With Dolmen, Massive Work Studio is setting out to deliver a Lovecraftian action-RPG that draws inspiration from some of the greatest works in entertainment. More often than not, Dolmen manages to deliver a worthwhile experience. However, the game is not without its core issues.
A Lovecraftian dream
In Dolmen, players find themselves sent to the dangerous alien world of Revion Prime. Unlike several other planets throughout the galaxy, Revion Prime has not been colonized by humans, and is overrun with dangerous alien creatures. The player is tasked with retrieving valuable Dolmen crystals, which are used for space exploration, and bringing them back for your employer. However, just getting in and out alive will prove to be a challenge in its own right.
What Dolmen immediately nails is the atmospheric and cosmic horror. From my first steps onto Revion Prime, there was an uneasiness I got from my surroundings. The weird growth on the cave walls, the echoing of mysterious sounds in the distance. My concerns were quickly affirmed as the game wastes little time throwing you into the heat of battle.
The world of Revion Prime is a fascinating place to explore. Every corner of the planet feels like something ripped out of a lovecraftian story, and it’s clear that world design was a top priority for the developers. I wanted to know more about this world, and frequently found myself turning over every stone that may shed light on more details about this universe. I hope Massive Work Studio expands on it with more DLC or spin-off content.
Get Dolmen or die trying
When I played Dolmen at PAX East 2022, the developers listed different games and movies that inspired the game. Among those titles was of course, Dark Souls. Looking past the cliche that is comparing any game to a Soulsborne, it’s clear to see the influence in Dolmen. Defeating enemies and exploring the world rewards the player with Nanites and Dolmen Fragments. These valuable items will be dropped upon death. If players fail to retrieve them from their corpse and die again, they’re permanently lost.
The influence is also clear in combat. Dolmen features that classic sword and shield approach, with players needing to time blocks, dodges, and parries, while also finding that perfect window to land an attack. What I really appreciated about Dolmen’s combat, is how many approaches players are able to take, with most options being available from the beginning.
When you create your character, you can decide between multiple classes, which will change your starter weapons. This includes swords, pistols, axes, shields, and spears. Your class will also determine your beginning stat distribution. Luckily, you’re not bound to your decision, as Dolmen allows players to change up their loadout or prioritize their stats as they see fit.
As for progression, Dolmen leans heavily into its RPG side. The Technologies tab offers three separate skill trees for Human, Revian, and Driller. Each tree features boosts such as increased health, stamina, melee damage, defense, and so on. Depending on your play style, you can use the Technologies tab to fine-tune your build.
Combat in Dolmen can be challenging, but feels fair more often than not. I liked the cycle of discovering a new enemy, getting destroyed, learning its habits, and then coming back with a game plan. However there were instances where enemies were awkwardly placed for the element of surprise, leaving me to frantically flip my camera around until I could spot them.
That fact that you can’t jump in Dolmen felt quite frustrating in combat and world exploration. There were countless instances where I felt like I should have been able to leap over a small enemy, hop across a gap, or jump onto a platform where I wanted to investigate something cool, but I just… couldn’t. It’s a restrictive omission and makes the game feel dated overall.
Lost in the Upside Down
Visually, Dolmen is quite an appealing game. The cosmic horror of it all lends itself well to colorful yet creepy environments, as well as glowing tech and gadgets that you carry around. Playing on PC, I was able to get great performance out of the game without it ever experiencing severe framerate drops or crashes.
While the game is usually quite pretty, I found the cutscenes in Dolmen to be a noticeable step down in quality. The cinematics don’t hold a candle to the quality of the actual game, with a significantly lower resolution as well as some pretty rough animations. It was enough to pull me out of the game and break the immersion just about every time.
Just like the Lovecraftian influence informs the visual identity of Dolmen, it’s also present in the sound design. The eerie themes haunt players as they creep through different corridors, increasing the sense of dread that’s constantly present throughout Dolmen. The game also knows when to be quiet, letting the ambient sounds set the stage in some instances.
Doling out pain
Dolmen is a solid sci-fi spin on the Soulslike formula, even if there are some places where it falls short. Not being able to jump is a simple but detrimental design flaw, and the mediocre cinematics bog down what could have been a very cinematic experience. Despite that, Dolmen still features challenging combat, as well as a variety of ways to play to your own unique style. I look forward to seeing if and how Massive Work Studio will build upon this foundation in the future.
This review is based on a Steam copy of Dolmen provided by the publisher. Dolmen releases on May 20, 2022 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, and PS5.