Almost a year after Dolmen was announced at a Koch Media preview event, it is finally here. I’ve been anticipating this since I saw it and now I finally get to play it. My initial impression last year was that looked like a mixture of Dark Souls and Dead Space – Dark Souls in Space! If executing correctly, that sounds like an amazing idea.
Dolmen – Less Like Souls, More Soulless
Dolmen is the first major game developed by Brazilian studio Massive Work Studio and published under the newly formed Prime Matter. The game was released on May 20th, 2020 on both generations of PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.
A dolmen by definition is a single chamber tomb. Will this game live up to its namesake? Will the game be filled with wonder and treasures, or will it be empty and nothing but bare bones? Read on to find out.
The mission is simple. Get down to Revion Prime and bring back as many Dolmen Crystals as you can, eliminating any threats that have overrun the planet. The execution however will not be so easy.
As a genetically modified human, you will choose your starting weapons and class before you are beamed down to the planet’s hostile surface. The story itself seems to be the lesser focus of the game as it is mostly told through lore at computer terminals. The narrative sort of has you wandering around in the dark, unsure why you are doing what you’re doing. The character you control just feels like a nobody. There is nothing you can really personalise except the colour of your suit. Customisation options seem rather limited.
There are various paths you can take to go about your business, but often I found myself feeling a little directionless. Not lost, just no indication of where to go once I had wiped out ALL the acid-spitting spider gits. in the area. The environments themselves are fairly expansive with a few nasty surprises lurking around most corners.
In terms of combat, you have your classic heavy and light attacks with a gun for your ranged weapon. Defensively you have your standard dodge, block, and the rather forgiving parry. All the above will drain your stamina bar which will regenerate over time. Your health will drain very quickly if you don’t get to grips with the timing of your defensive moves and counterattack. Your guns use up energy as ammo which you can manually replace which in turn will increase your health.
The thing is, the stamina drops far too quickly leaving you feeling rather vulnerable and open to death. However, when you do die, all is not lost. Battle your way back to where you died and you can reset the timeline and reclaim any lost Dolmen Crystals and Nanites.
What are Nanites you say? Leveling up is not done through experience, but by spending Nanites. When you fell an enemy, sometimes they will drop Dolmen Crystals, Nanites, or other materials for you. Once you reach a pod, which you will respawn from, you can then travel back up to your generic-looking spaceship and spend nanites to upgrade your attributes. There is nothing intricate about it at all, which in a way is a breath of fresh air. All too often in games you need an encyclopedia to decipher a skill tree because it is so complex, so it was nice to have something straightforward. The materials you gather are used to synthesize various weapons and shields. However, these materials are not recoverable if you die.
Combat is laid out in a way that if you take on more than one enemy, you will likely die. You will lock onto one enemy, then the janky camera will hit a wall and you can no longer see. So you’ll try to use the right stick to move the camera and you’ll end up facing the other way about to receive an enema of the spider-like creature you were just facing.
Combat can be fun and things like this just make it very frustrating, and it happens more times than I care to say. Additionally, the hitboxes don’t seem to know where they are. You could be stood right next to them and still miss. Yet, when the shoe is on the other foot and you are out of the enemy’s reach, they still manage to damage you. The dodge animation is quite well done though, offering you a glimpse of invulnerability as you get out of the way.
If I’m honest, Dolmen feels like it came out about 10 years ago. Since then, Soulslike has pretty much become and genre of its own and there have been many of them. Some good, some bad, this one sort of sits in the middle. As it is a fledgling genre, I see no reason why it is this low when there are others out there that are older, who do it better.
Lastly, there is a multiplayer element in Dolmen, but it feels like a bit of an afterthought. Up to 4 players can band together to take down a boss. This is at the cost of Dolmen Crystal, and that is about it. There is definitely scope for more in a game like this. There is no invading other’s games or co-op which I think is a real missed opportunity.
Graphics & Audio
The game looks good, but even with the ray-tracing turned on it didn’t blow me away. I could have played this in the early PS4 days and thought the game looked about right for the time. The environments can come across as a little bland at times. The enemies do look rather cool though, even if the animations are a little bit iffy.
The atmosphere is pretty decent but this was marred by some very old-style sound effects which didn’t really suit the game. The player character must be so unfit as when his stamina is low after a few seconds, he sounds like a fat person running to the chip shop…with asthma.
If you were going for full completion, I would say 15-20 hours would suffice. Once done though, there really isn’t any reason to keep coming back. I really do think with the game as it is, it would have been a lot more fun in co-op. Maybe add some challenges in there as well. Things like killing a certain but with a certain amount of health remaining. I don’t know, just thinking out loud here. But yeah, 15-20 hours if you can manage to put up with it for so long.
Earlier I asked, “Will the game be filled with wonder and treasures, or will it be empty and nothing but bare-bones?”. Well, it is unfortunately the latter. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, because there is some enjoyment to be had. Part of the problem is the developers of Soulslike games have set the bar very high. With all its clunkiness, it would have been ok 10 years ago while the genre was still in its infancy. But Dolmen did just release in the wake of Elden Ring, and that’s a very big shadow to try and shine in. Is it good? No. Is it bad? Also no. It’s just sort of OK which is why I award Dolmen the Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.