A Souls-like set in a sci-fi world was a novel idea at one point. But now with a duo of The Surge games available, and the more recent Hellpoint, it’s lost that spark of originality.
Dolmen by Massive Work Studio still aims to impress, however. Set for release in 2022, this sci-fi Souls-like with cosmic horror elements gives you the job of exploring a hostile alien world in order to find samples of a mysterious crystal called Dolmen. What makes them so special, you ask? Well, they allow interaction between multiple realities, apparently. As you can imagine, that’s pretty exciting, especially when you consider its useful applications for things such as space travel.
Your first task when jumping into Dolmen is to create your character. Don’t get too excited though; your options are rather limited. As you’re a effectively a space explorer, your helmet is worn at all times, meaning agonising over the fine details of your face is thrown out of the window. The only meaningful choice is choosing your class, which determines your starting stats and loadout. So, do you want to focus on whacking your enemies with a big sword, dash around them while wield dual energy weapons, or keep your distance and blast away in safety? The choice is yours.
As soon as you start playing though, you discover that Dolmen is rather rough around the edges. Hopefully it’s something that’s set to be worked on before the game’s launch. Menus are awkward to navigate with a controller and are ugly to look at. Animation is pretty clunky. And the visuals, even using ‘epic’ settings on PC, aren’t all that impressive or appealing. Accept that this isn’t a big budget AAA game though, and you’ll find that there some positives.
The combat, for example, is reasonably solid once you’ve got the hang of things. You can perform weak or strong attacks with your melee weapon, though you’re limited by the amount of stamina you have. You can also enable energy mode, powering up your attacks with the elemental core you have equipped to add extra effects. If you’re not confident going toe-to-toe with a particular enemy for any reason, however, you can quickly pull out a gun to attack at range. That uses another resource called energy, which can also be expended to restore your health. Thankfully you can use batteries to replenish it.
Starting in a dump, we battled through the ruins of what appeared to be a structure taken over by arachnids. The smaller ones posed little threat, but some spat acid from a distance, while the larger examples hit harder and were more resilient to our attacks. With some perseverance, we made our way through the location, also encountering numerous humanoid enemies, until a fearsome boss was located. After a few deaths it went down without much of a struggle. Dolmen doesn’t seem as hard as some of the other games in the genre. It helps that punishing unblockable and unparryable attacks are signposted with easy-to-spot warning icons.
Still, to succeed, you will need to effectively develop your character and craft better equipment. They both require you to locate terminals which allow you to travel back to your ship. The level up system works like it does in almost all Souls-likes: you get a currency (nanites) for killing enemies, and it can be exchanged back at your ship for stat upgrades. Get killed, however, and all the nanites you’re carrying are left with your ghostly remains. It’s then a battle to recover them; if you die again, they’re lost forever.
When it comes to crafting, plans and materials can be found while you play. Back on your ship a fabricator can be used to craft any items you meet the requirements for, but additional slots can be filled with other materials to add bonuses. Adding a certain material might boost a helmets resistance to a certain element, for example. Or you might be able to make a large sword require less stamina per swing. It’s a neat system that we’re looking forward to messing with more.
Perhaps what’s most exciting about Dolmen, however, is the range of environments and enemies it’s set to offer. After beating the large arachnid-like boss, we were whisked away to a new location that offered a vastly different experience. Dark, oppressive corridors were replaced with bright, open areas filled with sand. And our enemies were more advanced and ferocious. It seems like you won’t really know what’s around the next corner in Dolmen, keeping you on your toes and invested in the action.
After our hands-on time with Dolmen, we don’t expect it to blow us away at launch. It should make plenty of Souls-like fans fans happy though, offering an experience that’s similar to what they’re used to but with some twists that give it a bit of welcome freshness. It certainly seems better than Hellpoint and, with some time left before the game’s launch, there’s every chance that additional polish will be bestowed upon it to iron out some of its rough edges.