With outputs of the caliber of Elden Ring and Salt and Sacrifice, without forgetting the upcoming Thymesia (by the way, you are one click away from our tried-and-true Thymesia), 2022 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year of soulslike. He has recently joined the inspired productions mentioned above Dolmen, a sci-fi soulslike with inserts of Lovecraftian cosmic horror and which on balance looks like a meeting point between the Dark Souls and Dead Space series. Although the idea behind the project was all in all intriguing, unfortunately the hybrid published by Koch Media under the Prime Matter label it proved to be lacking in every respect. After unraveling the secrets of the alien planet Revion Prime, we are therefore ready to issue our final verdict on the first feature of Massive Work Studio.
The classic and not too original narrative canvas of the product revolves around the Dolmen, the crystal that emits a radiation capable of thinning the membranes that separate the universesin a nutshell causing the collision between different realities.
During studies conducted on the extraordinary capabilities of the alien mineral, it opened an interdimensional gap near the mining station of the planet Revion Prime, allowing creepy creatures from another universe to invade the structure and exterminate anyone who was inside it. Following the complete cessation of communications with the attacked outpost, a soldier apparently able to move from one timeline to another is chosen to investigate the incident and ensure that it does not turn into an unstoppable catastrophe. The mission of our alter-ego is in fact to penetrate the mining station besieged by monsters, annihilate the creatures encountered along the way, take some samples and above all recover as many crystals as possibleso that mankind can develop adequate procedures to manage or even avoid the occurrence of other similar episodes.
Divided into three main acts and each set in a different area, Dolmen’s storyline turned out to be a lot forgettable, lacking in bite and even a little repetitive, also because the Commander – the character controlled by the player – appears completely devoid of charisma. If all in all the spurious story is a recurring element of the soulslike, compared to its congeners Dolmen it is also rather miserable in terms of lore, which demonstrates how much the narrative actually mattered little in the eyes of the Brazilian developer.
Instead of the title published by Prime Matter we appreciated the science fiction settings and the Lovecraftian atmosphere, which, net of a dated technical sector, however, allowed us to perceive a compelling sense of danger for all 15 hours or so required to complete the campaign.
Almost nothing new under the sun
Having taken control of the Commander, whose space armor is largely customizable, Dolmen shows a soulslike that is anything but courageous: from the mapping of the main commands to the lunge and dodge system, the title of Massive Work Studio it offers almost nothing originalif not the mechanics related to the secondary weapon.
However, let’s proceed in order, first of all specifying that the Prime Matter title does not present any real classes: at the beginning of the adventure, in fact, the user is asked to choose a loadout among those available, which, as expected, limit themselves to determining the initial equipment and minimally altering the basic parameters. Although the levels may have been extremely linear, exploration is undoubtedly the master in Dolmen, as the areas visited by the Commander are overflowing with enemies, crystals to recover, checkpoints to save the game and so on. For some reason that we still struggle to understand, the terminals that should replace the classic souls bonfires do not allow you to immediately intervene on the level and statistics of the avatar, but on the contrary they force the player to return to their spaceship each time, so that these enter the capsule prepared for its enhancement. It is a solution that tires you in the long run, also because it continually breaks the rhythm of the adventure. If we add to this that the so-called “Link Lighthouses” are also arranged with little care – most of the time they are found at the beginning and end of a certain area – we believe that the management of the character and its development should be revised. in toto.
Moving on to the analysis of the gameplay, we must first of all specify that the Commander has access to several different weapons, which as per tradition radically change his attack patterns. Directly from his congeners, Dolmen also inherited the classic alternation between light and heavy blows, the inevitable parry and the stamina bar, which is consumed whenever one of the aforementioned actions is performed.
The main novelty of Dolmen is therefore to be found in the secondary weapon, ie pistols, machine guns and laser rifles that the player can extract for fight from a distance and annihilate all nearby targets one by one. Although these do not involve the expenditure of bullets, firearms cannot completely replace the melee, as their use consumes the precious energy bar, which, like stamina, recharges over time. On paper it is an interesting and pleasant graft, which however in practice has to deal with Massive Work Studio’s bad decision to entrust healing to the energy bar.
If, as we said earlier, the energy consumed to open the fire is regenerated with the passing of the bills, that expense to restore the health of the Comande can only be recovered through the consumption of special batteries, which like Estus ampoules are available in extremely limited quantities. Not being able to directly restore the lost health points, in the heat of the battle the energy dosage takes on a fundamental value and, at least in the first hours, tends to become the main cause of death: having to dose the use of guns, it happens very often than at the time of taking care of the player does not have enough energy availablewhich makes him damn vulnerable.
A failed landing
Unfortunately Dolmen proved damn lacking even on a technical level. In fact, they think about making a situation that is already compromised enough to make matters worse the very poor reactivity of the controls (which often and willingly require a fraction of a second too long), woody animations that complicate the understanding of enemy assaults, a management of the hitboxes that are anything but exemplary, and a camera that in narrow environments struggles to follow the movements of the Commander.
We ran our tests on the Xbox Series X, where you can choose between two different graphics modes: one offers a higher resolution at 30 fps, while the second guarantees a doubled frame rate. In both cases, however, we ran into frame rate drops and heavy slowdowns which, given the technical simplicity and structure of the product, seemed unjustifiable to us.
On the other hand, Dolmen can count on a discreet and varied musical accompaniment, which in fact contributes to the creation of engaging and suggestive atmospheres. Finally, the localization of the Italian texts is goodwhich at least in low budget productions is by no means taken for granted.