Down In The Dolmens
HIGH Finding out how the combat was supposed to work.
LOW The melee combat.
WTF Dolmen is a crystal, by the way.
I wonder how tired every developer is of guys like me sitting down and starting a review of their work by going “Ah yes, I can put a nice little moment here about the first time I played Dark Souls” but the comparisons are inevitable. So, before I get into trouble with my editor, let me tell you about how the new game Dolmen, by Massive Work Studio, made me think back to my first time playing Dark…
Sorry about that.
Dolmen is a third-person action game set on a mysterious planet. The task is to retrieve crystals while fighting off grotesque creatures. The player is required to master melee and ranged attacks, blocking and parries. There are only a limited number of ways to heal, with one source of health also being the source of power for their gun. In typical Souls fashion, health vials can be replenished at specific points in the world, but doing that will respawn all enemies that have been killed.
There’s an elaborate crafting system that allows for creating new weapons and armor. The twist is that each item can be fused with gear collected from dead enemies that imbue it with different stats.
There’s a multiplayer element too, one that I was unable to experiment with due to low player count.
All in all, Dolmen stays pretty close to the formula established within the soulslike genre. The melee, especially, is very much the usual standard attack, hard attack, circling enemies and looking for openings.
Unfortunately, this combat feels undercooked. I struggled to figure out where my attack openings were, and this was not helped by the awkward camera lock-on and the fact that a large number of the enemies will be blocked from sight by the main character, who takes up enough space on screen to obscure them.
The combat is made worse by unpredictability — one enemy will go down in two hits, while an identical foe will shrug off five hits and then drain half my health with a single swipe. If there is a proper pattern to the enemies I fought (beside a glowing symbol above their heads signaling an incoming unblockable attack) then I never figured it out.
The good news is that Dolmen is a sci-fi soulslike, so although there is a whole raft of bladed weapons, there is also an arsenal of very competent guns. Once I had upgraded from a flimsy pistol to a machinegun/shotgun hybrid, combat vastly improved. While ranged options are normally a clumsy afterthought in soulslikes, shooting became Dolmen‘s main event.
After that, I then figured out how to inflict elemental damage, and how to capitalize on it. It was at that point that Dolmen became thoroughly entertaining. Boss fights became games of cat and mouse where I tried to keep my distance and plug them full of shots.
Unfortunately, despite the ranged combat perking the experience up, Dolmen‘s general design feels like it is too indebted to soulslikes and ultimately suffers for it. The melee is not consistent, enemy AI is weak, the exploration is not deep, and the level design is just passable. What Dolmen does well is sci-fi flavored third-person shooting with a good level of challenge that isn’t a cakewalk.
I hope the developers get the chance to take a look at what worked in Dolmen and try again… as it stands, it’s too tempting to make comparisons to games like Dark Souls, and those comparisons aren’t favorable.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Massive Work Studio and published by Prime Matter. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4, PS5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. 0 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Gore and Violence. The official ESRB description reads: This is an action role-playing game in which players search an alien world for samples of a unique crystal. From a third-person perspective, players search various facilities while looking for clues and battling hostile aliens in frenetic combat. Players use swords, axes, and pistols to kill insect-like enemies. Combat is highlighted by gunfire, impact sounds, and blood-splatter effects. Cutscenes occasionally depict characters stabbed through the chest, and some environments depict mutilated/disemboweled alien corpses. Alien limbs can also be seen on the floors of some environments.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. The game is fully accessible without sound, as I found that no audio cues were needed for successful play.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.