Skip to main content

Great moments in PC gaming: Accomplishing literally anything in Dwarf Fortress

Great moments in PC gaming are short, bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.    

Dwarf Fortress

Developer: Bay 12 Games
Year: 2006 - Present

I will never master Dwarf Fortress, if such a thing is even possible. I feel like that would essentially be the same as mastering life, except with really obtuse keyboard commands instead of natural motor functions. But Dwarf Fortress's infamous and intimidating complexity makes even small accomplishments feel monumental. In most strategy games, assembling a base is as simple as selecting a building from a list with your mouse and plopping it down. In Dwarf Fortress telling your dwarves to dig out a room, use the wood they've chopped to build a bed and a door, and then properly zoning it as a bedroom so someone can sleep in that room is a tiny triumph.

Even building something simple feels like an accomplishment on the interactive level because you've learned your way around a difficult UI to do it. But as with everything in Dwarf Fortress, it goes deeper than that. Because you don't command the dwarves directly, coming up with a plan and executing it and then seeing it come to fruition is a thrill. And it's all more satisfying because you can peer into your dwarves' heads and see their thoughts and hopes and try to make them happy.  

In some other game, you might have an objective to craft a high-level weapon or relic by collecting the rarest resources from the hardest enemies. In Dwarf Fortress, one of your dwarves may suddenly, inexplicably, need to craft the best fucking chair the world has ever seen, and will be so intent on its creation that they will literally die if they can't make it. If you can supply the resources they need, you'll be satisfying their greatest dream in life. The point is, every little thing in Dwarf Fortress matters, and all of it is ridiculous.

But mostly you'll feel smart just for learning the controls. That shit's really hard.

Wes Fenlon

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games. When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old RPG or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).