Let’s make it a fair fight

Dolmen shows some early promise at the preview stage, but there’s some polishing up to do. IMAGE:...
Dolmen shows some early promise at the preview stage, but there’s some polishing up to do. IMAGE: SUPPLIED
DOLMEN (preview build)

From: Massive Work Studio

For: PC

Rating: ★★★+


Dolmen is an upcoming game in the Dark Souls-style die, die and die again genre, and I got a chance to play a preview build, which offered a few select sections.

The formula will be pretty familiar to those who have played a ‘‘Souls-like’’. Dolmen’s sci-fi setting has you gain nanites from enemies after you defeat them in combat, which you can use on improving your character’s stats. If you die, you lose all of your nanites and can pick them up again by finding your body — just don’t die again, or you’ll lose them all. You have a stamina meter which depletes from attacks and recharges over time. Your main goal is to get to the next beacon, which heals you and respawns enemies, with your ultimate goal being to get to the boss and defeat them to get to the next area to do it all again, exploring and discovering.

Dolmen isn’t straying too far from the ‘‘live-die-repeat’’ formula, but is still doing enough different to warrant a look. Most interesting is the introduction of ranged combat at any time using energy weapons.

You have a recharging energy bar which you can use to enhance your physical attacks, as ammo for ranged attacks, or for healing, which permanently uses up some of the bar. You can replenish the bar using batteries.

The combat felt a bit weird the first time I picked it up, but after playing the preview a few times, it feels nice, if rather floaty. Weapons can make light or heavy attacks and you can chain these together. You can dodge, and link dodges with attacks. I like that you always can just back off from enemies and shoot them if you're getting overwhelmed. A nitpick was the fact that stamina replenished more slowly than I was used to, forcing a more defensive playstyle.

Every enemy is weak to an element. If you hit an enemy enough with that element, they’ll take more damage. Certain weapons will also do more damage.

Something I really didn’t like about the combat was how enemies are hard to see while you were attacking them, and barely reacted to your attacks when they weren’t affected with an element (and sometimes when they are, too). They often just power through your attacks and deal so much damage that you’ll use up all your energy healing, again forcing you on the defensive.

Another issue I had was the bosses. It seems like they just ignore the combat system they built when it came to boss fights, which is a real shame. Trying to hit bosses with elements is a fool’s errand, as they recover extremely quickly, and you don’t have enough energy to keep it up. They also completely throw out the game’s parrying mechanic, with most boss attacks being unparryable and unblockable.

Both of the bosses I fought could one-shot me fairly easily, as well as having multiple attacks in which one hit led to more, killing me with the combo. They’re armed with unpredictable, massive attacks, designed to end you near instantly and force you to try again, but there’s no way to know what’s going to happen until it does.

One vanishes before teleporting behind you without the sound cue of every other teleport he uses, and almost kills you with one hit. Boss fights should be a challenge, but balancing that challenge with a fair fight is extremely important, and I don’t think Dolmen does this yet.

Instead of finding weapons and armour or buying them, you craft them with materials you pick up from enemies.

While I didn’t get to use this feature, you can respawn bosses and fight them again. I really like this feature with the crafting element, and I hope we can craft powerful boss weapons if we beat them enough times. A planned feature I didn’t get to use was multiplayer, in which you will be able to get another player in to help with a difficult boss.

Dolmen feels a bit unpolished at the moment. It’s combat has a decent flow, but is rather floaty, and enemies just tank through everything. Bosses aren’t fairly balanced and the systems in place need more support to avoid being annoying to players.

However, there’s ground work for a good game here. The small snippets of story I got were interesting, the combat has good elements, and I really think the crafting system will encourage extremely varied playstyles.

Dolmen is slated to be out some time this year for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.


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