Developed by the Brazilian studio Massive Work, Dolmen presents itself as a souls-like SF which sometimes has its eye on the side of DOOM or even Dead Space. During our preview, we were charmed on many points, but many questions still remained unanswered. The hour of the verdict has come and as much to tell you that the trip was not easy, for the nerves, but also the controller.
Classic but effective
Contrary to the mysterious pitches that we are used to seeing in souls-like, Dolmen bets on a clear scenario from the start and will content itself with unfolding a few turnarounds on the way. We are therefore at the controls of a brave soldier sent to a mining station who dug too deep a hair to the point of waking up a demonic army from another dimension and who is only after one thing: crystals red and glistening stuffed with cosmic power.
We are therefore catapulted into this huge station, invaded by monsters, to clean it up and save those who can.but that was without taking into account the presence of a good big bad guy whose plans are drastically different from ours, if not completely opposite.
Finally, Dolmen does not make boxes, and is content to unfold a plot that we have certainly already seen elsewhere (Doom, Dead Space …) but which is largely sufficient to soak up the universe and give body to the proposal of the Brazilian studio.
Dolmen is an honest game and a good souls-like
The software then opens on a spaceship, our HUB, where there is a crafting station that will be used to create equipment with resources, a cockpit to store equipment and an improvement box in which we can spend our XP to increase our statistics. During our journey, we can of course come back to this place quite often, and even accommodate NPCs encountered along the way. They will help us by selling us items; reward us for certain feats of arms, or sometimes simply give us useful information.
But before we get to that, we already choose a starting class as in all games of the genre. Here again, we have the right to the usual archetypes (warrior, thief, shooter…), but renamed in technical terms to stick to the universe. Each class has its own starting equipment (sword, shield, axe, etc.) and statistics that resemble it. The warrior class will be much more powerful in melee, the ranged shooter, etc. Very classic, but effectiveespecially since the developers are doing everything to ensure that the mechanics adapt perfectly to its universe and it is felt in the gameplay.
From the first steps, Dolmen irremediably reminds us of Dark Souls first of the name. The feeling is very similar (movements, animations) and above all, just as heavy and rigid. Our avatar can’t jump, even after a run, he moves around with a high-tech broomstick stuck deep in the head gasket of his armor, and attacks are extremely slow to leave, even more so when opting for heavy weapons. Fortunately, the hits have impact and it doesn’t feel like hitting for nothing. We also find the same system of life and endurance bars of the Souls, shield parries, dodges, etc.
a successful level design and a controlled atmosphere
However, Dolmen brings unexpected and well-felt features. Already, if the software mainly offers hand-to-hand combat, it also offers a well-done TPS dimension. At any time, you can equip yourself with various weapons (pistols, rifles, etc.) and draw them as in any shooter. Except here, the particularity comes from the management of ammunition. Your ranged weapons indeed drain the energy from your armor, and the thing is that this energy will also be used for other actions, in particular for healing., and the whole regenerates only very slowly. You will therefore be systematically obliged to pay close attention to your gauges or to opt for a specialization in the field, which is quite possible and perfectly viable.
Besides, the builds are relatively numerous in Dolmen, although, visually, it does not change much (weapon and armor skin which is repeated very often). The gameplay and your stats are quite different.
Swords, axes, two-handed weapons, heavy and light armor… there is something for everyone. The statistics are clear (although they lack definition at first glance), the elements can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And that’s very good since it makes, casually, the game perfectly accessible and does not prevent us from optimizing ourselves in our own way, in particular thanks to the possibility of changing stuff on the fly (helmet, breastplate, leggings, etc.) and of using armor mods that can even modify the element of energy that we use. This mod in fact allows us to choose, for example, an energy of fire or poison, thus allowing us to impregnate our weapons with the same element to cause considerable damage, while taking advantage of increased resistance to this same element. And it won’t be too much since Dolmen is a really difficult title.
In space, no one will hear you cry
By nature, souls-like are difficult and/or demanding games. Die & retry where dying is part of the experience and where you learn through failure. Dolmen is a worthy representative and will make us pass away more than once. The bestiary is provided and makes us fight a whole bunch of alien horrors and demons who do not hesitate to hide in the corners to set ambushes for us. The bosses are not to be outdone and offer particularly devious confrontationssometimes even a bit too much, even for an insider to the genre.
Patterns aren’t always easy to read, and monster designs are sometimes misleading. A heavy-looking creature may, for example, be able to make ultra-fast and devastating attacks without warning, where other finer goods, which one might think agile, are only satisfied with very slow blows. And that’s not always a good thing since reading the game takes a hit and when you have to retype 20 terminals by facing a dozen voracious critters on the way to reach the boss room, get killed by an attack overpowering out of nowhere to be frustrating. A pinch of precision in the chara design would not have been luxury.
Dolmen is therefore sometimes unfair and it even happens that the difficulty becomes downright extreme. For example, you can literally be invaded by enemies (from the start of the game, by the way), come face to face with very powerful monsters, piled up in threes or fours, in very narrow corridors, or be split open by creatures which suddenly take us out of unstoppable special attacks killing us instantly without warning. To learn the hard way, you learn the hard way. It sometimes reminds us of Hellpoint, souls-like SF indie too, which tended to do a bit too much.
On the other hand, where the latter knew how to reward the player without ever being punitive, Dolmen has a hard time reaching out to us.
the artistic direction remains rather discreet, not to say classic
Firstly, the software benefits from a sprawling level design, full of shortcuts and additional areas to rummage throughbut often exploration is a real obstacle course and the reward, though present, is not worth the effort to find it. However, it is rather pleasant to get lost in Dolmen since the environments offered by the software are relatively different and really well built, even if they sometimes tend to be a bit narrow (especially in the first moments of the game and towards the last third of the adventure). On the other hand, some players will find it anxiety-inducing and perfectly in tune.
In contrast, the artistic direction remains rather discreet, not to say classic. We sometimes have the impression of knowing the places before having set foot there, we want for example in particular the sequences in desert and dusty zones which remind us of the Martian stations of DOOM. There was better to do on that side, and we can once again make the comparison with Hellpoint which boxed in exactly the same category, but which dared to do a lot more things artistically.
Nevertheless, Dolmen is doing relatively well and remains pleasing to the eye even if the technical finish is clearly not up to current standards., independent game requires. However, he does not have to blush in the face of equivalent productions. We will still pester about really rigid animations, especially those of the faces, but also about collision problems which can sometimes interfere in the same way as the camera which often crashes into the walls as soon as we fight in cramped places. . Lack of luck, there is a package.
Despite that, Dolmen remains an effective indie souls-like where we feel that the developers have put their heart into the work. The bosses are numerous, the confrontations stressful and we have this feeling of accomplishment that we seek so much when playing this kind of game. It will also be possible to play cooperatively with up to 3 players. although we had little chance to try it, it still brings a nicer touch.