’ll just stick to calling them dwarfs.
The story is unique – what if the universe could only be described in terms by this ancient underground race that lives and breathes in the darkest corners of the earth? All live exists in the earth, the vasts distances in caverns considered “outer space” by the dwarfs. There are magical Stars that shine brightly far above, and the dwarfs have always created their civilizations around these bright centers. When new ones appear, the dwarfs send small expeditions to explore them. These groups are for all intents and purposes “astronauts” with armor that doubles as a “spacesuit.” Of course, in-route to this new Star, the dwarf expedition runs into some … complications that leaves them scattered about a very unfamiliar landscape with unknown creatures.
There are three dwarf astronauts in all, and they all use different methods to accomplish their goals. The first is Forcer, who carries a gun and grenades to destroy foes from afar. Then there’s Smashfist, who uses his rage and axes to blaze a path through hoards. Finally, there’s Shadow, who zips around sneakily and uses quiet methods to dispatch unsuspecting enemies. All three have a very different play style, which forces the player to learn how to use each dwarf correctly in a specific level. Sometimes you have just one dwarf, and must make due until you’ve repaired his armor and weapons. Sometimes, you use all three together to overcome a particular situation or group of hostile creatures. You are taken through a variety of levels that should teach you how to use each dwarf to the best of their strengths (more about that later).
It’s the proper use of their skills and manipulating the environment that allows players to overcome the many obstacles when trying to reach objectives. Most objectives are given as little symbols on the map, and reflect the story idea of the dwarf (I must go investigate the X, for example) in question. As you explore the area, the dwarf will more than likely come into conflict with other creatures. In the beginning of the game, the enemies are incredibly hard to kill without the dwarf dying. Parts of the quest are to find crystals to repair armor, improve weapons and unlock more abilities. There are also Dwarf Stones scattered around the maps, allowing players to heal their dwarfs and/or make changes. Most challenges can be circumnavigated, meaning you can solve them without direct violence or confrontation if you scout ahead and memorize patterns. However, some areas are especially precarious and it is easy for a dwarf to die from something as falling off a root acting as a bridge.
Game play is simplistic. Most of the time, you are clicking on the map and your dwarf goes there. Right clicking on an interactive object (such as an enemy or part of the terrain), tells the dwarf to interact with the object (attacking it or trying do something to it). The dwarfs’ main abilities are listed underneath them, allow you to click or use the appropriate key to trigger them. The space bar is your savior, especially when commanding more than one dwarf, as it allows you to pause the action at any time and issue new orders. Never forget to use the space bar – it is often the one thing between success and failure of a mission. You can also access the dwarfs’ journal by hitting the J key. This lists all the objects and creatures of note, and allows you to access HINTS if you need any. Not that they give away any particular puzzle, but are more like guidelines. The ESC key allows you to access saving and loading games; the game’s options menu; and to quit.
The music and sound is very nicely done, giving you some idea of what it is like to be in the foreign, isolated areas of the “universe.” And the game’s brightness is meant to be turned way down, which is meant to give players the dark, mysterious atmosphere of the setting. It is a beautiful game in some regards, but the dim settings make it very hard to see and navigate at times. Some of the graphics are less than stellar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a poor game. A lot of attention to detail went into its creation, and you can tell while you play it. Just remember – this is a $15 game, after all.
The one downside I found in this game is that it is very hard. Even in the beginning, I died probably ten times in the first two levels just trying to figure out how to survive as Forcer with barely any armor and a limited weapon. You start to get the hang of looking for unique solutions as you go, and things do get better with certain dwarfs (I won’t lie – Shadow is the easiest of all three). Once you get your dwarfs’ armor, weapons and abilities up to a certain point, it gets even easier, although the puzzles also ramp up as you go. Death always ends the game, so you have to be super careful not to use the abilities that knock back or charge the dwarf too far, sending them plummeting over the edge to their death. The entire game – I believe – was meant to be a 20 hour or less romp. I got most of the way through in 19 hours. Although I had to quit and go do something else for a while to think about the puzzle and not rage out.
There were also some unfortunate glitches. In one area with Shadow, his ability to slide across the map in stealth stopped showing the animation for the slide, meaning I hoped he ended up where he was supposed to (since I couldn’t track his movement in the dim environment. I lost the ability to open the journal a few times – I would hit J and the game would go into the journal mode, but not actually open the journal itself. Both glitches were easily fixed by reloading the last save. However, if the game hasn’t been saved in a while, you might be going back quite a way. That can be frustrating in itself. You could fix the game’s brightness at any time to avoid some problems, but it ruins the atmosphere, in my opinion.
If anything, the game’s story and premise is incredibly interesting and unique. The game play is simple, although the game itself is incredibly hard at times. I feel it is worth the $15 a player might spend on DLC or a lesser game, and with a few patches, the game’s glitches could be easily fixed. It’s definitely not bad for a first game by a rather unknown developer.
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug. He has played every generation of video game console (including the Magnavox Odyssey)