OK, let’s just cut to the chase. You’ve probably got things to do today. There’s no reason why I should force you to read through a long-winded summation of whether or not this is a good game. I can sum it up in one paragraph, and you can carry on with your day. Do I recommend you should play The Dwarf Run?

No. No I do not.

If you want to just click away and spare yourself the torture of hearing more about my experience, feel free. I won’t blame you. However, if you came here looking for serious analysis of why this game is so god-awful… Well, strap yourself in – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

11 Goblin Village

This is a hard review to write. It could easily devolve into a list of moaning complaints rather than well thought out analytical critique. With nothing nice to say it can look like you’re being harsh or unfair to the developer. But the fact is it’s difficult to come up with anything to compliment. This game is, categorically, an absolute failure.

The Dwarf Run is a turn-based RPG including mechanics from point and click adventure games. It was developed by one person, but that’s no defense of the developer – Dust: An Elysian Tail, Undertale and Braid were all developed by lone developers, and they’re all much higher quality games.

The big question is: of the two genres The Dwarf Run tries to fuse, which does it do a worse job of representing. It’s a close run thing, and I really can’t say – it fails on both counts pretty miserably.

09 Character Sheet

The adventuring mechanics are badly thought out. It’s the usual point and click fare – you find quest items and advance by matching the items to the location it’s needed. Unfortunately, the puzzles are illogical to say the least.

Here’s an example. I needed to knock down a door with rusted hinges. The room was filled with stones, so I picked some up and tried them on the door – no effect. It took half an hour before I noticed one of the stones was actually a “rock.” I picked it up and tried it on the door. Bam, the door fell over. I sat with my head in my hands, and cursed the designer of this stupid puzzle. Call me crazy, but for me, rocks and stones – pretty much the same thing.

That’s the problem with this game – it relies upon the player to find each required item, but gives no clues as to what you’re looking for, forcing you to play a horrible game of “guess what I’m thinking” with the developer. I spent an hour wandering through the same underground tunnel, because I hadn’t gone back to speak with a character I’d already seen. A single dialogue prompt suggesting I go and see that character – that was the only clue I needed.

If you’re hoping that the game fares slightly better once combat begins, you’ll be disappointed. The battle system is a disaster. The game gives no tutorial – the first battle you reach, it suggests you set the fight to auto. Doing so allows your characters to fight on their own. It’s as if the game has so little confidence in its own battle system, it doesn’t want you to try it for yourself, in case you figure out how bad the mechanics are.

Of course, I wasn’t going to let the game play itself for long, and I soon switched off the autopilot and got to grips with the fighting for myself.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 16.22.35

The characters are insanely inaccurate. Attacks typically have a hit rate of less than 50%, which means you’re often stuck spectating as your characters miss the target again, and again, and again. It get’s SO… DAMN…. FRUSTRATING.

The battle menu is also poorly designed, cluttered with unnecessary text. You can wait, pass and rest, but the wait and pass options do virtually the same thing, allowing you to skip your attack. Why bother having wait or pass as an option, when rest does the same thing, and also decreases your fatigue meter. This is never explained at any point, so you’re left to figure out for yourself that you have to preserve energy, or else end up unable to attack.  

It’s so frustrating to see the kernel of a good idea being suffocated by its own poor implementation.

It really would have benefited from using a standard turn-based menu system, rather than the buggy point and click system it currently uses. Characters frequently run past enemies without attacking, because the game thought you were clicking on the ground behind them.

The camera doesn’t help with this problem. The default settings are useless, often leaving you zoomed out, the battle taking place in one corner of the screen. You could switch to the over-the-shoulder cam, but that’s set so close to your character’s back, you can’t see the enemies you’re trying to click on. There’s also a nasty glitch with this camera mode, where the screen goes black when it’s not your turn, so you have no idea what’s going on, until the next time you can attack.  Check out the screenshot below.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.19.35

That’s not the only glitch this game suffers from. Occasionally, characters refuse to attack enemies, because the mouse cursor won’t interact with them. The camera irritatingly clips through walls. The game frequently loads your parties running animations when you aren’t moving, so they just start dancing on the spot in the background. Some of the music doesn’t even loop properly, resulting in the music awkwardly stopping for a few seconds at the end of each loop.

