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With plenty of options to choose from when it comes to Souls games or others that fall into the Souls-like genre, Massive Work Studio and Prime Matter’s Dolmen already has its work cut out for it. While no one is expecting anything near the levels of Elden Ring, this game doesn’t help itself by trying to replicate the challenge expected in the genre without having the support structure in place. The use of difficulty for difficulty’s sake is just not enticing at all.
Before we even dive in that deep, here’s the premise of Dolmen. The game takes place on a faraway planet called Revlon Prime, and the narrative revolves around crystals that are called “Dolmen” which can be used in connecting alternate realities. Obviously, that never turns out well as the planet is overrun by enemies of all manner, and it is up to the player to clean house and figure out what is going on.
You don’t really need any reason to start swinging and taking the fight to the foes you’ll find in Dolmen, but the setup veers closer to sci-fi mumbo jumbo than the intriguing and cryptic lore fans of the genre are used to. Not that it is a bad thing, but the game will have to do more to convince as Hellpoint did.
Unfortunately, Dolmen never quite matches up whether it is in the gameplay, the visuals, or anything in between. As you explore the various environments found on Revlon Prime, it becomes clear that instead of having any freedom to explore, you are being funnelled through corridors after corridors, broken up by the occasional large space, which removes more of the mystery that can often drive players along.
Trying to scope out the playable areas can lead to items and useful blueprints from NPCs, but there is hardly any compelling reason to deviate from the path before you. Dolmen also doesn’t have a map to help players, but in this case, perhaps it is not really needed since it’s hard to get lost, and you can easily retrieve your lost Nanites in the event of a death.
When it is time for combat, Dolmen is a frustrating affair. Sure, you may have your standard light and heavy attacks, as well as a dodge to avoid damage, but the execution is far from ideal. Animations are heavy and stiff, and enemies often shrug off your attacks as though there’s no impact. The parry system should work in theory, but it usually doesn’t, even if you think you have the perfect timing down.
Then again, if you pull it off, there is no reward of a critical hit or a powerful counterattack. The enemy is delayed from hurting you for just a bit, before recovering and proceeding to punish you even more. The lack of enemy variety is also going to make the combat sequences a dull affair. Players can spice things up by enhancing their attacks with elemental powers of fire, cold, and acid, but the energy requirements mean you will only get a few swings in before you run out, and is hardly ever significant enough in the long run.
That said, you do get a gun, which is not something you see in many Souls-likes, but ranged attacks don’t work that well when the enemies are closing in fast. The ranged weapon utilizes the energy meter as well, as does Dolmen’s healing mechanic. With so many things competing for one resource, the choice of healing should always be a priority.
However, should you find yourself low on energy, you can use the sole item in the game that can restore it, a battery. Regrettably, using a battery forces you to stand still for a few seconds, leaving you vulnerable to all sorts of horrors on Revlon Prime. How this ever made it as a mechanic is more terrifying than the enemies you’ll find in Dolmen.
The bosses, usually the highlights of Souls-likes, fare slightly better in both enemy and encounter design. Despite a few cheap deaths every now and again from one-hit kills, most bosses require a more tactful approach, such as learning the patterns of attacks and exploiting windows of opportunities, utilizing the flawed parry system to destabilize an opponent, or a multi-phase encounter that makes full use of the ranged system. If that is not enough, players can farm bosses through Dolmen crystals for a shot at crafting their unique weapon to aid your run.
Speaking of crafting, it is yet another conundrum that exists in Dolmen. Materials gathered can be used to craft the different melee and ranged weapons, armor, and the like. There are also mods that can be applied to provide different enhancements. However, should you wish to upgrade an existing gear piece with mods attached, you will lose all those mods for no good reason, and dismantling doesn’t return those mods either. It is simply mind-boggling to punish the players in such a way and it makes no sense.
For a genre that is now getting even more popular and perhaps even saturated, getting the basics right is the least we can expect if a game hopes to make an impression. However, with all these issues plaguing the game, plus visuals that hardly scream 2022, Dolmen is not living up to expectations at all. The game tries to include many of the hallmarks of the genre, but muddles it all up with poor systems and execution. For a fan that has grown used to the genre’s often challenging requirements, recommending Dolmen is something that will only happen in an alternate dimension.
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