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Written by Henry Yu on 12/6/2021 for PC  
More On: Dolmen

In a day and age where Soulsborne indie titles appear left and right, it’s hard to find one that actually catches my eye. Having played every From Software title as well as being a huge horror fan, the upcoming game Dolmen by Massive Work Studio was a no-brainer for me. The Dolmen announcement trailer made a very memorable impression back in June 2021 as the game encompasses sci-fi Lovecraftian cosmic horrors with the classic Soulslike formula. 

I was lucky enough to try my hands on a preview build of Dolmen, and I will say that I am quite impressed with what the full game has to offer. Dolmen is a third person role playing game that features punishing combat and intricate puzzles set in an alien world known as Revion Prime. Various corporations are trying to get their hands on what is known as a Dolmen crystal, which has the potential to revolutionize space exploration. After a treacherous catastrophe struck, you are hired to venture into Revion Prime to retrieve said crystals while facing hostile creatures and figuring out the planet’s secrets.

Let’s get the most obvious aspect out of the way. Dolmen looks absolutely gorgeous, with its handcrafted world and extremely slick looking protagonist, every corner looks vibrantly dangerous. Every piece of armor and weapon I equipped in the preview looked extremely sleek and polished. In one hand I was wielding an extra long chainsaw and in the other a gigantic energy shield while a slick rifle was equipped on my back. I felt so cool being this futuristic space soldier fighting alien baddies. The term fashion souls is commonly used in the Soulslike community to describe aesthetically pleasing outfits and Dolmen blew it out of the park in terms of that.

In terms of sound design, Dolmen does a good job with its voice acting and weapon impact. Dialogue and cutscenes are voice acted and sound fitting given the narrative and setting of the game. During battle, weapons sound distinctive and impactful along with enemy attacks feeling well telegraphed and deliberate.

Combat is slick and intuitive. I played on a PC. The keyboard controls are a bit finicky and unnatural so I would suggest playing with a controller. You have your typical light and heavy attack, combined with a side dodge. These actions spend stamina, which is akin to a traditional Souls game. Dolmen does introduce some novel elements though, with gunplay and the energy bar. The energy bar acts sort of like mana, except it’s much more versatile. Attacking with a gun spends temporary energy points, which means you can continue to shoot as long as you wait for the bar to recharge. Healing is instantaneous, but spends permanent energy. The only way to restore energy is to drink an energy potion, which takes an absurdly long amount of time, or resting at this game’s equivalent of a bonfire. The gunplay camera angle was a bit clunky as sometimes it zoomed into shoot and sometimes it didn’t zoom depending if you locked on to the enemy or not.

Along with combat basics, there are also invincibility frames and parries, which are essential in any Souslike game. Dodging provides a generous window of i-frames and can be used strategically to escape unblockable attacks. Parries are achieved if you block with your shield at the exact time an enemy attack is about to land. It is a bit tricky to find the timing but is quite intuitive once you get the hang of it. In the preview, I was also introduced to 3 different elemental damage types: fire, ice, and acid that you can apply to your weapons. Since most enemies have at least one elemental weakness, exploiting this mechanic can lend you an upper hand in battle. Often I would find myself shooting my rifle to stack ice damage then smashing my enemies with my sword to deal some extra damage.

The preview build contains 2 sections, the dump and the wasteland. Each sector ends with a challenging boss encounter that puts your skills and wits to the test. The first boss, called Dementula, is a gigantic spider-like creature that has the ability to spawn smaller spiders as well as perform unblockable attacks. Massive Work Studio did a fantastic job integrating the environment with the fight by making Dementula hatching dormant eggs to summon mobs rather than spawning them out of thin air. This made the encounter much more immersive and natural. Landing a heavy attack on Dementula caused it to be staggered, allowing you to get some extra hits in before it stood back up. The second boss in the preview was Zallan Kheep, which was some sort of alien lieutenant wielding dual ice and fire blades. Both fights were challenging but ultimately fair. I do wish the developers implemented some sort of visceral or backstab animation for when you successfully parry an attack.

Like any Soulslike game, you have your “souls” currency, called nanites in this game. Upon death, you lose all your nanites and have one chance to collect it again at your site of death. Should you die again without collecting it, you lose it forever. Nanites are used to level up your character and Dolmen has a robust rpg level up system, allowing for a diversity of different builds. Equipment and gear can be crafted from various loot found in the world, from enemy drops, boss drops, to hidden treasure chests. Because of this, exploration is encouraged and the game doesn’t shy away from inserting areas that are off the beaten path in terms of level design.

Dolmen offers co-op of up to 4 players for boss encounters, but I was unable to test out that feature in this preview. There is a second type of currency called Dolmen Fragments, which are used to summon other players for a co-op session. Bosses can also be respawned using these fragments should you wish to fight it again for the thrill or to farm boss drops. This is an excellent mechanic, in terms of replayability and longevity of the game. I do wish more developers would incorporate gameplay elements like these in the future.

Even though this was just a snippet of what Dolmen has to offer, I cannot wait for the full game to be released. It has everything a Soulslike fan would want, combined with the Lovecraftian atmosphere and lore. There’s still plenty of time for the developers to polish the game further to provide an impeccable experience for its players. I’ll be counting down the days until I can set foot on Revion Prime again. Dolmen is releasing sometime in 2022 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. 

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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