Adapting the accepted mechanics of a Soulslike wholesale, Dolmen is perfectly fine to play but lacks the personality of the genre’s luminaries. The Finger Guns Review.
The current crop of games that find themselves labelled as ‘Soulslikes’ can broadly be grouped up into two distinct pots. There are those games that take a few aspects of the Soulsborne formula, usually the risk-vs-reward element and the challenge, as inspiration while also trying to do their own thing. Think Hollow Knight, Salt and Sacrifice and Tails of Iron. Then there are those that use Dark Souls almost as a blue print for everything they do. They’re third person, with a stamina bar, challenging with hefty penalties for failure, bonfire-like checkpoints, etc, etc. Think The Surge, Lords of the Fallen and Immortal: Unchained. And now, Dolmen.
In Dolmen, you play as an unnamed sci-fi soldier that has been transported down to the chaotic planet of Revion Prime. This planet is where the titular Dolmen crystals were being mined. These crystals weaken the boundaries between realities and timelines. Because of that, a corporation is looking to use them to revolutionise space travel. Before you arrive on the planet, something bad happened and several realities have collided. Now competing alien species are battling it out. Your task – retrieve the Dolmen crystals. And likely die many times in the process.
As you might expect given the soulslike moniker, Dolmen can be difficult. Fire-filled zombies, spider-like aliens that look like concepts that were discarded in the making of Starship Trooper and cybernetic ninjas all stand between the nameless, faceless hero and the crystals they’re after. A run-in with any of these alien creatures, even the lowliest of grunts, can result in a player death if you’re not prepared for it or you are meeting them for the first time and you’ve not learned their pattern of attack. Y’know, kind of like in Dark Souls.
At the start of the game, you get to pick yourself a build from a few pre-sets. These can either be entirely melee based or include some ranged elements. No matter the build you pick, you’ll have a quick attack, a heavy attack, a dodge and a sprint to utilise to facilitate your survival. The usage of which is determined by – you guessed it – a stamina bar. Every attack, guard or dodge costs stamina which will recover a short time after use. Y’know, kind of like in Dark Souls.
The equipment and weaponry you begin with will become more and more ineffective the further you progress into the game. By exploring to find blue prints, often by finding alien survivors on Revion Prime, and by collecting crafting resources, you can make yourself better and more effective weaponry. To do so, you’ll have to activate checkpoint marking beacons from which you can respawn, akin to the bonfires in the Soulsborne games. From these, you can transport yourself to your star ship that’s orbiting the planet. This ship has installations which can craft new equipment, respawn bosses, change the visual style and upgrade the skills of your character.
In order to upgrade your character, you’ll need to collect
souls Nanites. With every enemy you defeat, you’re rewarded with a new batch of Nanites. You can spend these souls Nanites to upgrade your stats, increasing health, stamina and energy – but only if you can make it back to the ship alive with them. If you die, any Nanites you’ve collected are dropped as your “timeline” is deleted. These can be re-collected if you can reach the same spot and touch the weird blue spectral corpse of your past self without dying again. Y’know, just like in Dark Souls.
As you might have caught on to, Dolmen has adapted almost every prominent mechanic and system in the Soulsborne games for its own purposes. Bosses have attack patterns you’ll have to learn. There’s shortcuts you can unlock to make backtracking easier and quicker. The environment can be as dangerous as its alien inhabitants, like large balls of hazardous energy that’ll eat through your health faster than you can say “oh no!”. Because of the very familiar elements here, Dolmen will likely be very easy to pick up for seasoned Soulsborne players.
The only real diversion from that tried and tested formula is the way Dolmen handles healing and energy. The energy bar is primarily responsible for your ranged attacks. These attacks come in two different types – light and heavy – and each does something different to the energy bar. Light attacks reduce the amount of energy in a bar while heavy accounts reduce the maximum amount of energy that the bar can hold. While energy will replenish over time, it’ll only increase as far as the maximum. Healing has the same effect as a heavy ranged attack. It reduces the maximum amount of energy in exchange for a chunk of the health bar. To replenish energy that has been permanently lost due to healing or heavy attacks, you can utilise single-use batteries that you’ll find to be a limited resource. Having to balance ranged offense against healing adds a little extra to the Dark Souls formula.
So does “energy mode”. With a press of the triangle button, your faceless hero will phase into an elemental version of your choosing (selected while on the ship by attaching specific items to your gear). While in this mode, melee attacks deplete the energy bar rather than stamina. This is useful when you’ve managed to hack an enemy to bits but you’ve depleted your stamina and the foe has yet to fall. Quickly switching to energy mode can give you a few extra swings of your weapon to finish them off.
It’s unfortunate that these new aspects do little to raise Dolmen out of abject mediocrity. While it’s mechanically fine, it’s with its theme and tone that it struggles to pull everything together.
For example, Dolmen replicates the way that most Soulsborne stories are delivered. It’s piecemeal, drip fed to you via cryptic text logs found on computers. The fragmented nature of the story doesn’t fit together anywhere near as well here as it does in the likes of Bloodborne, in my opinion. That’s possibly because they feel like breadcrumbs of exposition from a number of different perspectives. For me, this type of narrative delivery doesn’t work as convincingly in a sci-fi setting either. It’s far easier to believe that just a few paragraphs of text were left for your to find in a Lovecraftian town filled with carnage and blood. But in a futuristic world where you can talk to your star ship over the radio while hacking aliens up with a laser sword? Less so.
The difficulty levels in Dolmen are all over the place too. Some bosses are incredibly difficult, as you might expect, tasking you with being patient and offering up very few opportunities to attack. Others are really quite easy. Too easy. I accidentally stumbled into a boss fight (there’s no veil of fog to walk through here to signify you’re approaching a boss area) with just a slither of health remaining and no batteries on me. I’m not a particularly good player and I managed to beat both phases of the boss on my first try. I won’t complain too much about this because the ease of some enemies does make Dolmen more approachable. On the other hand, that does feel less rewarding too.
At its core, Dolmen is missing the character and edge that the luminaries in the Soulsborne/Soulslike genre. The sci-fi meets cosmic horror world of doesn’t Revion Prime doesn’t feel lived-in, convincing or threatening. It feels like a collection of rooms that have no other purpose other than housing enemies for you to fight. While the art style is passable, it lacks the grit and grandiose feel that’s often synonymous with the best Souls imitators like Mortal Shell or The Surge 2.
While Dolmen is undoubtedly more charismatic than some of the more shameless Souls clones that have come out over the years (I’m looking at you Lords of the Fallen and Hellpoint), it needed to further develop its atmosphere if it wanted to get to the next level. That said, this is a good effort by Massive World Studio who likely made this game for a fraction of the budget that the genre defining titles receive and with a much smaller team.
In a post Elden Ring world, Dolmen feels dated and too formulaic. It also lacks the personality, character and soul of the genre’s luminaries. If you’re looking for a new Soulslike game to scratch the itch however, Dolmen will certainly do that, despite its lack of mechanical innovation and uneven difficulty.
Dolmen is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S and PC via Steam.
Developer: Massive Work Studio
Publisher: Prime Matter / Koch Media
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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