Lovecraftian horror is something we see a lot of now in games. With imagery that lends well to the medium, it’s quickly become a mainstay in release line-ups. Dolmen is one of these games and manages to meld sci-fi tech with cosmic horror and do so by imbuing it all with elements body horror baked into the very floor of the level designs.
Developed by Massive Work Studio, the game centers on a highly capitalist future society where the Zoan corporation has been mining planets for Dolmen crystals, items that have the power to revolutions space travel and exploration. But, after a catastrophic interdimensional incident, you’re hired to bring Dolmen crystals back to the archives while trying to survive the onslaught of hostile creatures and dimensional fissures within the station that create intersections between different universes. A third-person action RPG, Dolmen is also single-player except for the 4-person co-op boss-fight feature, which I didn’t get to test this preview, but has me beyond excited for the future.
So, one of the first elements of Dolmen that has to be commented on is the game’s beautiful opening cinematics that show a level animation detail that quickly pulls you into the world. Somehow, the world that is created in Dolmen’s opening is one that looks both familiar and inventive, tapping into what we know from sci-fi horror and yet adds unique enough elements that pull you in further. In addition to the great opening, there are small items to read for more lore as you move through the world that helps create a full picture of the world. And when I say world, I don’t just mean the planet you’re on, I mean wold-building as a whole.
One of the most important elements of Dolmen is its combat system and by that token, its dying system. Combat is simple at first with melee, ranged weaponry, and a shield to parry. However timing when fighting enemies and ensuring you don’t become overwhelmed is key.
I’m a rush in player which meant when I first started playing I easily tried to group a small mob of what.I thought was a manageable amount of enemies and attempt hack my way through them. And well, that didn’t work. While fighting you don’t have access to healing yourself since it takes time to hold the key for a few a seconds. That said, if you don’t parry accurately you’re going to take damage, which means combat becomes a strategy and this in turn pulls you more into the game.
To push you further into thinking through your combat path (something that while frustrating I appreciate) dying in Dolmen has consequences. First, this isn’t a soulsborne in the sense that you don’t lose everything you have like gear and weapons. That said, you do drop all of the Nanite and Dolmen Fragments you’re carrying which can result in a major setback when it comes to upgrading your character. That said, you can collect what you dropped as of your last death, which means after one death you collect the materials but two means items are gone forever. While this may not seem like the largest set back, when you try to save to level up, it’s something extremely noticeable and hinders your ability to progress. Even in this non-liner preview I found myself struggling at times to just make it through one section of a zone.
My only issue when it comes to combat is that the default button choices aren’t exactly finger friendly which makes it hard to time parries and attacks and switch weapons with ease. However this can be easily adjusted with either remapping or controller support, two easy fixes. Additionally, given how hard it is to defeat a single boss, it’s clear why 4-person co-op is a necessary addition.
That said, the tension that builds because progress difficult is heightened by the environmental design. The anatomy of the planet is stunningly designed. It all looks like parts of a living body. There are unsettling sounds and atmosphere that keeps you on your toes and embraces the more both the overt visuals and the more subtle hidden elements. The only issue with the environments is that navigation becomes beyond tricky, especially in the early game while you’re still getting your feet wet. As you move through the environment it’s easy to get turned around, and run in a circle.
Overall though, Dolmen has a lot of potential especially fans of difficult enemies and combat that takes finesse. Additionally, the creature and level design bring out the best in cosmic horror and the story brings out sci-fi intensity that I can’t wait to see more of. With so much more coming in the full game, it’s exciting to see where things will go especially when it comes to the promised 76 pieces of armor and crafting systems that I don’t think I got the hang of in the preview.
Dolmen is set to release some time in 2022 on PlayStation 4&5, Xbox One and Xbox S|X, and PC.