AA titles occupy an interesting space in the videogame industry. They’re not exactly on the AAA pedigree in terms of production value, even though this standard is met with criticism recently, and rightly so. Nor are they indie titles trying to captivate the industry with creative gameplay designs or art styles. Instead, AA games remind me of simpler times. When games releases were finished products content-wise and carry a “what you see is what you get” vibe.
Enter Dolmen, an action RPG game that takes cues from games like Dark Souls and puts its own unique spin on it. Developed by Brazil-based Massive Work Studio and published by Prime Matter, Dolmen is the developer’s maiden title. The game is fittingly situated between the AA and indie space. However, let’s get this out of the way, Dolmen is a bit rough around the edges. But certain elements from the game kept my attention and engaged with the title.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Dolmen follows a rather strange storyline involving corporations and interplanetary colonization. The Zoan Corporation sends genetically modified humans, known as Drillers, to colonize and investigate the planet Revian Prime. The planet is rich in Dolmen crystals. These crystals allow interaction between different dimensions and hold the potential to revolutionize space exploration.
However, after a catastrophic accident, the player (assuming the role of a Driller) is hired to bring these Dolmen crystals back from the planet. Along the way, players will face dimensional fissures within the station that create intersections between different universes. The mission becomes a struggle to survive and leave the planet to its secrets and dangers.
Similar to Dark Souls titles, Dolmen hides its lore around in its environment. They further flesh out the storyline providing additional context to the ensuing chaos around the Driller. It’s a nice tip of the cap to FromSoftware who are masters of environmental storytelling. Though from my experience, I did not care much for the game’s storyline. Instead, I was more engrossed more in the game’s solid combat.
Dolmen – Combat That Satisfies
By far Dolmen’s hook is its combat, and again, it clearly takes cues from FromSoftware titles. The staple light and heavy attacks find themselves on R1/RB and R2/RT. The Driller can also wield a shield and roll when danger is imminent. Although Dolmen does not sport a weapons art system similar to Dark Souls, it provides an alternative that works well enough.
Sprinting plays a factor in changing up your melee attacks. Following up an attack immediately after sprinting results in a new attack animation. It also happens to deal a significant amount of damage output. The system works well and helps cover ground if you want to go into a rush into the battle. Just make sure you have enough stamina if you go the Rambo route.
Additionally, the Driller comes equipped with a ranged weapon. The blue energy meter is reserved for both your ranged weapon and for healing. So, you will always have to make strategic choices of whether you need to heal or hit enemies from afar. You can use a battery to refill your energy meter, similar to flasks in Dark Souls. Though ranged attacks also have another added bonus as well.
Ranged weapons dish out status weakness attacks such as Ice, Fire, and Acid. Most of the creatures you will face will typically be resistant to one type and weak to another status type. Discovering vulnerabilities and resistances is key to surviving confrontations and is highly enjoyable.
Eventually, you will be switching out your loads based on the enemies you’re encountering. Yes, the game is challenging and doesn’t pull its punches. You will likely die a lot. But that sense of triumph and overcoming adversity are well maintained in Dolmen. It left a sense of satisfaction and kept me engaged throughout my time with the game.
Crafting and Builds Galore
Another interesting aspect of Dolmen is its robust crafting system. Not only is crafting interesting, but it is also essential to surviving as well. Defeating enemies will drop both nanites (think of souls from Dark Souls or runes from Elden Ring) and crafting materials. These crafting materials are both used to craft new gear and add bonus attributes to your equipment. This includes additional attack, defense, status defense, or reducing stamina for attacks. You can upgrade your gear as well, which is highly useful to survive in the game.
Interestingly, Dolmen’s gear is tied to passive abilities (called technologies) as well. There are three different types of technologies: Human, Revian, and Driller. These technologies correspond to a specific set of bonus passive abilities. For instance, Human technology is focused on energy boosts and ranged attacks. While Driller technology focuses on increasing HP and acid damage.
The more you upgrade specific types of gear, the more technologies you’ll unlock. However, keep in mind the more advanced gear you upgrade, requires higher player attributes. Overall, it’s an intuitive system that helps create build diversity in Dolmen and brought meaningful changes to your build.
Dodgy Level Design & UI
The level design is lackluster in Dolmen. Early on in the game, the Crater area was a nightmare to navigate. It was a multi-story circular area with an acid pit in the middle. Each story had a narrow platform with no barrier and has multiple enemies that would often push you over and into an acidic death. The worse part of it was trying to retrieve your corpse to restore your nanites. These design issues were consistent in other locations as well and proved to be a nuisance throughout my time with the game.
The User Interface (UI) was also another point of contention. Besides the basic and quite frankly ugly-looking UI, navigating it was also problematic. The green highlight was difficult to notice and switching between tabs often results in mistakenly changing options. Though it must be said, it’s not uncommon for AA games to have basic UIs in place.
Impressive Use of Tech, Bland Graphics
To my surprise, Dolmen used AMD’s Fidelity FX Super Resolution (FSR) 1.0 upscaling technology. The upscaler immediately increased the game’s framerates up to 200 FPS while on 1440p resolution. It was an immense upshot of performance at no additional cost. However, the image’s sharpness took a beating and often rendered blurry textures. Icons in the UI also looked pixelated and blurry with FSR on. However, the graphics themselves were nothing worth noting in the first place.
Graphically, Dolmen is not a looker. It has an antiquated look as if it was released during the early Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era. The game’s art direction itself is not that impressive. The Driller character models look bland and uninspiring. The same applies to enemy designs too. Though there is somewhat a variety of enemy/creature types, none of their designs particularly stand out. The sentiment is the same for the game’s environments as well. Although there is variety in environment biomes, they are not fascinating areas to play in.
Dolmen First Look Summary
Despite its graphical and technical shortcomings, Dolmen is fun to play. The game introduces both interesting character and crafting systems. While the combat remained fun, engaging, and satisfying throughout my playthrough of Dolmen. The game’s modest system requirements and $39.99 price point will likely entice players. Be warned though that Dolmen is tough as nails. Especially the boss fights, and the game will punish you if ever let your guard down.
A substantial day one patch will also be available when Dolmen launches on May 20. It will address many technical issues and should provide a better experience for players overall.
Dolmen is set to launch on Steam, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms. Look out for our full review soon.
Update – Dolmen review is available here.
Note – The publisher provided a Steam key for the purpose of this preview.