Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Also on: Steam
I couldn't resist digging into Dwerve when it came across The Gamerheads Podcast desk, because I love a good old-school RPG. In a year where we've seen good RPGs, Dwerve needed to do quite a bit to stand out, and I'm happy to report that it did just that. It's a beautiful story, stunning pixelated art, and a tower-defense mechanic different from most I've played.
The game opens with a backstory, the music reminding me of something I might hear on a Lord of the Rings soundtrack, and I immediately sense an epic story unfolding. As the story unfolds, I discover that, like other fantasy stories, the dwarves in this tale once lived in prosperity and harmony until their greed led them to dig too deep for power stones, releasing an army of trolls. Forced to abandon their mountain home, the dwarves sought refuge in a village nestled in the shadows of the mountain.
My adventure begins here as Dwerve, a young dwarf, searching the nearby forest for clues regarding his mother's whereabouts. She had gotten lost in the forest a while back. In this moment, I experience something that will happen quite often in the game: I am surrounded by a wave of monsters that chase me down. Unfortunately, I die.
Well, at least I thought I did. My little companion rescued me, a cat-like creature named Aerie, who will accompany me throughout the rest of my journey. I’m brought back to the village, where I’m scolded for exploring such dangerous places.
But this is also where I learned my first skill of becoming a Warsmith - a skill that has been lost throughout the ages, but as luck would have it, Dwerve’s grandfather was a skilled Warsmith - engineers who created turrets and traps for war.
The game’s core mechanic is a tower defense-type battle system, unlike old-school RPGs that set the standards of turn-based combat. As I continued my journey, I learned new traps and weapons to add to my repertoire. I assigned the first one I learned, whirling blades, to the "B" Button. Later, I added crossbows, spikes, and tar pits and assigned these to the different buttons.
Dwerve’s village, unfortunately, faces an attack by trolls, creatures believed to exist only in myths and legends. The trolls set the village on fire and planted evidence, making it appear as if forest elves were responsible. Due to this, the village elders refuse to believe that trolls were behind the attack and instead accuse Dwerve’s father and the elves. Determined to prove his innocence, I embark on a journey to obtain evidence - the head of a troll.
As I ventured out, I learned new skills and weapons. Each time I acquire a new weapon, the game instructs me on the best strategic placements for these contraptions. Before the start of each battle, the area I occupied would be blocked off, requiring me to defeat the hordes of monsters before proceeding. Monster huts would suddenly appear, giving me a few seconds to strategically plot out trap placements before the monsters swarmed towards me, utilizing the landscape and passages to my advantage. This was not a stationary task, as I actively used the power stones I had collected to place traps. Once I ran out of power stones, I could not place any further traps or turrets, with the more powerful ones requiring more power stones. I swiftly navigated through narrow areas, placing a whirling blade and dropping spikes in other pathways while seeking a safe spot for my weapons to eliminate the invaders. As I see the bodies of the defeated monsters pile up, I also see that they would attack the traps, gradually depleting their health. I needed to constantly move, actively collecting the dropped power stones, constructing new traps, and desperately holding on for dear life, hoping to outlast the wave of monsters.
Placing the traps is crucial in this game, as it requires a significant amount of strategy. I managed to survive with only a fraction of my health several times. Unfortunately, there were more instances when I couldn't survive. Restarting the game isn't too terrible since it offers plenty of checkpoints. However, the loading screen took a while, and I mistakenly thought the game had crashed a few times.
I needed to upgrade my arsenal to survive on this journey. The map strategically placed crafting tables where I could level up my traps to cause more damage and raise the health of the contraption. I found coins throughout the level, which served as the currency to level up the gear. However, coins were scarce, and I had to make tough decisions on which four weapons I wanted to take with me. I downgraded my other weapons so I could use those coins to upgrade the ones I wanted to keep.
Boss battles are epic - they depend less on placing the arsenal in the correct pathway and more on figuring out the boss's patterns, dodging the attacks, and positioning the weapon to inflict damage on the boss. I discovered that some of the boss battles were easier compared to dealing with waves of monsters.
But the story hooked me. I wasn't expecting some moments, meeting new friends and questioning who the bad and good guys were. It's a true hero's quest that sets Dwerve on one path, but through the experience, he gains more insight and becomes a hero of the old days.
Final Grade: A
Dwerve, a beautiful pixelated RPG, pays homage to the games that came before it, building on the base and creating a fun and thrilling experience. It keeps you on your toes with its action-based tower defense tactics instead of relying on traditional turn-based combat. The epic hero quest story kept me driving forward to see it play out. It was not an easy game; it was punishing at times. However, the game's plenty of checkpoints kept it from becoming frustratingly difficult. If you are a fan of old-school RPGs and looking for something different than your typical turn-based games, Dwerve is the game for you.
Review code provided by the developer