On the list of woefully underappreciated developers, KING Art Games has to be somewhere near the top. Responsible for some of the best point-and-click experiences of the last decade, the developer has churned out hit after hit without ever quite earning the recognition they deserve. The Dwarves is their first foray into the Tactical RPG genre, and it proves to be a promising start for a group best known for slow pacing or turn based games.
Adapted from the books of the same name by Markus Heitz, the game is set in a high fantasy realm beset by undead forces. Often subverting many of the old expected tropes as much as it celebrates them, the story served as an examination of the many baseline fantasy ideas established by Tolkien. In this regard this video game remains a success, adapting the tale with an astonishing degree of loyalty, and brought to life by an incredibly talented ensemble of voice actors.
It helps that, despite the large and varied number of characters, each of them remains distinct and with a very clear role in the world. There's no third wheel present there which you know could have easily been ditched, and even when they fall into the same general character archetype it's often to help present a different facet of the world. It also helps that, along with being well told, said world is beautifully animated and backed by an incredible score, meaning backtracking or delays rarely ever feel like needless busywork. On the whole, players who tend to prioritize lore and presentation will definitely get a kick out of playing The Dwarves.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the core combat, where the game is roughest around the edges. It's also where most of the bugs appear. The basic idea is solid, mixing RTS and turn-based RPG mechanics into a single experience, and the crowd control system features a number of quite innovative ideas; especially in regards to pushing through enemy swarms.
However, while it avoids the usual "death by a thousand cuts" approach to mob combat, its limitations are always clear. The camera angles can be frequently intrusive and problematic, and it will be the bane of your existence during the mid-game areas. In addition, the companion AI is utterly braindead, which combined with the surprisingly awkward collision detection leaves you micromanaging many fights. The Dwarves might have been even able to get away with this, were it not for the fact you're constantly fighting an uphill battle and friendly fire is an ever-present risk, where your party can easily end up killing one another in the crossfire. It's a damnable shame as well, given the equipment and skill system itself is excellently designed despite a few interface issues, and the variety of skills on hand is perfect for tailor making a variety of varied formations.
There are good ideas here, and when you actually get beyond the fights themselves, The Dwarves is a joy to behold. However, as this is an RPG, combat is a key part of the game and the errors present drag down what could have easily been an outstanding new release. If you are willing to stomach problematic mechanics for good storytelling, give this one a look. Just be warned that you're going to have to stomach a lot of bad to reach the good bits.
THE DWARVES / DEVELOPER: KING ART / PUBLISHER: EUROVIDEO MEDIEN / PLATFORMS: MICROSOFT WINDOWS, OSX, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW