Lord of Dwarves is a labour of love, but fails to stand-out in a crowded Early Access scene

By Anna Blackwell 08 Mar 2019 0

Let me start this by saying, I want to like Lord of Dwarves. It has the same promise that Towns had and if Stellar Sage can keep polishing and adding new systems a la Rimworld, then it could be a good game. With that being said, I do have to talk about where this newly launched Early Access game is at currently and why, as it stands, I don’t have much hope.

When I started Lord of Dwarves, the first thing that greeted me and jarred me so far out of the experience was the music. The fantasy dwarves versus goblins town building theme (and genre as a whole) creates a certain expectation when it comes to music. Calm, looping ambient tracks for the general gameplay with some more involved stuff for the action scenes. But Dwarves eschews those design sensibilities in favour of awful synth, an amateur bass solo, and awkward high notes. After figuring out that it wasn’t going to change, I had to mute the music and I imagine you will too.

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The second thing that greeted and jarred me as much as the first was the visuals. Town building games can be ugly, that’s part of the concession made for the destructible terrain, free placement, and non-moronic worker pathfinding. But Lord of Dwarves is just shy of hideous. Trees, grass, and turnips are the same size which makes the landscape a boring square of furry hills. Stone walls and stone blocks look exactly the same. And I’ll concede that there may be options for carving in later missions or through the advanced mason workshops, but any time I get near that point, I’ve already built my fortress and really can’t be bothered replacing it all. It’s ugly but its functional, sort of like the whole game.

And the reason the only praise I’m giving is “functional” is that while the dwarves are capable of building the structures and items quicker and without as many screw ups as say Stonehearth, it just isn’t fun. Lord of Dwarves feels like a single programmer making a portfolio piece rather than a game. I can scroll up and down through the layers which lets me build supposedly sprawling underground cities. But without any real interaction with the dwarves and no need to care for them beyond food, water and sleep - the latter they do on the ground with no complaint - it begs the question, why? There’s no reason to care about the dwarves so why would I bother giving them bookshelves, tables and chairs, heck, why even give them beds? The “ate without table” debuff in Rimworld is often joked about but it serves to make you think about your colonists needs for a living space. Lord of Dwarves is more like Minecraft where any construction is just for you to look at and serves no real purpose except to gather more dwarves.

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You could argue that the point is the big battle at the end of the sandbox mode (or the barebones plot in the story mode) but combat is even less satisfying than the building. Combat is just juggling menus and placing soldiers into attack zones or guard zones, having ammo racks in place for archers and then just watching. Watching as ugly dwarves and ugly orcs, goblins and gnolls raise their arms and smack one another causing each to call out their damage like a bad LARP.

Most of my time spent with Lord of Dwarves was spent trying to work out why a certain thing wasn’t being done. And, to the games credit, it was always because I hadn’t provided a certain thing or built something else that was required. However, when you have both rock and stone as non-interchangeable resources, then the blame isn’t squarely with the player in a lot of cases. The other use of my time was finding and deleting old scaffolding which, after a few seconds, they would re-erect. Even if there were ladders to where they wanted to get to, even if there were stairs or ramps, they would erect the scaffolding. At one point they just kept placing it over the ladder entrance to my food cellar which seemed to be stopping a trio of dwarves getting out. Another time, a bit of scaffolding I missed allowed the goblins to scale the wall and start LARPing with my civilians.

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I feel that it is worth saying again that I want to like Lord of Dwarves. I loved Towns, I loved having the z-axis in my town building games and I don’t want to undertake the university course that is required to play Dwarf Fortress. And yes, Dwarf Fortress has possibly the worst graphics out of any popular game, it makes my eyes bleed but I would still recommend it over these creepy photograph eyes.

There seems to be a lot going on under the hood in Lord of Dwarves and as the Steam page says, it’s supposedly content complete. It’s got monsters living under the ground, magical orbs, trading, furniture, rare metals for armors and weapons and so on but it needs a lot of work before it can truly compete in the genre it’s entering into. Unfortunately, we’re not sure how much more is going to be done to the game – a conversation I had with the developer suggested they were mainly concerned with polishing and balancing at this point.

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You can forgive a lot when something’s a labour and love but being Early Access shouldn’t excuse more than what’s reasonable. At £15, there are a lot of other games on could buy, many of which are in a better state than this game currently is. Unless there is a significant visual and audio overhaul and some actual reason to care about the dwarves, then I can’t recommend it right now.

If you like building for the sake of building, then Lord of Dwarves is functional and doesn’t require a degree to play and that’s about as much praise as I can give it.

Lord of Dwarves launched in to Steam Early Access on March 8th, 2019. At the time of writing, it’s development road-map listed it would release in full after six months.

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