LifeisXbox’s Dolmen review | I have a bit of a history with Dolmen. In 2018, when I was only just becoming active as a game journalist, I received an invitation to attend an event in the north of France and because I knew some Belgian devs that were attending, I decided to go. That’s where I first played Dolmen and was impressed with the sci-fi take on the soulslike experience we’ve all grown to love. I’ve since backed their Kickstarter (which had some issues because the demo was behind a funding paywall and scammers tried to sell the demo codes before backing out of the Kickstarter campaign) and kept a close eye on the developments. Suffice to say: Dolmen has had a rocky ride, but it’s finally out!
Dolmen is a Brazilian-made soulslike which trades the usual high fantasy setting & weaponry for a sci-fi take that allows you to shoot laser guns and power up your gear with reactors. It has all the usual elements you’d expect from a game in the genre and it has noticeably taken a lot of inspiration from the original Dark Souls. I’ll try not to compare the games too often in this review, but it’s going to be hard because they obviously used the FromSoftware title as a building block to make their own version.
Most Memorable Moment
For me the best part is probably playing beyond the first half hour of the game. I’ve been playing different demos of Dolmen over the years but I’ve never made it to the first boss in those and now that I’ve finally had some private time with the game, I blazed through the story. Here is the first hour of Dolmen on Xbox Series X:
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by Koch Media Benelux, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- Sci-fi setting | It’s refreshing to play this type of game in a futuristic setting for once. We’ve traded all the high fantasy castles and knights, for Dead Space corridors and Starship Trooper enemies. You start the game with both a melee loadout as well as a gun and it changes up the entire feel of the game, being able to blast enemies from afar. You can even avoid a lot of the regular combat altogether if your back strafing game is good enough.
- Energy Bar | You can restore your health at any time by pressing X, but it will take a bit out of your maximum energy reserves. Similarly, activating your reactor to add an element like ice, fire or poison to your melee attack or firing the heavy shot with your rifle will all take chunks out of it. You can restore your energy with a limited amount of batteries that you carry around, but using them is slow and dangerous, especially during boss fights or while under siege from fast enemies. It adds a unique dynamic that I quite enjoyed.
- Crafting | While you lose your experience points when you die (until you pick them up again), any crafting materials you collect are yours to keep forever. You can then use them in your spaceship to create new weapons and gear and add rare stones to increase the stats that are important to you. You constantly have the feeling that your character is growing stronger and that is very important in such games.
- Lore doesn’t require digging | While the lore is about digging, you don’t have to go chisseling down rocks for tiny tidbits of information yourself. Scattered across the planet are tablets, dead bodies and other types of interaction points where you get to learn the backstory of Dolmen, which is the name of a rare material that is able to impact dimensions and has become the universe’s most sought-after resource. A comic book with the prequel to the game’s story was also included in the Press Kit, which added some nice backstory.
- Length | Not every game needs to be a 30+ hour epic that spans several locations and dozens of bossfights. Dolmen is a more condensed experience that a veteran player can clear in about 10 hours and someone looking to complete it can probably achieve 100% status in around 20 hours. I welcomed the shorter runtime and it was great to beat a game like this in a long weekend for a change.
- Enemy Designs | There aren’t a whole lot of different enemies in the game and they aren’t very exciting to fight. In other soulslikes, figuring out how to tackle even the most basic of enemy encounters can be a thrill of its own, but here it usually boils down to melee or ranged combat. Or blocking versus dodge rolling. Though it is kind of satisfying to plow through lower level enemies with a rifle or shotgun. Luckily, the boss fights add more excitement.
- Boss Fights | Savepoints are usually not that far from the boss you’re supposed to fight and that has been a welcome reprieve. Nothing is as infuriating as having to survive all the way to the boss, only to quickly die and having to go through torture again. The bosses themselves are also fun: you get to memorise their attack patterns and if you were getting destroyed just half an hour ago, you’ll soon fight them without hardly taking a hit. Some fights even feel like puzzles, with luring your foe into a moving energy trap or running away from a chain of attacks. Sadly, this makes it into the Mixed part of the review because their “tells” could be a bit more obvious. Many attacks are impossible to foresee and block correctly and your own assault doesn’t seem to have a lot of impact. Adding insult to injury is that many of their quickly charged attacks can kill you in one hit.
