Ever since I was pretty young I have been a big fan of the RTS genre. Growing up I remember playing the original StarCraft for hours on end. When playing RTS games I was always a big fan of gathering resources and building up a base. Controlling an army and sending it out into battle was another topic entirely. I was never a fan of this aspect of RTS games as I was never very good at commanding troops on the battlefield. My strategy was mostly just to get a huge resource lead and throw so many units at an enemy that I would overwhelm them. If possible I probably would have ignored the battle portion of the genre entirely.
I bring this all up because today I am looking at the new RTS game DwarfHeim which entered Early Access today. On the surface the game may seem like any other RTS game, but there was one thing that immediately intrigued me. The game was built from the ground up as a co-op game. Many RTS games allow players to work together to defeat their opponents. This usually entails each player being in charge of their own base building, resource gathering, and army. What is unique about DwarfHeim is that all of the players on a team control the same faction and must work together.
Instead of each player having to do each of the three tasks by themselves, the roles are divided out to the players. Up to three players play on a team with each player choosing one role that they will play for the match. Choose wisely as the role you choose determines what you will be able to do throughout the game. Each role is given a direct task to perform for the team and that is all they are able to do. On top of this all three players share a pool of resources. Any unit or building that any of the players build will take resources from the common pool. These mechanics force teammates to work together since if they are on a different page the team as a whole will struggle.
In DwarfHeim there are three different roles. Of these three roles two are similar to your typical RTS while the third feels genuinely unique for the genre.
The first role is of a builder. The builder is basically responsible for creating most of the buildings for the team. This includes building houses, buildings that provide upgrade opportunities, and towers and walls to keep your city safe. The builder is also responsible for gathering wood as well as building and operating farms. Farms are used for food, but can also be used to brew beer which gives temporary benefits to all of the team’s units.
The second role is the warrior. The warrior is basically in charge of the team’s military units. They are responsible for training and using the units in battle. The job is mostly to defend the town as well as explore the area and destroy the other team’s town. This role really doesn’t differ all that much from commanding your military units in other RTS game.
The final role is the miner. This role is actually quite a bit different from most RTS games. The world of DwarfHeim is actually split into above ground and underground with each having their own map. The miner is basically responsible for the underground section of the map. The underground is filled with various minerals that you can use miners to harvest. These resources are key to building stronger units and more advanced buildings.
This might sound like basic resource gathering from any other RTS. What is unique about the mechanic is that to succeed as a miner you need to build a system of interconnected machines in order to maximize the resources that you acquire from mining. Your miners will place the resources they mine on a conveyor belt which will pull them through groups of machines that further refine them. This allows you earn more resources from what you mine as well as craft materials that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. In many ways this kind of feels like setting up a factory underground.
Of the three roles I found the miner role to be the most interesting. The builder and warrior roles are enjoyable as any fan of RTS games should enjoy playing as them. I obviously preferred builder over warrior, but I have never been a big fan of combat in RTS games. These roles have a few unique twists. For the most part though they don’t really differentiate themselves from any other RTS games. The miner role is different though as it honestly feels like a mechanic taken from another genre. You basically are building a complex machine of interconnected belts and machines to refine goods. This requires some thought and planning to create the most efficient set of machines. As a fan of this type of mechanic I really enjoyed this role even if it might not appeal to all traditional RTS players.
I will say that I was pretty impressed after playing DwarfHeim. The game is not perfect (it is in Early Access after all), but I can already tell that the game is on the right path to being a really good RTS. A lot of the game plays like your typical RTS. This is not meant to be an insult as I think it does a good job emulating the genre. The game basically has everything that fans of the genre should expect. If this was all the game had going for it, I would say that it was likely to become a pretty good RTS.
The addition of the co-op mechanics and the miner role really help the game stand out though. Most RTS games are cooperative to the point where several players work together to defeat their opponents. That is where the cooperation ends though as each player is mostly just doing their own thing. The gameplay in DwarfHeim is a genuinely cooperative experience though as players truly have to work together in order to succeed. I honestly have never seen a RTS embrace cooperative mechanics as much as DwarfHeim. I have always like the RTS genre, but have never been a big fan of controlling the military units. This twist on the genre allows players to focus on the elements that they are best at. For example I can take on the role of builder or miner and let someone else handle the military units. If you have been a fan of the RTS genre and have always been looking for a good cooperative experience, I think DwarfHeim might be that game for you.
