The PC's most infamously complex game gets a tutorial after 16 years

Dwarf Fortress
(Image credit: Bay12 Games)

It's been delightful watching the graphical version of Dwarf Fortress inch its way towards release. Things that we'd take for granted in most games are little thrills for Dwarf Fortress players: stuff like cute pixel art and mouse support and tabs will all make the game easier to play and parse than its old keyboard-only ASCII interface. Now, wonder of wonders, one of the most intimidating computer games ever made is getting a tutorial. What wild idea will they think of next?

"Dwarf Fortress has the well-earned title of being one of the most torturous games to learn," co-creator Zach Adams wrote in the latest Steam update. "There is a lot going on, even after we changed all the ridiculous keyboard commands and replaced the Matrix-like interface with some understandable, and awesome, pixel art. It still needs something. Something to ease the need to head straight to a wiki just to understand what's going on. The answer is the tutorial of course."

Based on the screenshots in the Steam post, the tutorial will cover many of the major  roadblocks for new Dwarf Fortress players: controls, the basics of mining, creating and assigning stockpiles of goods, and dividing your fortress into zones so they can properly sleep, work, and grab a grog. Text boxes with some nice color coding for important features introduce these concepts and walk you through them.

Coupled with mouse controls and a clear graphical interface, I suspect this tutorial will take a bite out of Dwarf Fortress's reputation for overwhelming complexity. It's an incredibly deep game, but once you get past the byzantine interface, it's not that hard to get a fortress up and running.

Surviving is another story. The tutorials probably won't teach you to avoid digging into an aquifer and drowning your entire fortress, or guarding against your first invasion of bloodthirsty elves, but some lessons are best learned the hard way.

(Image credit: Bay12 Games)

Dwarf Fortress is almost entirely developed by Tarn and Zach Adams, and the new tutorial is still a family affair: it was playtested by Zach's wife Amy, who is not a Dwarf Fortress player. Or wasn't, until the tutorial. "After one failed attempt with the original, the latest version of the tutorial allowed her to get good enough at the game to tunnel under a bog and drown her fortress," Zach wrote. "Our aim is to make this level of play achievable by anyone. We want the world to be able to lose this game and have fun doing it."

The Steam version of Dwarf Fortress still doesn't have a release date, but I'm optimistic we'll be playing it in 2023.

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Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

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 Final Fantasy 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).