A very good game with a very bad flaw

Dwarf Quest is a lot of fun.  It’s a fine example of why independent game development is a good thing for us gamers.  Dwarf Quest takes a tired genre and does something new with it.  I’ve never played a game that works quite like it before. Unique equals good in my book.  Unfortunately, a unique idea is not always enough to make a game.

Before I get to Dwarf Quest’s fatal flaw, let me tell how it plays and why I like it.  This is a game that strips a genre down to its base components and builds it back up again into something fresh.  The basic concept is simple enough — you take on the role of a dwarf warrior who is tossed into a dungeon as part of a tournament.  The reason why you’re there means nothing though — this is not a game about story.  It’s a game of exploration and environment.

 

The floors of Dwarf Quest’s dungeons are arranged like a maze.  Each floor is a collection of rooms, some connected by hallways, others attached.  Each of these rooms is laid out in a grid.  When moving from room to room exploring, the game plays out in real time.  You pass swiftly through empty rooms, smashing barrels and using keys to unlock chests in the hope of finding battle cards and other items.

These battle cards are an interesting approximation of the skill/spell systems found in other RPGs.  Some cards boost attack power, some defense.  Some cards heal and provide buffs that last throughout an entire battle.

When you enter a room that has enemies in it, Dwarf Quest shifts from realtime to turnbased.  All characters — both yourself and your enemies — will show a number of dots above their head at the beginning of every turn.  Your dwarf begins with three dots.  These signify the number of actions you can take during your turn.  It costs one dot to move one space on the grid, one dot to attack, and one dot to defend.  One dot spent on defense prevents the damage caused by a single enemy attack.  Moving and attacking are self-explanatory.

Dwarf Quest

This system feels almost like that of a board game.  There is an elegance to its simplicity.  You must manage your action points, weighing them against the enemy’s swords and bows.  Knowing when to defend, when to attack and where to move means the difference between life and death.  The result is an accessible, fast paced battle system that feels almost arcade-y, almost puzzle-y, and never boring.  I was quite taken with it.

And then came the fatal flaw I mentioned above.  As Dwarf Quest stands right now, it’s essentially broken.  There is no way to currently spend your gold on much needed items or battle cards.  There is no way to heal your character except by using the potions and battle cards you find scattered around the dungeon.  This wouldn’t be the end of the world if not for the checkpoint system.  You see, I’m currently stuck at a boss battle.  When I entered the battle, only a quarter of my health bar remained.  Every time the boss kills me, I respawn just before the battle with that same amount of health.  I also spawn with zero health potions or battle cards, meaning I have no way to heal before the difficult fight.  This means I cannot progress.  So, as it stands, Dwarf Quest is broken.

I spoke with developer Wild Card was assured that an upcoming patch would add a battle card store to the altars that are scattered around each level.  Until then though, you have to assume that when you play you’re going to hit a wall.  I can’t recommend a game that would do that to you.  It’s frustrating.  Still though, if you want to see something new, I won’t stop you from downloading it.  It’s a good game, it just needs some kinks ironed out.