‘Dolmen’ review: the true cosmic horror

Bang the doldrums

Dolmen is a Soulslike game set in space in a universe that’s being forcibly melded with other universes. There are anomalies all over the place, like giant spiders that spit acid, humanoid aliens that aren’t happy to see you, and corridors that look like the inside of an intestinal tract.

If you die, that timeline gets erased, but you can find a fraction of it again and reclaim your nanites again to level up by touching where you last died. You rest up at beacons that refresh the area and its enemies and allow you to teleport back to your ship to level up, craft new items, or access the multiplayer options. It’s absolutely undoubtedly a Soulslike, but in a genre that’s just had (arguably) its finest iteration in Elden Ring, what does it do to make itself worthy of your attention?

The moment to moment act of playing the game is relatively standard Soulslike stuff. You’ve got a light and heavy melee attack, you can block or parry attacks and there’s the aforementioned “die and you lose all of your experience” thing. You’re also packing a gun, which is less standard. The ranged weapons you use utilise a mana bar of sorts in place of ammo. Rather than using the energy permanently, this bar will slowly refill as long as you’re not using your most powerful abilities. This energy can also be used to heal you, but it can only be restored by resting at a beacon or using an item – Dolmen’s only one – to refill it.

Dolmen Screenshot
Dolmen. Credit: Massive Work Studio

Managing your energy is essential to surviving in the world of Dolmen, and the choice to have it regen if you use it as an ammo source makes ranged combat feel far more worthwhile than melee combat. This is mostly because it’s substantially safer, especially because even the most basic enemies have ridiculous health pools and can kill you with ease. The latter point isn’t a problem, but when basic enemies take dozens of hits to kill, you’ve got a pacing problem.

This is exacerbated by the fact that Dolmen doesn’t really understand how surprise attacks work in the Soulslike genre. In other similar games, you’ll have a weak enemy burst out of a box or appear from around a corner to scare you into a state of panic, and often push you into stronger enemies or trigger an ambush if you’re not careful. These enemies can be felled with a single hit more often than not, and are there to remind players to keep their wits about them even in the most harmless-looking areas.

Dolmen’s take on this is to have enemies hiding on nearly every wall, ceiling, in the ground, and even sometimes just teleporting in. These are usually whatever enemy is local to the area you’re in, which means they’re tanky, strong, and annoying to deal with. This also highlights that your attacks often feel entirely weightless, with most enemies simply strolling through your hits and bonking you instead. At this point, one of the most aggravating aspects of the game is shown off.

Dolmen ranged combat
Dolmen. Credit: Massive Work Studio

When you’re hit in most games there are often some I-frames given to you to avoid you being obliterated in an instant. This is especially true of the attacks that knock you over, because being knocked over is already a big enough punishment. This isn’t the case in Dolmen though, and nowhere is this more aggravating than the boss you fight at the end of the first act. I won’t spoil what it is, but the creature sets up fiery areas on the floor that deal damage to you; if you get knocked into these by the boss, you’ll constantly take damage throughout the animation, meaning you’ll often die before you get back to your feet. Also, this boss bugged upwards of ten times by placing an invisible wall in the area that meant I could only stand in the fire. It was very annoying.

This boss also highlights another of the game’s sins; one-hit kill attacks. Each big boss has a few one-hit kills in their arsenal, often with misleading wind-ups and hard-to-read hitboxes. The game as a whole struggles with accuracy in its hitboxes, but it’s way more noticeable when you’re close to killing a boss and they deal five times more damage than you have health in a wide-range attack. It’s indicative of the weird take on difficulty Dolmen has. Simply making enemies really strong and giving them health isn’t a good take on a game being hard; it just makes the combat feel cheap.

Dolmen Gameplay
Dolmen. Credit: Massive Work Studio

On top of all of these complaints, shields don’t always seem to actually work with no indication of why, though I assume it’s linked to hitboxes; there are loads of really boring corridors to run down with literally nothing in them, the game wants to launch Steam VR every time I boot it up for some ungodly reason, and the writing is nonsensical. While I appreciate that timelines and multiverses go hand-in-hand, it’s never really explained how universes can be melding together and how that somehow impacts time as well.

It’s not all bad though; let’s talk about the game’s strengths. The dodge animation is awesome; you leave a little electric after-image as you move and it looks excellent. Also, there’s an interesting take on crafting that makes creating new weapons highly customisable. As you journey around and kill things you’ll collect materials which you can infuse the weapons and armour you create with, and these change up the stats. Love it; good stuff. Sure, the variety is fairly limited, but the chances to mix up stats to fit your preferences is wonderful. That’s the end of the well-designed parts of the game.

I really wanted to like Dolmen. I love the Soulslike genre and it’s hard not to like cosmic horror, but it’s simply not done well enough to be worth your time. There’s a chance that some of these issues could be fixed via patches and updates in the future, but right now this is not worth your time.

Dolmen launches on May 20 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5. We reviewed it on PC.

The Verdict

Dolmen is an ambitious game that misunderstands why Soulslike games are so enticing. Dolmen‘s difficulty is artificially inflated by obnoxious health pools and enemies that suddenly appear from nowhere, bosses are difficult mostly due to bugs or cheap one-hit kills, and the weightless combat is deeply dissatisfying. Avoid.

Pros

  • Cool dodge animation
  • Crafting is interesting but limited

Cons

  • Literally everything else
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