At this point the game has a number of different modes that you can play. The main mode is conquest where two teams face off to see who can destroy the other team’s town first. Next there is survival where you and your team work together to try to survive for a given amount of time. The game also features a skirmish mode where a team can face off against a team controlled by the computer AI, and the sandbox mode which is in many ways a practice mode. Based on DwarfHeim’s premise it was obviously designed to be played in teams of three. This will likely be the most enjoyable way of playing the game. The game does offer the ability to play solo or in a team of two though. With how many different things that you have to handle I think it could be a little overwhelming playing the game solo. I played the game in the two player mode though and I thought it worked quite well. Each player gets their own dedicated role and they then share the role that neither player chose. Two players can handle the different roles pretty well and it gives each player more to do in the game.
I had fun with DwarfHeim as it shows a lot of potential. The game could genuinely revolutionize the RTS genre especially for people who prefer to play the game cooperatively. That said I have a couple of concerns for the game.
First DwarfHeim is the type of game that requires a lot of teamwork. On the surface this is a good thing, but in practice I am a little cautious. Mostly I think it will be hard to play with other players that you aren’t used to playing games with. In order to do well in the game players need to communicate and have a cohesive strategy. None of the players can be selfish as you need to share resources. If you are forced to play with random players you could end up getting stuck with a really selfish player that just hogs all of the resources for their own plans instead of for what will benefit the whole team. I can see this leading to quite a bit of arguing. To get the most enjoyment out of the game you likely will have to have a group of friends that you mostly play with.
On this topic I am also a little concerned about how splitting the roles will impact the gameplay for each individual player. I am just a little concerned that there will be times in the game where some of the roles will have little to do. Let me illustrate. To begin the game the builder is going to have to use most of the resources in order to build up their production of food and wood. This is important because these are staples that are needed for the other two roles. At this point the warrior and miner won’t be able to do a whole lot. Once the builder has built up good resource production the other two roles will start to use up resources meaning the builder will have less to do. I am a little concerned that all of the roles will have lulls in the game where there isn’t much for them to do. If you only play with two players this is a little better as the two players will share the role that neither individually selected.
The final issue I have with DwarfHeim just has to deal with the fact that the game is in Early Access. First the game has a number of bugs. I didn’t encounter any gamebreaking bugs, but there were a couple that were kind of annoying. The bigger problem is that the game could use a little more content. The game has enough modes at this point and the gameplay seems to mostly be finished. I hope the game adds some more buildings, and units to the game though. There also are only a couple of maps at this point. These issues should be addressed during the Early Access process, but I wish there was a little more variety to the game at this point.
DwarfHeim has a few things to work on in the Early Access process, but at this point it already shows a lot of potential. The game is supposed to stay in Early Access until next summer as well. On the surface the game seems pretty similar to your typical RTS. The builder and warrior role don’t really differ all that much, but they are still really enjoyable. The miner role is quite unique for the genre though as it feels more like you are running a factory than playing a RTS. I thought this was a really interesting addition to the genre. On top of this the idea of each player on the team taking a different role really forces players to work well together. I could see this leading to some issues for teams that don’t normally play together and there is likely to be some downtime for each role. DwarfHeim has the potential to be revolutionary for the cooperative RTS genre though. Otherwise the game could use some more content, but that is to be expected from a game that will be spending at least half a year in Early Access.
My recommendation for DwarfHeim is simple. If you have never really cared for RTS games before, the additions are unlikely to be enough to convince you to start enjoying the genre. Fans of the genre though that think the cooperative premise behind the game is interesting though should really enjoy DwarfHeim and should consider picking it up.
Buy DwarfHeim online: Steam
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Pineleaf Studio, and Merge Games for the preview copy of DwarfHeim used for this preview. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to preview, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this preview. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this preview.