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We Are The Dwarves Review (Xbox One)

“Real Time Tactical Adventure.” We Are The Dwarves aims for the stars but is brought down to Earth by its excessively high difficulty level, unwieldy controls and limited scope for tactics.

We Are The Dwarves is, if nothing else, utterly unambiguous about its subject matter, which left me wishing more games would follow its naming conventions. We’d have games like “Attack of the Angry Meat Men” and “A Treasure Hunter Straight Up Murders His Competition, Even Though Their Claims Are Just As Legitimate As His Own, If Not More So”. True, the titles might take up a bit more space, but it would cover up the generic ‘guy with gun’ picture.

The titular dwarves are not, however, your usual diamond-mining elf-loathing lot. Instead, they’re three astronauts whose ship has crash-landed on an unknown planet. Whether this was down to incompetence, misadventure or outside interference is never made clear, since the story is pretty thin on the ground. Regardless, it’s up to you to guide them through the extraterrestrial landscape, avoiding or dispatching all manner of bizarre alien foes. Unfortunately, the game is so unforgiving that you’ll be neck-deep in bearded corpses before the suns come up.

Billed as a “real-time tactical adventure”, We Are The Dwarves is reminiscent of Diablo and other top-down slash-em-ups. Whereas other games might have you exploring dank dungeons, this game’s striking alien vistas offer a welcome diversion from the norm. The beautifully rendered yet faintly unsettling flora lends the domain an air of “wrongness”, as does the way that each area gives way to a black, bottomless abyss.

And, for the first few levels, We Are The Dwarves is relatively enjoyable, as you get to grips with controlling your dwarf. Dwarf singular, since the trio are initially separated.  You don’t have a great deal of time to admire the game’s aesthetics, since each of the game’s areas are populated by a variety of enemies, some humanoid, many less so, that seek to put an end to your spacefaring career. Sounds like a cue for a sport of dwarf-initiated ultraviolence.

Indeed, there’s something gruesomely satisfying about letting your foes come up to you and dispatching them with a spinning axe attack. Running away isn’t an option since the dwarves are quite slow. You’ll grin like an idiot when you first blast an enemy over a cliff, though less so when one of the enemies does the same to you. However, the game’s issues then start to mar your experience.

Traditionally, these initial areas would serve as an introduction to each dwarf’s individual skills. But they’re extremely drawn out and end up being disappointingly repetitive. The levels’ limited size and restrictive layouts mean that you frequently end up being swarmed by enemies. The game’s tutorial discusses the use of stealth but the game only gives you the ability to view one foe’s “vision cone” at a time, making it difficult to work out if they can see you or not.

And far too often there’s only one path through the level,. What to do? Retreat, perhaps? In any other game, yes, but the dwarves move so slowly that you are usually incapable of outrunning any foes. Death typically ensues. Still, at least when you’ve got your fellow dwarves with you, you can start employing various tactics to take down your enemies? Right?  Unfortunately, it takes a good three hours of gameplay before you can reunite your charges and even then, they sometimes feel like more of a liability.

Despite We Are The Dwarves “real-time tactical adventure” claim, the game gives you little real scope to employ tactics.  You can pause the game and activate the dwarves’ individual powers but you can’t command them directly. The most you can do is decide whether they ignore enemy attacks, attack foes who are close, or roam further to attack enemies. Setting up an ambush, something most real-time strategy games would let you do, is nigh-impossible.

This might be acceptable if they were disposable soldiers, churned out from a unit generation factory. But given that they’re your primary assets, this doesn’t cut it. Furthermore, they won’t use any of their powers on their own, making them far less effective fighters. You can’t necessarily rely on your dwarves to look after themselves, either. On several occasions, I was given a game over screen because one of my dwarves had blundered into a swamp of his own accord.

We Are The Dwarves throws additional enemies at you when you have more than a single dwarf under your command, making the game even more frustrating. Even controlling the dwarves manually can be a trial. It may be that on the PC, the game’s original platform, it was easy to control the dwarves using the mouse. But on Xbox, the controls feel fiddly and imprecise.

Ultimately, the best way to beat a level is to find one of the floating regeneration stones, which infinitely replenishes your strength. Then just stay there as the enemies follow you, attacking them and spamming the regenerate energy button. It may not be a rewarding victory but since the odds are so heavily stacked against you, to the point of frustration, it’s better than the alternative.

This, I should add, is on the game’s easy level, which seems indistinguishable from normal difficulty. The enemies often seem to possess some kind of odd hive-mind and will often all know where you are even if you’ve since left their field of vision. This in turn leads into a bizarre Benny Hill-style chase where you beat a retreat followed by a chain of enemies nipping at you heels.

We Are The Dwarves does have potential, though it’s stifled by the game’s issues. There are some dedicated stealth levels which more enjoyable than the others, but they too employ the game’s constrictive approach to level design. There are a few zero gravity levels which prove to be engaging diversions, and the game does deserve credit for featuring a local multiplayer option.

Ultimately, We Are The Dwarves is jack of all trades, master of none. The game includes strategy, stealth and action elements but none of these mechanics are particularly well implemented. I spent too much time wrestling with the game’s clunky controls, limiting levels and high difficulty to get any joy out of the game. If you’re down for some serious mining and are prepared to really persevere then you might find some enjoyment here. But with no guarantee that I’d find diamonds beneath the coal, I wasn’t prepared to dig any deeper.

We Are The Dwarves is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. This review is based on the Xbox One version.
Weekend Editor // Chris has been gaming since the days of the Acorn Electron, which was allegedly purchased to 'help him with his homework'. You can probably guess how well that went. He’ll tackle most genres – football titles aside – though he has a taste for games that that are post-apocalyptic, horror-oriented or thought provoking in nature.