A third-person action-RPG from Massive Work Studio, Dolmen mixes a futuristic science-fiction world with Lovecraftian horror. With a heavy influence from titles such as DARK SOULS, the premise alone makes it sound like a game worth checking out, but how is it as an overall package? Let’s take a look!
Set in a time when humans have colonised planets across the galaxy, Dolmen takes place on a planet known as Revion Prime, where a mining station suffers a catastrophe after an interdimensional rift opens up, flooding the area with all sorts of hostile alien creatures. Knowing very little about what has happened, the Zoan Corporation hires you to investigate and contain the problem, as well as salvaging samples of the “Dolmen Crystal'', which enables interactions between different dimensions.
It’s an interesting enough premise, with further exposition given via text logs and the occasional cutscene. However, it didn’t grip me in a way that I just had to know what would happen next, and whilst I enjoyed the setting, I was disinterested with the narrative.
Keeping on the subject of Dolmen’s setting, I absolutely loved the environments and general atmosphere found here; science-fiction and horror is one of my favourite genre mash-ups, and it’s done very well in Dolmen. It’s obvious just by looking that this title is set in the far future, with shining metallic structures and blazing neon computer terminals around every corner. But this is where the Lovecraftian aspect comes into play: bridges made of bones and muscle (or at least, I think it’s muscle), questionable substances oozing from the ceilings, a graveyard's worth of mutilated corpses littered about the facilities, and so much more grotesque oddities.
What really pushes Dolmen from generic science-fiction into nightmare-inducing levels of creepiness is the enemies you’ll face. These aren’t just standard aliens that come to destroy the human race, but creatures that are almost familiar in their shapes; such as the giant arachnids that spit venomous liquids or flaming human-like corpses you meet early on. Many of the creature designs instantly reminded me of the Necromorphs found in Dead Space, and as that is one of my favourite horror games of all time, that’s high praise!
From a graphical standpoint though, Dolmen is fairly average. The character models, environments, and effects all look nice enough, particularly on the quality mode setting, but at no point was I blown away by how the game looked, although I would like to mention the fantastic use of lighting, which really enhances the atmosphere. This extends to the audio as well, with quiet, haunting music used to great effect. Equally as effective is that sometimes there is no music at all, which adds to the overall vibe Dolmen is going for.
Gameplay is a mixture of tactical, methodical combat and exploring the often hazardous environments for hidden secrets. The combat is essentially Dark Souls, but built upon to give Dolmen its own unique feel. You’ve got your standard light and heavy attacks, block and dodge mechanics, an ability that changes depending on the type of reactor you have equipped and even a ranged attack — which also features two variations — so there is a lot to experiment with here, especially when deciding how you want to level up your character. Melee attacks are tied to your stamina, whilst ranged weapons, healing, and your reactor ability use energy.
Stamina works exactly how you’d expect, with sprinting and swinging your melee weapon reducing it, however it’s the energy meter that really makes the combat interesting. Your firearms, when fired, will reduce your energy slightly before it regenerates. Your reactor ability works in much the same way; activating this causes your energy to be used in place of stamina for melee combat, as well as providing elemental damage. The only thing that will permanently reduce your energy (until you use a restorative item) is healing, which meant I spent the majority of my time with my reactor activated when in combat. Once depleted, I backed up, waited for it to recharge, and then back I went.
The one thing I didn’t like was the block system, which is basically non-existent. Parrying and dodging attacks works fine, but blocking sees almost as much of your health depleted as just standing there with a sign saying “Eat me!”. It became especially tiresome when I had no option of dodging as I was being swarmed by several enemies at once, and the combat often felt cheap. Games of a similar nature are usually called punishing but fair, but Dolmen, more often than not, lacked any semblance of fairness.
Thankfully, when not being swarmed by relentless enemies, the environments you traverse are great fun to explore. With danger lurking almost everywhere, but rewarding those willing to stray from the beaten path, it felt like a very natural — or as natural as a futuristic mining facility overrun with hostile alien creatures can feel — set of areas, as opposed to just being funnelled down one linear corridor after another.
Is this a game I’d recommend? Yes, and no. See, whilst die-hard soulsborne players will no doubt enjoy the challenge (albeit an oftentimes unfair one), those who prefer to stay away from these sorts of games will only find themselves frustrated when playing Dolmen. It’s rough around the edges, with texture glitches, numerous spelling mistakes, and the like, but it was hard for me not to be taken in by the great environments and overall aesthetic of this title. Just like the teaser for this review says, this is as close to a Dead Space soulslike as we’re likely ever going to get!
Dolmen (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
A unique world with some fantastic environment designs and challenging combat, let down by often unfair enemies and a story that just wasn’t that interesting.