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Dwarfheim

Dwarfheim - Early Access impressions

Ahead of its launch into Early Access, we dived back into the realm of Dwarfheim to see how things have changed.

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I originally took a look at Dwarfheim back in May, when I produced a beta impression after playing around with the title for a while. Back then, Dwarfheim was obviously still going through rather rigorous development, as whilst the gameplay felt thought out, there were some kinks surrounding the limited number of things to do, alongside a very challenging survival system. Nevertheless, I liked Dwarfheim then, which led me to want to check it out five months later, just before early access launched on October 22, where quite frankly, a lot has changed.

For those unaware of Dwarfheim, it is a co-op RTS. Developed by Pineleaf Studios, the title combines PvE and PvP, with multiple character classes, resource management, and building systems. What you get out of that is a truly unique experience that is often as chaotic as it is fun. Dwarfheim can be played against other players, with up to three players on a team, or entirely solo against AI, the choice is yours, but whichever you choose, the gameplay remains similar: Either defeat your opponent or survive as long as you can.

In its current build, Dwarfheim offers four game modes to play; Conquest, Survival, Sandbox, and Skirmish. Conquest is the main multiplayer mode, with Survival, Sandbox, and Skirmish being more AI-focused, usually tasking you with simple survival. The thing is, it's never this easy, and the combat/gameplay mechanics built-in will challenge you every step of the way.

Take solo Sandbox for example, here, you as a player are given complete control over your Dwarven town. You are expected to construct a functioning civilization, a working mine, and have skilled warriors ready to defend your home when under attack. The three main classes of Dwarves will not be split among players here, meaning you will be the Builder, Miner, and Warrior, and performing those jobs in harmony will be your greatest challenge.

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The Builder is in charge of, well... building, with those types of units, also being the guys to go to when collecting resources on the surface. As the game progresses and you develop your town further, you will unlock Builder units designed for specific tasks, i.e. lumberjacks for timber or farmers for farming. This level of progression applies to the Miner who is tasked with gathering ores from the underworld, building large autonomous mining structures to keep everything running smoothly along the way, as well as the Warrior, whose primary goals center around attacking and defence. Researching new units, and upgrading the ones you have is one of the main keys to success in Dwarfheim, but it can only be accomplished through successfully gathering resources. So, the cycle of Dwarfheim's gameplay loop forms.

Unlike the beta I played in May, this early access version was the first introduction of these upgrading systems, and they are an unbelievably welcome sight. The extra levels of gameplay these alone add make the title so much more diverse, which is only accentuated by the addition of the Thanes. Thanes are essentially leaders who can do almost everything each Dwarf class can, with each Thane having a hefty health pool, high damage attacks, special abilities, and available upgrades. Thanes do fit each class, for example, Nubbs is a miner-centric Thane who is equipped for the underworld better than Reina Stoneheart, whose abilities allow for faster building speeds among other things.

Alongside the additions of Thanes and upgrading, this early access version is bringing a whole host of new content to try out; from new buildings i.e. the blacksmith to ranked matchmaking, new crops, an entirely new map, points of interest to fight over, and deeper combat systems that revolve around armour and mitigation. The craziest part is I'm only selecting a few new areas to talk about because otherwise, I'd be here until next week.

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One of the largest areas of criticism I had for Dwarfheim back during the beta days was how punishing it often felt. You could've been in a new game for five minutes when a horde of AI enemies sieged your village, and if you hadn't micro-managed every aspect up to that point, you would probably lose then and there. Now, in the early access edition with Thanes, you can more easily deal with threats, as not only are you more equipped, but threats come less frequently, which makes it much easier to pass through the early game stages.

Taking a step back and looking at everything I just ran through gives a glimpse into how multiplayer truly functions. Depending on the number of players, each person will be assigned a class with the expectation to perform its duties. The person playing as a Builder will be the heart of the Dwarven village, the Miner will see limited amounts of daylight as they gather ores, the Warrior will engage in ruthless acts of combat, as they look to protect the town and attack the opposition. Communicating and working in harmony with teammates makes Dwarfheim much more digestible, as you can focus your efforts on a single area, and no longer have to worry about managing an entire town state.

Dwarfheim is not without its flaws, however. There are routine occasions where something pops up, like the complicated system to remove placed objects or the lack of adjustable settings that mean you either have music blasting at full volume or not on at all. But, considering the title is in early access, only just entering it at that, I can look past these points because the changes Dwarfheim has experienced since the last time I played has been so immense. You can really see how the title has grown over the past few months, and it makes me very excited to see where it will be when it launches next year.

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