Dwarf Fortress.

Losing is Fun.

Do you want to play free game, where you build… guess what… dwarf fortress? Niche and obscure perpetual alpha, made by two-man team. That don’t have winning condition, being open wide sandbox. That will raep even most powerful CPU, yet have (by default) ASCII-like graphics in best tradition of rogue-likes. That have its own generated worlds with continents, nations and history. That is extensively moddable. And one that have worst imaginable user interface in history of gaming, yet still is worth playing.

This is titular Slaves to Armok: God of Blood – Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress.

While you can get it here, it is recommended to use LNP – it will provide you with tilesets, manager, isometric viewer and other third party tools. Without these, only most hardcore elitists could manage to play it without giving up. With them, game is merely very annoyingly hard. Wiki, forums and other help may even allow you to kill fortress for different reason than usual newbie mistakes (like starving everyone to death). But your fortress will die. Losing is Fun, after all.

Dorfs

“It’s like playing god with sentient legos.” – They Got Leader

You command underground dwellers – bunch of manic-depressive alcoholics with their own personality, choices, history, past and family. You can merely suggest what they should do – be it digging, building workshops, producing needed things, or killing someone. They will listen. Usually. Maybe.

Dwarves are rather… unstable, in both directions. Thoughts like “my wife and children was horribly murdered before my own eyes, but I looked at this wonderful door and ate masterful dinner, so I am fine” are common. But if shorty goes to deep end, he will never return. Usually he (or she, both genders are treated equally) will mop around or crawl naked blabling nonsensically. Sometimes, however, dwarf will look at everything what happened to fortress, say “ah, sokka” and will go with bang, killing anyone in his way left and right.

This can lead to one of most terrible hilarious events in life of fortress – tantrum spiral. It is like nuclear reaction – when sufficiently many dwarves are unhappy and mad, dying and suffering, more and more other dwarves are affected, until entire settlement fights with each other in sea of blood. Survivors of 200-strong fort can be counted usually on one hand.

Game uses extensively subsystem damage and almost completely shy away from simple hit points. Fight is sometimes unspeakably brutal, with flying limbs, crushed skulls and liters of blood spilled. You will fight with goblins, sometimes humans or elves (cannibalistic treehuggers, to be precise), cursed beasts, zombies, vampires infilitrating your fortress from inside and, if you are unlucky, with various abominations from deep.

Storytelling

I have no idea where anything is. I have no idea what anything does. This is not merely a madhouse designed by a madman, but a madhouse designed by many madmen, each with an intense hatred for the previous madman’s unique flavour of madness.

FailCannon

Toady, main (and only) programmer of DF, said that he want Dwarf Fortess to be not some mediocre fantasy world, but generator of mediocre fantasy worlds with their own world map, history, races, events and battles. Players already created multum stories, with most well known Boatmurdered (from very old version of DF). These stories merges what actually happened inside game with gamer imagination. Most popular are succession-style tales, where every player gets year of rule. Effects can be utterly insane, as shown in citation above.

Oh, by the way, you can also roam generated world as adventurer possessed by unknown forces, most probably with psychotically omnicidal tendencies. There is not much to do yet, except killing things. However, with a bit of modding, you can make it worse. A lot.

Memetic sphere of DF have some certain constants, like fun, MAGMA, Fun, jew elf hate, madness, FUN, Urist, dreaded carp (or badger nowadays), !!FUN!!, crazy genocidal heroes and the like. Did I mentioned Fun? All of this created pretty fanatical, sadistic and crazy community.

Summary

“Death comes before birth, if you were wondering.” – Toady

As you may infer from size of review, I liked this game, despite its shortcomings. It is really ridiculous in a good way.

Biggest two gripes that I have with DF is dreadful user interface (artifically upping learning curve) and bugs. Lotsa and lotsa of bugs, many of them present for years, probably never to be fixed. Fans of DF have developed multum binary(!) fixes for some outstanding bugs and even implemented some filtering and search features (!!) in game. I think it is telling. Especially about Toady’s attitude to bugs and UI…

Dwarf Fortress has great potential, but never will be mainstream – maybe for better.

Spoiler: you are ARMOK.

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