When indie developer Whale Rock Games released, We Are The Dwarves in 2016, the idea behind it intrigued me, as I originally thought the game would be in the same vein as the long-forgotten The Lost Vikings by Blizzard Entertainment. A puzzle-adventure game starring three distinct characters, The Lost Vikings had you use your character's special abilities to find a way out of dangerous levels after being kidnapped by aliens. The Lost Vikings was never a big game, but the concept of it was a novel one that has stuck out to me for years, one that I hoped We Are The Dwarves emulated.
Unfortunately, We Are The Dwarves is a different beast compared to Blizzard's forgotten gem. Though it has some similar elements as The Lost Vikings, We Are The Dwarves is a more tactical, challenging experience in the vein of combat puzzles over problem-solving, one that is competent in what it tries to do. For me though, it was an experience of frustration that was far from being the grand adventure I hoped it to be.
We Are The Dwarves stars a trio of astronaut dwarves searching for a new homeland as their own star is slowly dying. After crash-landing in the hostile Stone Universe, the trio must use their unique abilities to navigate the maze-like labyrinths of the Universe, all the while battling hostile lifeforms and encountering new civilizations in the process.
Whale Rock Games made a fairly straightforward game with We Are The Dwarves. Opting to go for a real-time tactics style of gameplay, players are expected to micromanage the abilities of the three dwarves in increasingly difficult situations. Use of terrain, knowing when to pop special abilities is the key to success here, so knowing the ins and outs of the three dwarves is pretty much necessary for the player to survive.
Each dwarf is given a unique look and personality to help sell their differences. Smashfist, the most ‘typical’ dwarf here, is a berserker-type who gets in close and hacks away at enemies. The older, wiser Forcer is a long-range specialist who uses bombs and cannons with great precision and has the furthest reach of the three characters. My personal favorite though is Shadow, the stealthy assassin type, who can hide in shadows and cover and pick off enemies from a safe distance. Levels involving Shadow sneaking are easily the highlight of the game and make playing him much more enjoyable than the other, more straightforward characters.
While the dwarves' personalities are the highlight, other mechanics struggle to gel properly. One positive is how each character has their own skill trees, which allow you to customize their special abilities to favor their distinct playstyles. This adds a lot of tactical choice and flavor to combat, instead of keeping the dwarves abilities static from the get-go. One negative, however, is how some abilities ultimately outshine others in terms of speed, accuracy or killing power, especially in major combat scenarios like boss battles.
The biggest problem comes in the game’s overall mechanics. Trying to navigate all three dwarves at the same time is a massive chore due to the micromanaging involved. Because We Are The Dwarves is a real-time tactics game, precision and timing sometimes means everything to the success and failure of a battle. For me, the controls were a nightmare of hotkeys and buttons to shift through, one exacerbated due to the lack of customizable controls. There was also no option for left-handed play either, a major handicap for someone like myself, which frankly made the game a frustrating experience more than an exhilarating one.
Whale Rock Games last updated We Are The Dwarves back in 2017, but to my knowledge, the control issues were not fully resolved. The game still suffers from some bugs too, which also plague it at times, but it is rarely game-breaking. One big addition was the inclusion of cooperative play, which is probably the way to go to help mitigate the control issues the game has. I have not played co-op though, but it is another viable option for those interested in We Are The Dwarves.
In the end, We Are The Dwarves was not the game I expected it to be, nor was it a fun game to play per-se. The controller issues were a major hurdle to overcome, and couple this with real-time tactical gameplay and micromanaging, it came across as a tedious challenge over a difficult one. Others, however, might see it differently simply due to the few updates that have been released. Still, I recommend players to try it out, as it has enough charm to help it become The Lost Vikings for a new generation.
TechRaptor played We Are The Dwarves on PC using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.