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Dwarf Fortress Mini Review

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Now for a game that few people have heard of. Dwarf Fortress. Now, many people will say "what the hell is this... thing?" The answer is: it's a roguelike. People will ask "well, what's a roguelike?" A roguelike is an RPG typically made with permanent death/loss, ASCII graphics, and a heck of a lot of randomizing. Some pictures have cropped up over the internet about how ridiculous this game's learning curve is: indeed, the curve is what makes most people stop trying to learn it. Once you get past that curve, the game appears very simple and, well, fun.

Story? There IS NO STORY. You pick a location, you tell your dwarves what to do. You build, you smelt ores, make weapons, bedrooms, elaborate mechanisms, rooms to stage elaborate "accidents" for your nobles, etc. YOU decide what the story is, and to do that, you PLAY.

Graphics: This is one of the funny things about Dwarf Fortress. Part of the learning curve difficulty is that the game is, by default, rendered in ASCII graphics. However, there are many GRAPHICAL packs out there that turn the game into something more easily recognizable. I have played enough of the game that I can play it in ASCII and be just as successful as with a graphical set. The relative simplicity of its graphical system lets it focus on everything else, so I welcome its simplicity.

Sound: Well, there's not much to say here. Mute the music that comes with the game, and put on your favorite tracks, because there's pretty much no sound involved. Again, time was spent elsewhere, such as in the gameplay.

Speaking of... Gameplay: This is the heart and soul of Dwarf Fortress. For everything else that the game lacks, it makes up for in the sheer complexity and stupidity of things you can do. You can flood your fortress with water. You can flood your fortress with magma (albeit slowly). You can lose because you forgot to raise a militia to fight off goblins. You can lose because one dwarf, who was the friend of another dwarf, who was the friend of another 20 dwarves, etc, went insane and killed himself. Now his friend is depressed, and eventually kills himself. His 20 or so friends are depressed at his death, and eventually kill themselves. The other 80 or so dwarves, each one a friend of at least one of those 22 original dwarves, become depressed as well. Some proceed to throw temper tantrums, which make all the other dwarves unhappy, spurring more temper tantrums. As pandemonium spreads through your fortress in which you have no control, a Dragon decides now's a good time to visit your fortress. So while your soldiers are busy with their tantrums, the Dragon proceeds to burn everyone in your fortress.

Now, those are the ways to LOSE, of which there are many, and I encourage you to explore how many ways you can find to lose. I still come up with ridiculous ways to lose.

Now, there is no way to "win." There is only survival. Your fortress's success is measured in how long you've prospered, and how much material wealth your fortress has accumulated. Some fortresses last for only about 2 or 3 years. Some players have managed to get theirs into their 30s before they got bored and proceeded to lose, intentionally. The real joy of the game is figuring out the most efficient way to run your fortress: you have to get your dwarves booze (as we all know, dwarves need alcohol to work happily); then, you need to provide your dwarves with sleeping accomodations; then, you need to provide your fortress with some sort of defence; also, you'll need to provide your dwarves with food; maybe you'll also want to develop elaborate trap complexes or computers to automate things, and so you'll need a dwarf with mechanics to get involved. The level of complexity that this game can offer is what most people either drop off from, or keep playing for.

Overall: If you have a LOT of patience to learn how to play this game, you can easily spend hundreds upon hundreds of hours playing around with fortresses. Making all sorts of crazy things happen. Fighting off sieges, building elaborate constructions or bottomless pits, managing the happiness of your dwarves and avoiding total social collapse. Of course, I am not even doing the game justice: there is so much to talk about, if I were to create a manual on this game, including all the things I've come up with to do, it would be several dozen pages long.

It certainly isn't a game for everyone, but those who do manage to play it find a lot of enjoyment. I have all sorts of crazy stories I could tell, but most of them wouldn't make sense to someone who hasn't played the game.

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    Target Practice's Avatar
    I love this game. Only recently got into it at about the fourth attempt because the learning curve is that steep (read: effing vertical). However, after reading about the exploits of Boatmurdered (google it if you don't know already) where they decided to solve their elephant problem by flooding the outside world with magma, I knew it had to be worth a go.

    Just lost my first fortress to goblin 'fun', although we did manage to kill a minotaur before that. My favourite moments were a) my hunter becoming a one-dwarf badger apocalypse, and b) one of my dwarves going crazy and trying to kill a miner, who simply pushed her over and decapitated her with his pick.

    Seriously, it's difficult to understate how much awesome you can wring out of this game if you're willing to tough the first few maddening hours out. I found a really good youtube tutorial for getting started if anyone's interested: DFVIDTUTS2011 Basics - YouTube
    kyle700's Avatar
    Azgalath's Avatar
    Great game. I tried to get into it a year ago, but couldn't find the time. Lately, I've been playing it more and I love it. I lost my first five fortresses due to bad planning and design... and almost lost my current fortress due to flooding! Now, I'm just mining as deep as I can until I find some more FUN.