Dwarf fortress review

Dwarf fortress review

NEED TO KNOW

  • What is it?  It is a colony sim masterwork of procedural generation.
  • Expect to pay: $30
  • Release date: December 6, 2022
  • Developer: Bay 12 Games
  • Publisher: Kitfox Games
  • Reviewed on:  NVIDIA GeForce 3070 RTX, i7 8700K
  • Multiplayer? No

I’ve seen my share of legends in my 13 years of playing Dwarf Fortress,  I have witnessed one-armed dwarven generals strangling dragons as old as time, an artisan emerging from the caves below my fortress halls after being trapped for months and many other things. Now, I am getting to see Dwarf Fortress arrive on Steam.

Dwarf Fortress is the ever-evolving life’s work of brother developers Tarn and Zach Adams and it is now entering a new age, shedding its text-based graphics for proper pixels and the basic modernity of mouse support. It is still inscrutable and magnificent.

STRIKING THE EARTH

In Dwarf Fortress you first start with a small group of dwarves. Winter is only months away. So, you and your companions start digging.

Initially, it can be deceptively simple but within minutes you will be three menus deep, trying to parse work duties and labour details, designate burrows, assign administrative positions, organise stockpiles of gems, food, precious cave wheat ale and finished goods.

The thing which Steam changed about it is that until now, Dwarf Fortress has been an ASCII-based enterprise and required mods for any imagery.

“You’re responsible for every component of your fledgling dwarven society, and there are a hell of a lot of components.”

STRIKING THE EARTH
STRIKING THE EARTH

Now, it boasts its own lovely tile-based graphics. They’re charming enough to look at and overhaul an expanded soundtrack, thus nailing the vibe. The biggest changes in terms of playability involve the controls and interface. 

HARD-WON WEALTH

The daunting reputation of Dwarf Fortress is not unearned. The game does very little work for you in building and managing your new mountain home. You just get a bunch of menus, and whatever ragged scrap of instinct of self-preservation your dwarves can muster. If they grow a crop, you will have to tell them where to plant the seed. And if they’re lost to any one of the countless dangers of the game, it’s because you failed in protecting them.

“Dwarf Fortress is a wonder of procedural worldbuilding. It’s a storytelling toolbox calling itself a game.”

And you are going to fail as expected (by the game). The guiding ethos of Dwarf Fortress is that losing is fun. The game does not have any victory condition or winning. In the end, every fortress that you will make is doomed.

Lasting success in Dwarf Fortress means navigating production lines, civic planning and military defence. Beneath its layered strata of mechanics and arcane menus, Dwarf Fortress is a rare treasure. All you need is the will to dig.

LEGENDS IN THE MAKING

All the dwarves have their own unique set of physical characteristics, varying from the plaiting of their beards to the appearance of their earlobes. They have their own personality traits, goals, preferences and mannerisms and so do their pets, their livestock. Every object has its own generated features. Every object engraves its own randomised image.

“The absurd depth of this simulation gives Dwarf Fortress a frankly unreasonable amount of detail.”

Every piece of gameplay is draped in procedural simulation by Dwarf Fortress dozens of layers deep. And it begins as soon as you start playing it: it builds you a world. When the “Create a New World” button is clicked, it is impressive enough to watch the sculpture of a unique geography and new continental landmasses seeded with simulated water tables and biomes. The game starts writing history then and there.

Decades pass in seconds and your new world enters its first age and demigods start walking the earth. You will find mortal civilizations sprouting, their settlements uncoiling roadways as they flourish and shrinking as they fall to ruin. Throughout this, thousands of events are simulated by Dwarf Fortress and it maps relationships between legendary artefacts and historical figures, charting migrations and death tolls.

FINE QUALITY

Thanks to the modernization the Steam release of Dwarf Fortress, we can hopefully see a new generation of players swapping the stories of the game. Overall, it’s definitely a success. But Dwarf Fortress is not entering its new era without stumbling.

For me, the UI translation lost some things. Once you were acclimatised, a reliable logic was followed by the keyboard-driven interface of the classic version, and it kept the visual playspace cleanly delineated from menu information.

The new interface feels somewhat scattered when compared. More things are accessible and clickable, but they don’t have any real logic regarding where they are placed. The level of visual noise can get overwhelming even after a few dozen hours with it, especially if you are in a busier fortress. Conclusively, I found it worthy of its price—I do not imagine going back.

“As always, Dwarf Fortress is a game you have to meet more than halfway.”

While jumping to Steam, it also temporarily lost its roguelike Adventure mode, though it can return in the future. However, one of the most crucial additions is its tutorial.

The introductory experience guides you through the most basic necessities of getting a fortress started. A brief but serviceable primer for the controls, its menus do offer in-game additional direction. But still I could feel that its explanations are a little too vaguea and its warnings a little too sparse.

Dwarf Fortress is a game that requires you to be willing to teach yourself its rules and take the abstract details of its generated worldbuilding, thus crafting your own mythology. However, for now, taking the first steps in exploring its depths are a little easy. If you’re willing, the experience it gives would not match anywhere else.

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