In archaeology, Dolmen is described as a stone monument usually consisting of large, flat stones that come together to form a small tomb. In video games, Dolmen is the latest work from Brazilian developers Massive Work Studio that consists of large, flat environments, coming together to entomb itself within archaic video game concepts. Unfortunate name choice? Not entirely.
On the planet Revion Prime, massive excavation works have been in progress to unearth a crystal with unique properties, supposedly allowing interaction between different realities. Unfortunately for those on the surface, they also discover a whole host of alien entities that aren’t exactly fans, and it’s up to you to go down to the planet, recover Dolmen crystals and figure out exactly what went wrong.
Go Go Power Ranger
From the outset, Dolmen sets itself as a tough-as-nails action RPG that will test your abilities. You create your chosen character from a small number of classes that each bring with them unique combat abilities, from up close melee combat to more ranged focus attacks, along with pre-determined stats for all the typical role playing standards. Once you hit the surface, you begin to explore tight corridors and rocky formations that have plenty of monsters and larger bosses lurking in the shadows, and it will take timing and resource management in order to survive long enough to the next checkpoint. Die, and it’s back to your previous save state, wiping your progress.
So, yes, it’s another of the many live, die, repeat video games that have continued to find success on the market in recent years. Sadly, Dolmen struggles under the weight of trying to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack, its combat awkward at the best of times and the difficulty jumping at you from the very beginning. It’s a shame, because there’s some interesting concepts at play that would have been more fun if given the chance to breath. For example, the energy bar is your primary source of both attacking with ranged weapons as well as healing. The more energy you have, the further you’ll get, essentially. But it also can be used to imbue your abilities with certain elemental effects, which can push your abilities further and do massive amounts of damage compared to garden variety attacks.
There are some cool moments to be had through Energy Mode, suddenly bursting to life with fire all around you or hacking your way out of a jam, but the problems begin and end here. Having so many elements tied down to one bar means (especially in the early going) you’re going to have a hard time balancing it all. Do you risk not healing in order to have enough energy left to fire your sniper rifle from range? Or do you heal and take an even bigger risk of running in with dual swords, hoping for a clean melee kill to reserve your energy bar solely for keeping you alive? With a tweak here or there, this mechanic could have been a cooler selling point, but it just doesn’t feel balanced enough to make it either enjoyable or bearable.
The menus are a challenge at times too
It doesn’t help, mind, that trying to fire whatever pistol or rifle you may have just doesn’t have the right, snappy feeling to it that you would expect. When it works it works well, taking a few sword swipes, dodging back a few feet before finishing off a foe with a quick blast to the head feels satisfying, but those moments are few and far between thanks to a poorly implemented camera, enemies that are unrelenting (though never more than a handful at a time) and a default control scheme that just never feels comfortable to get used to.
As far as Revion Prime is concerned, the various critters and dangers that await don’t illicit fear as much as anger. Too often I found myself fumbling with the above-mentioned mechanics only to die from an enemy that just wouldn’t go down. You learn, over time, that patience can be rewarding (of course) but it wears thin too often when you round a corner to be met with another creature jumping out at you, your health bar whittled down to nothing before you have a chance to react. The fact that your timeline is ‘erased’, meaning all enemies return when you do, can lead to frustration as you follow down the same corridor repeatedly until finally figuring things out. Unlike the obvious comparisons, Dolmen feels more like a sense of relief when you finally get past a tricky spot instead of a sense of accomplishment, and its creature designs and claustrophobic passageways don’t create the same feeling of awe that the many Dark Souls-inspired IPs have brought to the genre over the years, leaving you less excited to press on.
There’s a good game hidden underneath Dolmen’s surface. RPG fans will appreciate the various upgrades and abilities that can be unlocked over time, granted the menu system feels more like a mid-90s experience than a modern video game release, all tiny boxes that can be annoying to navigate. But if you can forgive and push your way past the controls and the endless deaths, the story holds some interesting narrative nuggets that lovers of Ridley Scott’s Alien may get a kick out of.
Dolmen is awkward at the best of times, feeling like a game more suited to the PS3/Xbox 360 era than a modern action title. That’s a shame too, because there’s plenty of potential here, it’s just constantly bogged down by mechanics that never feel quite right. Fans looking for another hefty challenge might find it here, but there are better recommendations elsewhere within the genre.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Massive Work Studio
- Prime Matter
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox X|S / Xbox One / PC
- May 20, 2022