A Game of Dwarves Preview (PC)

The Dwarves, they delved too deeply and too greedily and knew not what they awoke – mainly a strong sense of nostalgia for classic management games like Theme Hospital, or SimCity 2000. It’s a niche that hasn’t really seen much action recently, and the threat of exposing a Balrog-level bitchslap would be daunting to any would-be project manager taking on A Game of Dwarves, one of Paradox’s upcoming titles this year. Still, winter is coming, and the more you dig and expand your holdings, the more you uncover that lost craving for being an interior designer.

It's already shaping up to be an addictive little game to be sure, and Dwarves appears to be a true sand-box experience. The main objective as far as we can tell (we got some hands-on time with a pre-alpha build) is simply to build and expand and make everything look nice. Granted, there is a single-player narrative to A Game of Dwarves – some evil wizard has taken over the Dwarven Kingdom, and as the exiled prince it’s your job to drive him out by digging holes everywhere. We're not quite sure how tearing up this guys backyard is going to scare him away, but to be honest with games like these the main story isn't the point. This main goal will drive in-mission objective(s?) that you'll need to meet, but going on what we’ve seen so far these seem to be end-of-mission goals you aim towards, not complete as you go long.

I’d hate to have been the guy who designed that...

This brings about the only downside that we’ve encountered so far actually, which is a lack of direction. Obviously, the campaign objectives hadn’t been implemented yet in this build, but even so we’re told those are really only going to involve digging towards one specific place, what then, do you do with the rest of your time? Well, you can do whatever you want, and despite the dynamic randomness of pre-made caves and rooms you can stumble across, you are still basically given a blank canvas and told to do whatever you want with it. Some creatively minded people might get on fine with this, but others might struggle slightly in terms of knowing where to start. I suppose it didn’t help the item lists etc… weren’t complete, so it wasn’t clear what was actually available to do.

The basics of creating your kingdom revolve around maintaining your population and making sure you have enough for the tasks you need. Diggers do all of the digging and expansion, and you excavate your surroundings in squares. Some items can be place instantly, like ladders (you don’t want your diggers to be trapped at the bottom of a shaft now do you), but most items need Crafters, who’ll take resources and build what needs building. You then have Workers, which so far only really seem involved in the food side of things – you need to place cultivation stones so you can then plant crops, and then you need Workers to harvest those crops so that you can feed your population, a population which is only added too through the use of some kind of magic well – because as everyone knows there are no Dwarf women.

This is the campaign map. Probably only used for selecting which level to play

Resource management is fairly light apart from that – you get materials by finding them as you excavate blocks and expand your holding, and they get added to your stockpile. You start off with basic ones like food, wood, stone, etc... but the more you dig, the more rarer resources you find such as silver, gold etc... Funnily enough though, the dev team have made it so that you can also get plenty of resources through killing things, which brings us to the last class type – the Soldier. These guys don't do much apart from patrol around and protect key areas. Dwarves level up as they do their tasks, enabling them to do things quicker and better… when new Dwarves are spawned however, they start off as dwarflings that can’t do anything, but when they level up you may choose what class they are assigned too (a choice that is locked at the moment).

A game like A Game of Dwarves has been a long time coming. Sure, SimCity is now getting a reboot but we doubt the return of the original city-builder is going to have quite the same charm as this title. There’s still more to be put in as well, like a research tech tree, and we didn’t really get a chance to explore the world that much and discover what kind of randomised pre-made rooms you can find (some have trolls, others will have treasure). It's also a fairly low tech title, and with an initial pricing of $9.99 there probably isn't really going to be much 'to' this game ultimately, but we've been impressed by what we've seen so far and can't wait to play more. A Game of Dwarves is due out on PC, Mac and the PSN sometime in Q4 2012.

Most Anticipated Feature: Jokes aside, the challenges are meant to get harder the deeper you dig. We’re interested in finding out what lies beneath.

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