Dolmen Review – Make Your Enemy Your Weapon
Developed by Massive Work Studios
Published by Prime Matter
Available on PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5
I have some serious and upsetting news: We are living in a post-Elden Ring world. So many people have played Elden Ring. It set a new standard for all sorts of sub-genres; Open world, souls-like, RPG, and the list goes on and on. It would be almost irresponsible to try and go toe-to-toe with its release. It would feel foolish to put out a high concept souls-like for at least 6 months after Elden Ring hit the scene. But…what if it was sci-fi? What if it told a classic sci-fi story with bits of cosmic horror? What if it was filled with customization and crafting options to allow the player to create their ideal character, with very few limits? What if it was Dolmen?
You’re dropped on Revion Prime, a mining planet that, in the course of their mining work, discovered a crystal. This crystal, named Dolmen, could be harnessed to allow all sorts of cross multiverse communication. By opening up these channels in the void, they may have let in some things that didn’t belong. You’re on the planet to get some samples of Dolmen, and try to figure out just what the hell happened when these miners stumbled upon a crystal that let them interact with other realities. To this end, you’ll be battling through monsters that slipped through the fractures made by harnessing Dolmen, along with some shady people who let the Dolmen get the better of them. It’s a real, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” type of situation.
Dolmen wears its inspiration on its sleeve. You’ll be greeted with a class select screen, where you can choose some simple archetypes. There are of course the quick rogue types, the heavy weapons tank type, and even a class that starts with nothing at level one. The wretch class of Dolmen, as it were. I chose the big ol’ heavy tank because I like to smash. It’s that simple. I started with a great sword and a small pistol (we’ll talk about the guns in a moment) and got to work on Revion Prime. Dolmen‘s combat is where it takes a fork in the road compared to a regular souls-like. You have your melee weapon, of course; swords and axes and all manner of smashy, cutty, swingy armaments, but you also have a sidearm. You start with a pistol that has an elemental buff (fire, acid, ice) that can be used in any number of ways. As a tank character, I used the pistol to aggro far away enemies, so they would come running right into my powerful great sword.
As you go through the game the simple pistol can be replaced with things like machine guns, shotguns, or even just more powerful pistols. They serve a definite combat role, and in the later parts of the game, I found it very satisfying to combo a sword swing into a close-up shotgun blast to decimate stronger enemies. It doesn’t feel like Bloodborne. You’re thinking Bloodborne right now, but it’s not like Bloodborne. In Bloodborne your sidearm was, for the most part, used to stagger enemies. In Dolmen, it is treated as a legitimate secondary weapon. Each gun has a standard fire and a more powerful alt fire. The alt fire will use permanent energy (we’ll get into that) and the standard fire uses replaceable energy. By leveling up certain skills, you could conceivably go full gun and it wouldn’t be a gimmick build.
Let’s talk a bit about energy. In Dolmen, you have health, energy, and stamina. Health and stamina work as you would guess. Energy is a bit different. Energy powers all sorts of things. If you want to heal? That’s gonna cost energy. If you want to fire your gun: energy. What about flipping the switch on your powerful energy mode? Well it’s right there in the name, “energy mode”. There are things that use permanent energy, like healing, meaning you need to use a recharge (think Dolmen‘s version of an estus flask), and things that use temp energy that will recharge in time (standard sidearm shots). Managing your energy is the key to victory in Dolmen. You’ll get used to the ebb and flow of this mini management task as you go along. It also helps to level up things like science, to make energy recharge more efficient.
As for loot, Dolmen will give you nothing complete. That sounds weird. Dolmen isn’t going to give you gear or weapons. A big part of the game is collecting pieces of the monstrosities you fight on Revion Prime to make new gear. There are different sets with different attributes all from different enemies. It lends a bit of grossness to the preceding when you’re covered in the flesh armor of an enemy you keep dunking on. This goes for weapons as well. Not every weapon is a bio-organic gross factory. By talking to different NPCs slyly hidden throughout the world, you’ll gain access to blueprints for more standard weapons. They’ll usually give you one or two pieces of the weapon, and it will be up to you to find the other survivors on Revion Prime to complete these semi-secret weapons. Dolmen also keeps things interesting by allowing you to fight bosses over and over.
In the early game, it is in your best interest to fight bosses as many times as you can. For one, it nets you a good amount of points to level up your character. For two, it is the only way to get boss weapons. In souls-like tradition, each boss has a boss weapon that can be acquired. Instead of giving you a strange item named like, “Soul of a wandering space monster”, it gives you a piece of the boss. Want the other pieces? Fight the boss again. The first boss, for example, drops one piece of itself each time you beat it. You’ll need 3 of these pieces to craft it’s weapon. Best get to work. It is a feature that I feel a lot of people will skip over, thinking it is something optional. It is optional, but not optional. If you want to be at your most powerful, with the best weapons, you need to repeat bosses. This might be frustrating for some players, but I found it super engaging.
I had initially refused to fight the first boss again, thinking, “Already beat it. Not my problem. Don’t wanna do challenge mode or whatever.”. I then continued on. I didn’t hit a wall per say, but by the time I got to the final boss of act 1, I felt very underlevelled. I was being one-shotted by the boss. It was frustrating. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I realized then: I needed to go re-fight some bosses. After running through the previous bosses a few times, I didn’t feel quite overlevelled, but I was definitely having an easier time. It is a feature that needs some better explaining, but as Dolmen is still fresh, I’m sure it will be addressed in a future update. All in all, Dolmen is a bit flawed, but very appreciated entry into the pantheon of souls-likes. It takes a lot of inspiration from the souls series, but it’s approach makes it feel completely different. The best advice I could give is to go play it.