Read Our Review of Dolmen, an Action-RPG Sci-Fi Soulslike Set in Space
It’s hard to argue against the lingering effects that Dark Souls has had on the Gaming market. The whole genre of Soulslike is named after its grandfather, something which haunts any game that aims to follow in its footsteps. Even games that aim to take inspiration but alter enough to be different will still be compared to FromSoftware’s mega-hit franchise when in its shadow.
And while Dolmen aims to take the genre into Space as opposed to the more Fantasy-orientated settings of its inspiration, there are some striking similarities to the Souls series. While Dolmen doesn’t necessarily say it’s inspired, it’s fairly obvious from the get-go, and from the numerous trailers that the developers, Massive Work Studio, have revealed pre-release.
Dolmen sees players set foot on a hostile alien planet called Revion Prime, with the task of finding Dolmen crystals. These crystals offer time and reality-shifting properties which make them valuable for many reasons. While we wish the task of getting Dolmen would be simple, a variety of creatures and enemies will make this objective a lot harder, along with many hazards across Revion Prime’s many locales.
Fortunately, you get to the combat and gameplay loop quickly. Unfortunately, it’s pretty clunky.
Dolmen’s story takes elements of pretty much everything I love. Sci-Fi, Space, Time, and Reality-Bending. But it completely drops the ball here. While there are a lot of lore pieces hidden across Dolmen’s many areas, they’re uninteresting. The main story is told through dialogue and cutscenes like many other games, but it’s just painfully dull here and certainly not the centerpiece of the experience.
Fortunately, you get to the combat and gameplay loop quickly. Unfortunately, it’s pretty clunky. You’ll soon find yourself getting swarmed by enemies in a way to add artificial difficulty. Enemy attacks are usually fast, badly telegraphed, and with numerous enemies, you’re almost guaranteed to take a hit. It becomes a trade-off, having to make the first attack at the expense of your very needed health. Attacks feel floaty, with the animations and hit-boxes feeling like a roll of a dice in the hope you’ll land some. Since Soulslikes require patience and correct timing, all of these things make the game absurdly more difficult than needed.
You’re also equipped with a variety of guns. They’re a somewhat nice addition to the genre, allowing you to try and knock some health bars down before engaging in a battle, but they’re certainly more like peashooters as opposed to decent weaponry. They do a pretty great job at inflicting the status effects that they’re attributed to, but beyond that, a sword or dagger will do the exact same, if not better job.
Dodging and parrying are beyond fixable. While dodging is certainly the best way to go when needing a moment to heal up or compose yourself, it still offers very small amounts of invincibility frames. Parrying looks terrible, feels terrible, and isn’t even worth attempting. When you’re hit, your health will fall quite fast, and that’s what leads us into another pretty bad element of Dolmen – the energy bar.
As if you didn’t already need to manage your health and stamina, Dolmen gives you another bar to manage. Energy is what keeps your guns firing and you use it to heal. There’s also the ability to activate your suits Reactor during gameplay, which allows you to attack with status effects and uses energy to attack as opposed to stamina. Healing is instant in Dolmen, a great QoL improvement from normal Soulslikes, but you’re required to consume Batteries to refill your Energy bar, which is more painful than an Estus Flask or Flask of Crimson Tears.
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In fact, having such a strong reliance on the Energy bar makes Dolmen feel like less of a Soulslike and more of a micromanagement game. Since Energy is pretty much required through every fight, it becomes tedious and frustrating quickly. Add in the swarming enemies, terrible telegraphs, and horrible dodging and Dolmen goes from a slightly less than mediocre game to a frustrating and annoying mess.
Every moment that I somewhat enjoy, even if boring compared to other games, is ruined moments later by a terrible design choice or idea.
Enemy designs are mostly uninspired. However, there were some boss fights which felt good, at the start. For example, there’s a boss fight with a floating soldier called, funnily enough, the Ancient Solider. He’s fast and furious, but he becomes stunned if touched by these floating balls of electricity around the arena. It became a match of weaving, dodging, and watching him fly into these balls letting me lay my attacks onto him. Once he was finished, I felt surprised. I quite enjoyed it and went on with the next part of the area. Before I realized it was a double boss fight and the second one was nowhere near as fun, souring what I enjoyed before.
And that’s a pretty good metaphor for my entire experience with Dolmen’s gameplay. Every moment that I somewhat enjoy, even if boring compared to other games, is ruined moments later by a terrible design choice or idea. Reactors are a fun addition to the gameplay, but they’re ruined by constant management of energy. Boss fights are fun until they’re ruined by one-hit kill attacks and invisible walls in which your character gets stuck. Hazards placed in areas go from average to controller-smashing annoyances moment to moment.
Dolmen does do something super unique though. There’s a crafting mechanic which seems like it could be an interesting idea. You don’t find armor, weapons, or guns around Revion Prime, rather, you craft them to suit your needs. You can add three resources when crafting weapons, boosting different stats. It’s an interesting concept, if not made completely miserable by some of the most horrible UI/UX I’ve ever experienced. It’s a great mechanic, once again ruined by something moments later.
Sometimes, an idea simply needs to stay an idea, especially if you don’t have the power to create what you’re envisioning.
Visually, Dolmen is a blur of painfully drab colors, environments, and textures. It seems like Dolmen wanted to be gaming’s answer to Dead Space meets Dark Souls, and it’s pretty clear to see in some aspects, but the atmosphere and graphics of Dolmen are bad at best, even on PS5. It’s grimy, and while there’s always a place for disgusting and depraved areas in video games but Dolmen just lacks any passion in the areas.
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The best way to put it is that Dolmen’s very concept, development, and the finished product feel like what a child would conceptualize in their head as what a good video game would look like if they made one. “Let’s shove a futuristic area here”, “let’s put some alien dogs around the corner here”, followed up by “you need a rotting carcass and a powerful crystal to make this ice sword”. Sometimes, an idea simply needs to stay an idea, especially if you don’t have the power to create what you’re envisioning.
Overall, Dolmen is a painfully boring and clunky mess at the best of times. Its moments of good are outweighed by awful design choices, bad gameplay, and visuals that are uninspired. The idea of Dark Souls in Space is something that I’ve always dreamed of, something that I’ve wanted to see for years, but Dolmen takes that very idea and completely smashes it on the ground. But the worst thing about Dolmen isn’t what you see during the game, but what you feel. Dolmen is devoid of any soul, any passion. It feels like the product of burn-out and boredom halfway through development, as the game is pushed through the finish line.
A review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Friday 20th of May 2022
Completely agree with your review. I love most soulslike games even ones like Hellpoint & Immortal unchained were enjoyable to a degree and were interesting. I could play those games and finish them no issue but this really was a huge disappointment with so any issues I'm honestly shocked they released this so unpolished and broken. Poor excuse for a souls like