PC gaming is in the middle of an avalanche. An avalanche of roguelikes where you Dig, Explore, have Accidents and Die, or DEADs, as I'll henceforth call them.
A Game of Dwarves resides comfortably in that subgenre, along with Minecraft, Terraria, Dwarf Fortress, and plenty of others. Hell, you could even argue that Dig Dug is somewhere at the bottom of the DEAD pile.
A Game of Dwarves is on the management end of the spectrum. You have to look after a small collection of dwarves while hunting for treasure in the depths of the earth. You don't have direct control over your charges – you just hint at what you'd like them to do by marking out areas for diggers to dig, crafters to build, warriors to fight, researchers to research and workers to grow food.
You gather resources, expand your fortress, kill aggressor monsters, level-up your dwarves and eventually find the objective room, which contains a boss you have to slay. At least, that's if it all goes well. More likely, at least a few dwarves will die under your care as you delve deeper and more greedily. Not a grand death at the hands of an unspeakable hellbeast, but something more mundane. Something as simple as asking a dwarf to dig a hole underneath themselves but forgetting to put a ladder in it first.
The concept, like other DEADs, sounds like it has addiction carved into its rockface, but in actuality it's strangely dull. The dwarves have no real personality, and while you can customise your environments, there's no point to doing so. The only thing it boosts is the dwarves' happiness – which merely changes the rate at which you can get new dwarves when they die. That doesn't seem to happen that much unless you're completely incompetent.
The game tried its best to stop me from finding out if the dwarf respawn rate becomes more of an issue towards the end of the campaign: after getting some way through, the completion of a level caused my machine to hang – one of those gut-wrenching hold-down-the-power-button-to-reset hangs. On reboot, my campaign save file had totally disappeared, and I was back to square one.
The game has other graphical and control glitches, and it's a bit of a pain to move up and down between vertical levels. You'll get lost from time to time in the bowels of the Earth, while the tangy odour of 'was this actually finished when it was shipped?' permeates your nostrils.
The best bits are when you're just starting out on a level, picking how you're going to strike out into the earth. The worst bits are when your fortress starts to sprawl beyond control, you lose track of things, and get bored because there's none of Dwarf Fortress's charm to distract you. A Game of Dwarves has a solid foundation, but you're better off with other DEADs.
Expect to pay: $13 / £8
Release: Out now
Developer: Zeal Game Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive