HIGH Integrating shooting mechanics into the gameplay is interesting.

LOW It gets the basics wrong, and its few fresh ideas are flawed. 

WTF Releasing this game so close to the defining example of the genre!

I’ve sunk countless hours into From Software’s Souls games over the years. Dark Souls and Bloodborne are ranked at the very top of my favorite games, and I enjoy the style so much that I replayed Dark Souls 3 after sinking 90 hours into Elden Ring just to keep getting that fix.

Unfortunately, From Software only makes a new game every few years, so I try other entries in the Soulslike genre, but I find these often fall short. The same holds true for Dolmen.

Developed by Brazilian developer Massive Work Studios, Dolmen is a Soulslike with a sci-fi twist. The player explores a planet filled with what is described by the gaming blurb as “Lovecraftian horror”, on a mission to find and bring back samples of diamonds called Dolmen.

Upon starting Dolmen, it quickly becomes clear that like so many FromSoft imitators, Dolmen misses what makes the formula so compelling.

For example, Dolmen leans hard on the ‘difficulty’ angle, and I found myself constantly dying and making very slow progress from the start. Despite being so prominent in the marketing, From Software games are generally not difficult for the sake of being difficult — in these games difficulty reflects a theme of hopelessness, death and triumph, and this in turn is woven into meticulously-crafted gameplay and environmental storytelling. Dolmen lacks this sophistication, and is instead just a difficult game, exacerbated by a poor combat system that leads to needless deaths.

For example, in combat there’s a general lack of weight to the weapons and poor strike feedback, and this continues to be the case even after having access to larger weapons.

Dodging is unreliable due to questionable hitboxes and hard-to-ascertain enemy wind-up animations.

The stamina bar drains quickly and takes an age to refill, and the parry system is unreliable. It’s far too risky to use.

With all of these issues in mind and a character that continued to feel weak as the game progressed, I found myself trying to grind for EXP in order to get past some tricky bosses, but the levelling system rewards players with pathetically meager stat improvements. Toss in cheap enemy ambushes, and I found the combat — a key aspect of any Soulslike — to be incredibly frustrating and dull.

As Dolmen is Sci-Fi oriented, there is also ranged combat in addition to melee. It’s an interesting addition that works fairly well. The aiming system is decent and using firearms causes damage that also fills up an enemy’s stagger bar, allowing extra damage when filled.

Sadly, it’s a case of one step forward and two steps back with these guns thanks to how Dolmen uses its energy system.

Besides the genre-standard health bar and stamina bar, Dolmen has a third energy bar. This temporarily drains through weapon use, but will slowly refill. Healing is also tied to this same bar, but when used for healing, the energy spent will not refill. Instead, it must be refilled by consumable batteries. While healing is instantaneous, using a battery is time consuming and leaves the player open to enemy attacks.

I can see how tying both gun use and healing to one bar may seem like an interesting idea — on paper it will provide a mechanic that forces the player to think strategically, I’d assume. In reality, it leads to a war of attrition against bosses consisting of quick bursts of shooting followed by a period of inaction and keeping one’s distance to allow the bar to refill, ensuring that there is always enough left to heal if needed. With melee combat being unreliable and having to manage the energy bar, boss battles are long, slow and frustrating. 

Aside from these gameplay issues, Dolmen is a bland-looking run with environments that are basic and lack imagination. Character animations range from stiff to glitchy, and enemy design ranges from dull to laughable — to describe the aliens here as Lovecraftian is ludicrous.

Despite the lack of graphical complexity there is a noticeable anti-aliasing effect in certain areas, with jaggies most noticeable in the hub area. Improvements are found when turning on the optional “quality” mode, but then the framerate slows to a crawl and the minor visual improvements are rendered pointless. 

The loading times are so horrendously slow that on the rare occasion the player finds a shortcut, any potential time saving is canceled by the interminable loading screens. 

Dolmen also includes a weapon and suit construction mechanic with customizable options which would be an entertaining diversion if it wasn’t for the unworkable menus in which it is hard to tell what is highlighted. Also, some weapons and armor are gated behind grind that requires bosses to be beaten three times before the player can get the parts needed for successful crafting.

To be brutally honest, Dolmen seldom has anything to add to the Soulslike genre, and when it does, it shoots itself in the foot with how poorly the ideas are implemented. In a post-Elden Ring reality, I felt like my time was being wasted constantly — after 23 hours and repeated deaths against the penultimate boss I checked out. The Soulslike genre is a tough one to crack and offering mediocrity is simply not enough. Without nailing the basics and successfully bringing something new to the table, there’s little reason to play.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Massive Work Studio and published by Massive Work Studio, Prime Matter, Koch Media. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, PS4/5, PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher download and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 23 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 for Teen and contains Blood and Gore, Violence. It reads on the website:

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. Subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Dolmen is full of unfair enemy ambushes – without audio cues these are even more unfair. Additionally, those with eyesight problems will really struggle with the poorly implemented menus and unclear highlighting. As a result I would say that it is not fully accessible. 

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Gareth Payne
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