- You can challenge bosses again | Which is a nice way to keep your current run interesting and see how much you’ve grown since you’ve last faced them. But you have to grind for 3-4 Dolmen fragments to be able to activate the boss fight. And prepare to grind for a ton of them, because you need to beat each boss 3-4 times to get their unique legendary weapon crafted and a few achievements expect you to do just that.
- Multiplayer | I guess it’s nice they include a multiplayer option, with an activation station right before each boss fight. But I’ve not been able to join or create a multiplayer session even once. Seems like no one was ever around to try it, even though I attempted to connect at different times during the weekend.
What we Disliked
- Navigating menus & crafting interface | Navigating the crafting is a chore. You can’t quickly toggle between tabs using LB/RB and have to do EVERYTHING with the D-pad. It’s downright infuriating and time-consuming to go back and forth through these menus and you can’t even compare what you’re crafting with your current loadout, so you have no idea if you’re making something better or not. Added to this is that you have multiple levels of gear, like your helmet or suit and the game does a poor job at explaining the fact that you’re upgrading an existing item versus crafting a new set.
- Weapon Impact | When you swing a weapon, it hardly seems to have any impact, clipping straight through enemies and the environment alike. While it can be fun to cheese some encounters from behind the safety of a wall while you chop away at their health with a greatsword, it’s not good for the overall feel of the game. Outside of a giant club I crafted, I also never noticed any attacks breaking the enemies’ poise or stun-locking them for a bit. It’s as if their HP bar is the only thing to notice anything going on. Speaking of which…
- You can’t rely on damage | When you swing at an enemy and see the hit taking off 1/6th of their HP bar, you expect to only need 5 more swings to finish them off. Yet somehow, I often struggled killing an enemy when they had only 1/6th left. As if they suddenly ignored any and all damage. This led to me getting killed more times than I care to count, with me going in for the kill and the enemy just striking back at me, unphased.
- You can’t pause the game | While there are a lot more save zones to rest in here than in similar games, I’ll never understand the decision to not include a simple pause option. If you have kids around or the mailman rings the doorbell, say goodbye to your hard-earned experience.
- The camera & changing attack mode | Locking on to enemies is vital to fighting them efficiently, but the camera had a hard time keeping them centered, especially during Boss Fights. I found myself fighting the camera more often than the actual boss. You also shoot by first pressing the Left Trigger and then using the RB/LB attack buttons, but somehow the game didn’t always want to enter/exit this mode as reliable as would be acceptable (spoiler: 100% reliability is the norm here…)
- The Cutscenes | To help tell the story, Dolmen shows a few cutscenes, but they felt really rushed with not enough detail or variation in the animations or scenery. I’m assuming this comes from a lack of experience among the development team when it comes to story-telling. While making a game is a miracle of talented artists all doing their best, showing interesting cutscenes requires dynamic camera work and the experienced direction of a cinematographer.
- Bugs | Sadly, I’m not talking about the ones skittering around in the first chapter. Dolmen has issues with some enemies clipping through the world, which isn’t all that bad as you can just ignore them after they get themselves stuck behind some of the scenery, but bosses also got affected from it, making it impossible to reach them. This Boss Fight even had a 1/3 chance of not triggering at all: walking into the arena didn’t make him appear every time and I had to reset the game a few times. And then there was the time I died simply walking down a corridor, without being attacked and seeing nothing that could have caused it.
How long to beat the story | ~10 hours.
How long to achieve 1000G | ~20 hours.
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Robby lives and breathes video games. When he’s not playing them, he’s talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He’s online so often, he could practically list the internet as his legal domicile. Belgian games-industry know-it-all.