And whilst I’m on the subject of audio, the sound design… is just awful. At one point, I was having a fight with two Amazonian warrior women – it sounded like I was having a fight with two female tennis players.

The Dwarf Run characters running into each other

I want to be fair to this game, so I’ll stop bashing the battle system. It wouldn’t be fair to judge this game entirely on its hopeless mechanics.

Here’s a rundown of the story. You play as Dalain Stonecruncher, a dwarf accompanied by a motley band of cliché fantasy characters. You’re on a snowy mountain, on an journey going… somewhere. The game doesn’t bother telling you where you’re going. At this point, a mysterious green spotlight comes over the party, and an avalanche causes the party to fall into an underground cavern. At this point, your entire party’s clothing and equipment disappear because… reasons, I guess.

The story’s nonsensical and the dialogue frequently makes little to no sense. It reads as though someone used a thesaurus to sound smart, but wound up using an unnecessary amount of long words. At least there’s no voice acting, so we don’t have to hear actors struggling to make sense of this this hopeless drivel.

The jokes fall flat every single time. Ironically, I found the story funniest when it wasn’t trying to be. The long periods of hopeless wandering left me so numb to the entire experience, when I reached the light-hearted moments, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh.

Some of its attempts at humour are just pitiful anyway. At one point, there are enemies called “Turd Zombies.” In the right time and the right place, it could’ve been hilarious. This was neither the time, nor the place.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 13.28.55

The game’s fantasy world comes across as a mishmash of different cultural influences, with no thought given to the cohesion of the different elements. Tolkien-esque dwarves occupy a world that also includes sci-fi elements including teleporters and telepathic aliens. The characters use Chi energy from Chinese culture to use special attacks. The list of disparate elements goes on and on. Nothing gels, and the game suffers as a result.

As you may have noticed from the screenshots, the game looks hideous. I know that graphics aren’t everything, but it’s hard to ignore just how bad The Dwarf Run looks. It’s as ugly as sin, filled with rough, low-resolution textures. The character models are weird, eldritch representations of normal humans – the heads are squashed flat on top, and the bodies have strange, sharp corners. It barely looks better than a PS1-era game, without any of the nostalgic charm.

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 18.30.30

If you’ve made it this far, you may be thinking I’m out to get this developer, and want him to fail. But that’s really not the case. I actually admire his ambition – creating an old-fashioned RPG with its own fantasy world is no mean feat. Combining The Lord of the Rings with The X-Files – it could be so good, if it were done right. And that’s why it’s so frustrating to see the kernel of a good idea being suffocated by its own poor implementation.

Alas, this just hasn’t got it right, and I can’t recommend anybody spend good money on it. There are so many better games you could spend your money on. Undertale costs only slightly more, and Downwell is a third of its price. The Dwarf Run is beyond saving, but if the developer goes back to the drawing board, and thinks things through a bit more, he could come back with something great.

Wait, what? He’s working on a The Dwarf Run prequel?

… Goddamnit…

About The Author

Contributor

As a composer and video game enthusiast, Philip has spent years searching for a way to combine his passions for both music and gaming. Then, one day, he figured he could just write about them. He loves to over-analyse the way music helps to shape the player's emotional response in a game. He also loves to criticise bad control schemes, because... Well, they just get on his nerves.

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  • Muhabor

    Some mistakes of reviewer

    “It took half an hour before I noticed one of the stones was actually a “rock.””

    Looking
    at items is rudimentary in adventure games. The Rock is described
    differently than all the other stones. Solution of first puzzle took me 5
    seconds, not half an hour.

    “I spent an hour wandering through
    the same underground tunnel, because I hadn’t gone back to speak with a
    character I’d already seen”

    Again, talking to npcs (and exhausting topics) is elementary.

    “The characters are insanely inaccurate. Attacks typically have a hit rate of less than 50%”

    Basic to-hit-chance is not 50%, it is 75%. It is Hardly “insanely inaccurate”.

    “but the wait and pass options do virtually the same thing”

    No, wait delays your action to the end of turn, while rest recovers fatigue.

    “Characters frequently run past enemies without attacking, because the game thought you were clicking on the ground behind them”

    When
    pointing the enemy, there is hit-chance listed. If not, then you are
    ordering your hero to go instead of attack. Also, there are green
    circles showing action points spend for walking, indicating walking
    action.

    Review at IndieHaven, but written like it was IGN