Sadly, if you take one look at DwarfHeim, you’ll probably think it’s yet another mobile strategy game. The generic art style, the toothless music, the character designs and the voice-overs all point this way, to the mobile RTS niche. The characters are dwarves and their depiction comes as too overused: big, loud, carrying mugs of ale and yelling with a forced Scottish accent. Not very interesting, to say the least, and not representative of the game as a whole.
A refreshing spin on strategy
If you move past the generic visuals and the audio mishaps, you’ll find a very daring game, risking and trying something entirely new with its core mechanics. It is indeed an RTS game, full with resource gathering, micromanaging teams of warriors, farming, mining and building/upgrading various structures. It’s all there, it’s all overly familiar, but there is a big twist: the gameplay is divided in 3 parts, ideally to be played in co-op with your friends. One player takes the role of the miner, the other is the builder and the last one the warrior.
This approach solves a prevalent problem of the genre by letting you focus on what you actually enjoy doing. In DwarfHeim you don’t have to juggle all the different roles; you don’t have to manage the fighters sieging a far-away enemy base while paying attention to the upgrades and the resource gathering. Here, you assume one role and focus on it entirely. This means that you need to communicate efficiently with your team, as every part is tied to the others. For example, the warrior cannot function if they don’t have enough resources to create more fighters, so the miner and builder need to gather food, wood, minerals and provide as needed.
As a builder, your main role in DwarfHeim is, well, to build. You create various structures: houses to maximize the unit limit, a university used to research upgrades, an alehouse to heal nearby units, you build walls and everything else typically included in RTS games. Also, you have to chop down trees, to farm the land and in general you need to gather the many resources found in this game (food, for instance, is divided in different categories, each used for particular upgrades).
If you play as a warrior, your role is straightforward: you control the army units to fight trolls and other monsters roaming the map, but also to attack the enemy bases or defend yours. There are some very simple objectives to be cleared: mainly you have to find some control points and stay inside them long enough to challenge them and then use them to your advantage (they clear the fog around them and you get to see more of the map, in strategic points). Of course, your enemies may try to take them from you and some fights break out, playing in typical RTS fashion. You also control a main hero, who gives you some specific, unique abilities that affect battle but also resource gathering or just moving around the map, with buffs and stat raises. In the end, you win if you destroy the enemy town hall, so it’s on the warrior’s hands to give the finishing blow. It’s all familiar, nothing new to see here.
Now, the miner is the most interesting of the three distinct classes found in DwarfHeim. The other two mainly move and work above ground, but the miner goes in the underworld to find precious minerals -a simple press of the “TAB” button alternates between the over and the underworld. The mining process is incredibly satisfying and very complex: you have to build huge contraptions with belts, rails and machinery to process the metals and produce ingots. You start with some rails, on which you place a gathered resource consisting of many different minerals. For example, if you mine a specific block, you may get some stone and a bit of iron. Then, you can build structures that separate the resources and send them on different rails to be forged and processed accordingly. You can mix them to create certain recipes or just store them as they are found.
Just look at all this beauty:
Miner wins all
It’s a complicated process and sadly the tutorial doesn’t do a good enough job explaining it, but after some matches you’ll be building huge underground factories that work autonomously, and it’s really a blast. Complex as it is, mining gameplay is the best part of DwarfHeim; it feels integral, very important and is glaringly harder than being a warrior of builder. So, if you play a good miner you’ll be a very important asset to DwarfHeim’s teams -that is, if you ever manage to find other people to play with in the excruciatingly long matchmaking queues. There are some fundamental problems, affecting all three classes, like faulty pathfinding/collision systems and a mediocre UI, and they do bring down the experience, but not enough to detract from its good parts.
Also, the complexity of the miner’s role creates another problem: the other two are just not as interesting. While the miner creates complicated machinery to optimize the process of gathering underground resources, the other two classes are just doing normal, commonplace RTS things, that can get a bit tiresome after a while because the upgrades, buildings and warrior-types are not enough. Also, the battles themselves are quite simple and can in no way compare to the Factorio-like mining mechanics.
Fun with friends
Also, while the core gameplay is interesting and fun, the available modes are underwhelming. You have the typical skirmishes, played against a team of AI controlled opponents -in this mode you can use AI controlled teammates too. Then, in survival, which has you trying to survive against monster attacks, you have to play with other people, as AI is not an option. The same is true for conquest mode (one team VS another) and sandbox, which is the equivalent of a training, free-form mode.
The available types of matches are not a lot and not different enough to maintain player interest for a long time. Also, playing alone, with AI controlled teammates and enemies, is just not that fun, because the AI is not very competent and you can’t communicate with it to request specific resources, for example. It’s a game that’s designed to be played with others, but doing so is not that easy, sadly. Oh, and there’s no campaign mode to be found too, and the few maps that are available for the various modes, inexplicably, have to be unlocked first to be used…
All in all, DwarfHeim has a lot of potential. Based on a really great core idea, it’s a game that can revitalize the RTS genre. To get there, though, it needs a lot of polish and more though-out game modes. As it stands, it’s still a fun game to play with friends, and shows some strokes of genius, but mostly on paper.