Once upon a time, most brand new teams chose to make an FPS genre game for
their first project, where they could easily show everyone their knowledge
with level design, camera behavior, movement system, gunplay, opponent AI,
audio / visual presentations, and more. But that era is long gone, and now we
have come to a time where new teams often choose to present themselves to the
public with a Souls-like clone.
These games allow them to create a relatively small number of levels instead of a linear campaign that players will fly through only once, which will be visited an infinite number of times while the player struggles with respawning, grinding, and finding a passage to the next zone.
Unfortunately, fans of this genre today have access to some of the best games ever made, so each new clone must have something really special to stand out from the competition and offer players something they can enjoy.
Made by the all-new small Brazilian team Massive Work Studio, and distributed to PCs and consoles with the help of publisher Koch Media and their new division Prime Matter, Dolmen represents an awkward first attempt to offer players an enticing Souls-like clone.
Visually uninteresting, beginner-animated, and with only a few bright spots, this title represents a solid attempt by the Brazilian gaming scene to start working on much more ambitious projects. The game has gameplay that is attractive and full of depth, but at the same time, it is so roughly finalized that most players will almost certainly decide to bypass it and play some other titles from this popular genre.
Dolmen is located in the distant future, where the Zoan Corporation
managed to form a large mining colony on the isolated planet Revion Prime.
This inhospitable planet full of aggressive creatures that Lovecraft seems to
have designed is the only place in the universe where Dolmen crystals can be
found - a mysterious substance that can travel through dimensions and
alternative timelines. After losing contact with the planet, the Zoan
Corporation sends a lone warrior to solve mysteries lurking on the surface and
collect as many Dolmen crystals.
The gameplay does not deviate from the traditional approach in Souls-like games. The player must take good care of the environment around him, use his melee, shield, and ranged weapons wisely, collect XP and spend it on boosting central stats, plan well how to spend his stamina scale on melee punches, dodge moves, and runs, and the novelty in the game is the presence of the Energy scale with which ranged weapons (pistols, rifles, shotguns napa) are powered. The energy scale replenishes itself regularly but is also consumed forever if you use special ranged attacks or transfer Energy points to HP points. This addition to the energy scale is one of the interesting innovations of the game, which allows players to more easily engage in ranged battles at any time.
The campaign of the game is not too long and lasts a little more than 10 hours if the player is lucky not to stay too long with the bosses who guard each level. The game itself offers three separate zones (mines, wasteland, and endgame labs) that are all fragmented into a small number of separate levels that can be accessed by teleporters. The central hub zone is a small spaceship in planetary orbit where the player can access leveling services, crafting weapons, and a terminal for respawning bosses.
From a system for strengthening and improving the ability of players, Dolmen
offers an easily accessible system for crafting equipment. Killing opponents
by maps drop a wide range of crafting elements that can be used to make melee
and ranged weapons, shields as well as four separate types of armor (legs,
arms, chest, and head).
Each crafted item can be reinforced during construction with special accessories (available in several strength levels), and the game also offers special boss weapons that can only be crafted if the player respawns the bosses at least three times to collect all the necessary crafting elements.
A mitigating circumstance when grinding bosses is that when he is defeated for the first time, the game then unlocks a special co-op mode in which the player can call for help for the boss fight. Dolmen has a co-op that is focused only on battles against bosses, friends do not have the option to help you during the cleaning of regular game levels.
Another interesting upgrade path is obtained through Technologies bonus points, which are related to a specific armor set that is being crafted. All available crafting equipment is arranged in three different types - Human, Revian, and Driller giving players the chance not only to make thematically appropriate armor sets but also to use the full potential of Technologies points related to these items. These points unlock very useful extra bonuses (health, stamina, defense, melee damage, etc.), thus forcing the player to focus during the campaign on finding all the necessary crafting elements to make stronger armor and potentially full armor sets.
Battles in the game are "fair", but players are often asked to sacrifice to learn how a newly discovered opponent behaves. As the game progresses, the opponents become stronger and more aggressive, which makes the game very challenging and fun. The very beginning is the worst part of the game, so players are advised to try to endure at least until after the first boss and try crafting options. Unfortunately, upgrading basic stats gives poorly noticeable bonuses for fighting or defense, so crafting is mandatory for every player.
The worst part of the game is the audio/visual presentation. Almost every
element of the presentation can be described as modest and barely enough for a
minimal atmosphere. The only part of the game that deviates from this trend is
the audio design, which manages to evoke an adequate spooky atmosphere with
numerous uncomfortable audio sequences scattered throughout the levels. This
good audio solution often forces the player to pay detailed attention to their
environment, looking for whether various sudden sounds are part of the
background of the game or signs of the arrival of new opponents. The UI is
undercut and in some cases actively prevents the player from seeing what is
currently selected in the inventory or crafting screen.
The story of the game seems to be concluded in one afternoon. Within the levels themselves, you can find panels with dry irrelevant text that builds the lore of this planet, and from time to time players will be rewarded with scary video sequences as if designed by students or high school students (which is not excluded, Massive Work Studio is a brand new team for whom this game was their first project).
Visually, each game zone is modest in terms of design, graphics, and architecture. You can often find a hallway that is made exclusively of flat polygons for floors, ceilings, and walls. Zero decorations, just crude minimalism. The first Half-Life has more detailed corridors than this game.
One of the additional irritations comes from the main character's movement system. The player does not have the option to jump, and since the design of many levels has elements that seem to be created for jumping (very low obstacles or easy platforming), all this makes the game seem to actively hinder the player in exploring and moving.
Dolmen is a below-average game in the Souls-like genre, but it still
offers certain elements that make it worth playing. The developers have
managed to integrate ranged shooting well into the standard Souls formula, and
the crafting system allows the player to significantly improve his character
in the direction he wants to go. In his endgame part of the campaign, Dolmen
transforms from a slow Souls game into a slightly attractive title where the
player can use interesting weapons (chain swords, fire hammers, and more),
strengthen himself with strong elemental effects, and become a real killing
machine. Unfortunately, many elements of the game hinder it from being easily
attracted to a wide range of players, so we assume that only true fans of the
Souls genre will seriously play this title.
If the team decides to continue this game, we hope that they will be able to far surpass this first attempt.