Tower defenses are one of the oldest genres of gaming. From the classic arcades such as Space Invaders, to custom maps made in Warcraft III, to perhaps one of the most famous games of the genre, Plants Vs. Zombies, these games have been around for a long time, and are one of the most popular and addictive genres among gamers and non-gamers alike. The formula of making a good tower defense game is so deeply set in stone, that innovations in the genre have been too far and in between.
Dwerve on the other hand breaks one of the most fundamental rules of the tower defense genre; you no longer stay and defend your base against waves of enemies. You get to explore the world, invade the enemy's base yourself, solve puzzles, and experience a sweet story on your way. Developed by Half Human Games and published by Electronic Sheep Games, Dwerve is filled with new additions to the genre, and it works wonderfully.
Dwerve takes place in a Tolkein-esque world, where we play as the young dwarf, Dwerve. The dwarven kingdom has been forced out of their home in the mountains by an army of trolls years ago, and they have taken up living in the nearby hills. But their towns and villages wouldn't stay safe forever, as the trolls find a way to conquer their weakness to sunlight, and roam the open fields to rein more destruction upon the world.
But a young hero by the name of Dwerve takes up arms in the form of his tools and the ancient knowledge of turret making passed down by his grandfather, to go invade the trolls' base and find out more about the elixir that let them survive under sunlight, and disrupt their attacks. The story is a classic heroic fantasy tale with RPG elements. We meet friendly characters along the way that help us in our journey and get stronger and more resourceful as we help those we come across.
The game is filled with memorable and adorable characters. From the young protagonist Dwerve and his talking pet feline, Aerie, to good-hearted trolls that help us on our mission, to giant turtles obsessed with turning weeds and flowers into wigs, Dwerve keeps introducing us to a slew of fun and serious characters along the way. This is the first thing that we usually don't see in tower defense games; a deep and quality story with various characters. Even though some plot hooks are cliches of the fantasy genre, they are well written, and the final moments of the game actually made me a bit teary eyed.
Dwerve looks great. The pixel art style and the top-down view compliments the RPG feel of the game. We face numerous NPCs and enemies with memorable character designs, and each level has a distinct color palette and environmental design. The design lends itself to the gameplay seamlessly through environmental hazards such as poisonous cloud in the the caves full of mushrooms, lava and fire in the volcano-like sections of the game, and interactable and breakable obstacles to help us in the tower defense gameplay.
The way the combat works is pretty simple. In each new combat section, enemies spawn from small huts. We have to use the environment design to our advantage, and place turrets in strategic locations. We have a limited amount of gems that allows us to place turrets and traps, and we get the gems back when they are destroyed or when we decide to recall them. The very mechanic of destroying and recalling turrets becomes an essential part of gameplay in harder parts of Dwerve. We should navigate through enemies that overwhelm us, collect the gems from destroyed turrets in the quickest way possible, and set up a new line of defense before we are surrounded.
We get more gems, new turrets and traps, and even upgrade our turrets as we progress through the game. by the end, we have access to tens of different turrets and traps, and each of them have their uses in certain situations. One of the nice touches of Dwerve, is that we have access to a crafting table before each major fight. We can choose up to four turrets and traps, and we can switch them up for the occasion. Even upgrading certain turrets won't hold us back from trying new strategies, as you can refund previous upgrade and make new turrets stronger without any draw back. This freedom in switching our strategy and upgrade points is such a minimal thing, and yet so many RPG games put arbitrary restriction on, that it has become a refreshing change in games such as Dwerve.
Exploring and navigation is a large part of Dwerve. NPCs give us quests in each level that we need to finish, and there are also small treasure and puzzles that we can find around the map while exploring. This gives each section of the game a subtle metroidvania progression style, as we have to explore each corner of the map and comeback to open a gate that was previously closed or complete a quest to progress to the next level. But the navigation aspect of the game is missing a few crucial elements.
The first shortcoming in navigation is the absence of a map. In many levels, we have to destroy multiple artifacts or find multiple MacGuffins in order to progress, and to do so we have to explore the entirety of the levels. The levels are quite large, and because there are consistent design and color pallette in each level, we have to rely on our memory and small details to find our way through the map. Elden Ring proved that we don't need quest markers and directions for every small objective in the game, but still, having a map to know what parts we have explored and where we have yet to discover, would've gone a long way in making navigation in Dwerve feel better.
A surprising feature of Dwerve, is how challenging the boss fights are. Even on normal difficulty, in boss fights, you had to learn boss mechanics, find out what turrets work best, and dodge their attacks. In a way the boss fights had a Soulslike quality to them, and they weren't just a larger pool of hit points to chew through. I wish after finishing the game, we had the option to play through the boss fights on a higher difficulty as they were the most enjoyable aspect of the game.
Sound design in tower defense games is a tricky thing. By nature, the gameplay loop of this genre is about multiple towers constantly hitting large waves of enemies, and the sound effects can become really repetitive and annoying. Dwerve manages to keep the sound design interesting and subtle enough that it doesn't overwhelm the auditory sense of the game, and the music or the atmospheric soundtracks are the most notable sound that we here for the majority of Dwerve.
Dwerve manages to successfully introduce and empower features that we haven't seen used to their full potential in the tower defense genre. With a good story, fun characters, engaging gameplay, and challenging boss fights, Dwerve offers a memorable indie experience. It doesn't have the replayability and addictiveness of classic tower defense games, but that is actually not a bad thing. We already have too many live service or grindy games on the market, and it's nice to actually finish a single-player game once in a while.
Nima played Dwerve on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.