Dolmen Preview – The Souls-Like You Didn’t Know You Wanted
I play a lot of souls-likes. As someone who has played games for the better part of my life, I can say that it’s very rare for a new subgenre to come along and get adopted so readily and feverishly as the souls-like. Things like Lords of the Fallen, Nioh, Death’s Gambit, etc all have a special charm to them. There is one thing that has become clearer and clearer since Demon’s Souls emerged, fully formed from a vat labeled “Miyazaki’s game fuel”: There is a right way to do a souls-like and a completely wrong way. Some games focus solely on the difficulty aspect of a souls-like and forego things like the cool interconnected maps, creature designs, and environmental storytelling. I honestly couldn’t care if a game is presenting my story in the background if it’s so gruelingly hard that I get killed before I can even take in the sights. I’m happy to say, so far, Dolmen does it right.
Dolmen takes two things that I love – souls-likes and Dead Space – and combines them into this kind of cosmic gumbo that I very much enjoy. In the preview I played, after you painstakingly create your character, you are slammed into Revion Prime. What’s happening on Revion Prime? Nothing good. Creatures have overrun the planet, mysterious beings are trying to lord over what’s left. You just want to get off the damn planet. To that end, you’ll need to fight. If you’ve played a souls game or a souls-like, you pretty much know what you’re in for. Pick a class. I went with “giant sword wielder” because I love great swords in games.
After settling in with your decisions you’re given some vague instructions, and start your journey in Dolmen. The combat feels…a bit jank, but not bad. It doesn’t hit the combat sweet spot of something like Sekiro, but it shouldn’t be expected to. The weapons – remember, I chose a greatsword – lack heft. It could be the sci-fi trappings of Dolmen, where the suit you’re wearing makes you able to swing a great word like an empty wrapping paper tube. If that’s the case, I’d like the game to tell me. Give me a reason that the great sword feels just as light as a small hand ax. It’s a minor gripe, overshadowed by how much Dolmen does right. You can dodge of course; rolling away from combat with the push of a button. The counter system feels good, and I felt accomplished when I’d manage to get the timing down to absolutely punish a monster.
The weapons themselves, being in a sci-fi game, all look appropriately sci-fi. My great sword had a great, glowing edge that made me feel like Blade Runner didn’t feature nearly enough blacksmiths. Even the simple hand axes have a sleek and modern look to them, befitting some type of lumberjack who hauls logs on a hover sled or something. It feels like the sci-fi future, is what I’m saying. The combat is difficult, but not overwhelming. if you want to run in and get smashed by the gross creatures of Dolmen, go ahead. A methodical approach – like every souls-like game in the beginning – is key to triumphing in confrontation. If you don’t feel like getting in close, Dolmen has you covered. An interesting thing it does is give you a sidearm. You can of course spec entirely in ranged weapons if you’d like, but even a great sword user like me was allowed to wield ridiculous guns.
In a way, it feels a bit Bloodborne. You can shoot enemies to get their attention and follow-up with melee, or you can keep your distance and pop them as they try to catch you. Be wary though, as eventually ranged enemies will ruin your day via their own projectile might. The one thing Dolmen doesn’t share in common with Bloodborne is that the guns can’t be used to stun enemies for a killing blow. They’re still useful little bits of tech that got me out of more than one jam. The guns run on energy, which your health restoration runs on as well. You’ll need to manage your energy to use guns and heal yourself effectively. It’s the small systems like that, that make Dolmen feel bigger than the sum of its parts.
The biggest thing Dolmen is trying to do is how it handles gear. As you travel across Revion Prime and defeat enemies and open caches, you’ll find pieces of things. Pieces of monsters, pieces of old tech, pieces of machinery. These can be taken back to your ship to be turned into new gear. I guess I should mention your ship. It acts as a sort of hub area in Dolmen. When you find a
bonfire beacon, you can transport immediately back to your ship, where there are pods for leveling up, and a workbench to build new gear. The gear has this DIY look that I love. Some of it is Monster Hunter-esque, seeing you use bits of flesh, bone, and sinew to make futuristic armor out of primal pieces. It is visually impressive, and the slate of gear I was able to build in the preview was expansive enough that I’m more than excited for the full game.
In the second area of my preview – which I didn’t know was going to happen – I was dropped into a completely different part of the game with a completely pre-built character. While I like the chainsaw sword I now possessed, I was more than a bit peeved that the character I had built was gone. That is the nature of previews though, and not a mark against Dolmen. The bottom line is this: If you like a souls-like, and can get down on just a smidge of jank, I think you’re really going to like Dolmen. You can wishlist Dolmen HERE.