REVIEW – Hardcore soulslike titles are on the rise, and nothing proves the genre’s success more than the still incredibly popular Elden Ring, which has broken all records. Now it was the turn of Prime Matter’s Dolmen to take to the ring. The creation from Brazilian studio Super Massive Works takes us to a sci-fi world – specifically, a monster-infested mining planet…
You’d have to be brave to release a Souls-like game in the same year that FromSoftware unleashed Elden Ring on the world. The fact that Massive Work Studio’s Dolmen is a sci-fi themed with elements of cosmic horror makes it at least somewhat unique. And the game also has some pretty exciting mechanics. But a number of problems mean that only the most ardent Souls fans are likely to stick with it to the end.
Are you feeling déjà vu?
According to the game’s story, there are strange signs of activity on the alien mining planet Revion Prime. The presence of mysterious crystals, the Dolmen, has opened up portals between dimensions. All sorts of horrible monsters are coming out of these portals, causing chaos and destruction. We are sent to the scene to investigate and find out the origin of these events.
The narrative, as in most similar ARPGs, is minimal and unfolds only from the various documents (mostly computers) revealed throughout the game. Don’t expect exciting NPCs or key locations to detail the story, quite the opposite. The players’ task is to find and piece together information to explore the universe and understand the driving forces behind events. It’s a mission to recover as many dolmen crystals as possible for study. Still, events don’t go according to plan, and a fight for survival begins amid the dangers of Revion Prime.
Dolmen reuses the familiar basics of the genre with the usual rolling back and forth, dodging, light and heavy attacks that consume stamina, and blocking and parrying that reduces the damage taken. The gameplay is similar to what is done with melee weapons everywhere else. For soulslike enthusiasts, handling will not be a particular problem, except as far as the rigid control of our avatar is concerned. When an attack is launched, we have no choice but to wait for the animation to end (sometimes “slow”) while we have no defence, and it’s highly annoying when our reckless hero bites the dust of the planet’s surface because of it.
We need some energy…
The ranged weapon is defined by a new feature of the Dolmen and the third power source: energy. Each shot uses up some of it and takes a few seconds to regenerate. Healing also uses energy, but differently: you have to sacrifice some of it.
The energy can be restored by consuming a battery, but this is often problematic: enough of them are rarely found (although the charges are restored at save points), and, in addition, the few seconds of animation leave you at the mercy of the enemy. We also encounter such a short animation during the recovery, during which our hero can also be killed.
It is also important to note that we can attack with different elements. Still, it should be taken into account that all enemies have some resistance to one element and weakness to another. Therefore, it is worth adapting your equipment to the situation to maximize your offensive capabilities.
Energy management is essential, intelligently managing the use of our ranged weapons and elemental attacks. We must always weigh the pros and cons always to have enough reserves for a hard strike.
So the gameplay of Dolmen is pretty much classic soulslike, but the ranged attack and energy usage are uniquely designed. Unfortunately, the developers have made the basic genre mistake of not being precise enough to execute control, attack and defence. It’s not uncommon to miss a well within range target or, conversely, to get hit when you thought it was out of reach. Similarly, evasion is sometimes inaccurate. The camera is not always handled properly, and at times the wrong angle and enemies piling up on the screen make events untraceable.
Changing a career path
In Dolmen, our character development is based on several factors. Firstly, our choice of starting archetype determines our level, our various stats and our initial equipment. Class selection is just a foundation to start the adventure, but nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you choose a tank-type character, but as you play, you realize that’s not what you wanted, and you can gradually evolve him into a two-handed fighter.
Every time you kill an enemy, you collect nanites that you can spend in the hub ship to gain levels by increasing a stat of your choice. As usual, the higher you level up, the more resources you need.
Our equipment is optimized exclusively through manufacturing. We collect parts on the body of our opponents or on the ground to create new items from the hub. Most of the weapons and armour you build are linked to a specific technology and give you a certain number of points. You can unlock original bonuses at different levels to upgrade your avatar with it. One branch optimizes damage, another focuses on all aspects of HP and stamina, while the last one aims to maximize energy.
Initially, we focus on the techno we’re most interested in, but the more we progress through the game, the more bonuses we manage to accumulate from the various development trees, and this is where our fighter really comes into his own.
The system works quite well and is slightly different from what we’re used to, but luckily the recipes available are pretty varied.
“The boys are working in the mine…”
Dolmen offers alternating level design between “wide” zones and corridors in a classic but effective sci-fi setting. Dolmen is billed as “horroristic”, but we didn’t feel there was anything horror about the game, except for the controls and camera movement in places.
As for orientation: there’s no minimap in Dolmen, but it’s still easy enough to find your way around, as each zone is in separate “instances”, so you don’t get lost in the shuffle.
The bestiary would have benefited from a bit more detail and variety to make it more exciting. Interestingly, there’s always a console near the bosses, which allows you to switch to multiplayer mode if you can’t cope with them.
The multiplayer part could not be tested before release due to player shortage but will be updated if necessary.
Correct on Playstation 5
We tested the game on Playstation 5, and it ran nicely. This version has two graphics settings: one favours visual quality, and the other favours the “sacrosanct” 60 fps. It’s always a shame, but especially for a game of this level, you can’t combine the two without choosing! Since this is not an overly pretty game by default, we chose the latter option for most of our playtime, as we didn’t feel the difference was glaring enough to justify the unstable framerate.
DualSense also supports haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. You can feel the rolls, the loaded shots with the heavy attack. However, when using the long-range weapon, it’s odd that you don’t have to pull the trigger all the way in (it stops at the first resistance) to get the shot to fire.
Better than Hellpoint but weaker than The Surge
In terms of sci-fi soulslike, Dolmen is somewhere between Hellpoint and The Surge in terms of quality. For fans of the genre, it may provide a pleasant hour, but it falls short of the benchmark set by the best. Still, it’s worth a try for those with the patience and stamina to explore a new futuristic environment while fighting monsters to the death.
+ Interesting sci-fi compared to a soulslike
+ A clever mix of melee and ranged combat
+ Well-developed development system
– Inaccurate control in combat
– Highly medium graphics
– Replay gameplay and monsters
Publisher: Koch Media
Developer: Massive Work Studio
Published: May 20, 2022