Title – Dolmen
Platforms – PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC
Release Date – May 20th, 2022
Developer – Massive Work Entertainment
Publisher – Koch Media
MSRP – $39.99
ESRB – M for Mature
Disclaimer – This product is being reviewed on the Xbox Series X. A review copy was provided by Koch Media Industries for the purpose of this review. This review may also contain spoilers for certain gameplay and story elements. Watch at your own risk, you have been warned. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon Affiliate and does gain financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page.
Another indie developer and another attempt at a souls-like video game running on Unreal Engine 4. Welcome to Dolmen, a game that mixes cosmic horror with souls-like action. As a souls fan, it sounds really exciting. Finally! A proper sci-fi souls title! Not too fast! Why does it sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. It’s even worse than you could’ve imagined. Welcome to our review of Dolmen.
Do Not Disrespect the Souls Genre Like This
I don’t know where to start with Dolmen. Do I discuss the awful copy-pasted attempt at your typical souls’ mechanics and UI, or do I talk about the horrendous enemy design and atrociously awkward unresponsive combat? Elden Ring and Dark Souls may have their bits of jank here and there, but not on the same level as other games that attempt to replicate the genre’s combat systems. As a massive souls fan, I found this game rather insulting to those who enjoy souls titles. It doesn’t play well, feels awkward, looks awful, and, ultimately, it’s a repetitive slog.
For one, the UI is basically a direct copy of Dark Souls. Second, when you die, you get the message: “Time Elapsed” on the screen, which is basically Dolmen’s version of “You Died.” Just like a Souls game, you have to run back to your holographic-looking corpse and collect it to regain whatever experience points you dropped. I understand wanting to appeal to the Souls fans, but if you are going to try it, then please be creative or throw in a twist that ties into the specific lore of the game. Instead, Massive Work Entertainment decides to literally copy most of the mechanics, throw in a bunch of art assets to make it look different, and call it a day.
Don’t even get me started on the horrendous combat and creature designs. Fighting bugs on a space planet is not anything new. If you are going to make an insect one of your enemies, at least make it look cool as opposed to something that I’ve seen in millions of other space games. Even the controls are a copycat of the From Software games. Your R1 is your light attack, and R2 is your heavy attack. As always, your light attacks do less damage but swing faster, and your heavy attacks can stun the enemy for a bit and deal more damage. And yes, there is rolling in the game, but the stamina depletion makes it awkward to use. There are a lot of weird delays, and the game can feel unresponsive at times, which, in return, gives off a poor experience.
You can lock on to your targets, which, thankfully, makes combat feel a bit better. The attack animations themselves are extremely stiff and feel rigid instead of organic. I’ve fallen off the edges many times due to delayed animations, and how far your character moves forward or backward when doing specific combo hits. While falling off the edge during combat is nothing new to the Souls franchise, in Dolmen it happens way too often when it shouldn’t. What’s even worse is the enemy attack animations. Combine this with atrocious player-controlled attacks, and you get a combat system that feels disjointed, overly clunky, and repetitive.
The level design in Dolem is just as uninspired, and the sense of direction is bad. At least in previous souls titles like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Elden Ring, you can sense where you are supposed to go. The exploration in those games is well-executed, and it’s one of their biggest draws. However, in Dolmen, it took me two hours to find a pathway I kept missing because it was blending in with the ugly-looking walls and textures. Everything looks the same in Dolmen, there are too many repeated textures, and the lighting isn’t that great either. Sometimes you can’t tell if there is an open path in front of you or a dead end, and when you have a game that takes a lot of inspiration from an exploration model then that’s a recipe for disaster.
I wanted to like Dolmen. I like aliens, and I like sci-fi just as much as I like dark and gothic fantasy. It was obvious what Massive Work Entertainment tried with Dolmen, and I am not a fan of bashing someone’s work. However, when things are this bad, and the developer pushes to copy everything on a one-to-one scale without introducing anything new or fresh to the table, then I am left with no choice. Speaking of fresh and new things, the only thing Dolmen has of its own is the crafting system. When you kill enemies, they have a chance to drop different rarities of loot that can be used for crafting weapons and shields.
In Dolmen, you can teleport to your ship using the Bonfire-like beacons that you find in the world. Once you are in your ship, you can customize your character’s armor again and change its colors if you do not like what you chose at the start of the game. And you can jump into a special pod that will let you level up. You can put points into various stats such as constitution, strength, energy, endurance, and others. The game also features negative effects such as ice and poison that can slow the enemies or you down.
The boss fights in Dolmen are just as awful as the regular enemies. Light spoiler territory here! The first boss is an up-scaled in size insect that you fight at the very beginning of the game. Really, guys, you couldn’t make something more interesting? I am not opposed to an insect boss, just make it look somewhat unique, please. The face of the boss is slightly altered, but, for the most part, it looks the same as the basic enemy. As far as the pacing of the fight goes, it was quite easy to kill. Once again, the awful stiff animations and unresponsive combat make these fights feel like a complete bore and chore at the same time.
I will be honest, I couldn’t be bothered to finish the game. It felt so boring that I had to stop and occupy my mind with something else. I’ve spent roughly 4-5 hours before dropping it completely. Now I know some of you may say this is a lazy review, and a game must be finished before a final verdict is given. There is not much going on in Dolmen. The first 2 to 3 hours of the game are a good representation of how it works on a fundamental level, and the harsh truth is that the fundamentals are bad.
As someone who has hundreds and hundreds of hours across all of the Souls games over the years, I do not need to spend that much time on a new souls-like game to tell you if it’s awful or not. Oh, and those who are going to be asking about the difficulty curve, the game doesn’t have any difficulties to choose from. You pick a preset of stats similar to the other games, or you can start as a nobody and level from scratch, which is what I chose.
I am going to assume that Massive Work Entertainment has a small development team. If that is the case and you guys are reading or watching this, then the only thing I can tell you is that it’s never good to copycat everything one-to-one. There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from a product that you love, but you have to learn how to execute your ideas properly. I can also understand that being a small devloper team also means a much smaller budget. I would strongly advise making a much less ambitious game that you can spend more time refining instead of worrying about creating an awful lot of art assets and trying to make too many systems work well together.
Either way, this is the game that was developed and put out, and my job is to give it a fair judgment. My criticism is that I do not think Dolmen is a good game and the developer took on more than they could chew with the experience and the budget they had at the time. Everything feels overly rigid, stiff, samey, and unresponsive, which makes playing the game not fun at all. The only good thing about Dolmen is that it seems to be well optimized, loads quickly on the PlayStation 5, and I haven’t had any weird bugs or crashes.
This is going to sound harsh, but when I played this game it felt like someone just used the ARPG pre-built blueprint/template from Unreal Engine 4 and then went to the Unreal Marketplace and bought a bunch of assets instead of creating their own. This is how uninspiring this game felt. If you are trying to sell a product to people that looks like a basic ARPG template straight out of a well-known engine, then I am not sure what the developer was expecting. It comes off lazy and cheap.
Dolmen will be receiving a final verdict of 6 out of 10