Can any game take on the three-month-old Elden Ring? It may not have been developer Massive Work Studio’s intention to go toe-to-toe with such a genre-defining game, but that’s exactly what occurred with its May 20th release. We erased countless timelines during our time with this Soulslike-in-space RPG, and have our Dolmen PS5 review ready now.
Dolmen runs on the Unreal Engine 4, which does an excellent job of keeping the action fluid. It also helps that this isn’t a graphically intense game. While the setting is different as you start on a space station and transition to more varied environments, overall, this doesn’t look like a next-generation game. On the PS5, there are graphics options to toggle between Performance and Quality. The differences between the two visual modes are so minor, you’re better off sticking with the performance mode which guarantees a frame rate at or near 60. Things just feel so much better when they run more smoothly. Levels load in within a handful of seconds, as well, thanks to the speedy SSD of the PS5. The DualSense’s adaptive triggers are also lightly used, for ranged combat.
Dolmen sees the player take on the role of a space engineer, tasked with investigating a catastrophic accident aboard a space station. The story isn’t too important and is told through bits and pieces of lore found on computer terminals, much like how other games in this genre give a drip-feed of information. There are a few in-game cutscenes, but they are difficult to follow and not particularly polished. What voice acting is in the game isn’t terrible, but also isn’t very moving. Some of the in-game text also has typos, which is distracting. Granted, Massive Work Studio is a small team of around 30 people, based in Brazil, so the occasional error here and there is almost expected.
Combat makes or breaks a Soulslike, and Dolmen doesn’t really connect here. Fighting with melee weapons involves locking on to an opponent, and using light and heavy attacks which spend stamina points. Once the player’s stamina bar is depleted, they will be able to attack much less often and must wait to recover. However, ranged combat is also an option, utilizing various firearms and a separate pool of energy. Launching a “light” attack with a gun uses some of the energy reserved for ranged attacks, which recovers after some time just like the stamina bar. Using a “heavy” attack permanently spends some energy in order to deal more damage. Healing by pressing square also permanently uses this energy. The only way to recover permanently lost energy is by using a battery, which is akin to flasks in the Souls games. Naturally, these batteries are limited in count, and must be eventually refilled either by happening upon one on a fallen enemy or by visiting a teleport point, this game’s version of campfire checkpoints.
Ranged combat is not something you usually see much of in this genre, and its use of a separate energy bar for these attacks is interesting. Players can even press triangle to use that energy bar to power up their melee weapons with elemental damage, depending upon which reactor item they have equipped. It’s a unique system, unfortunately marred by the lackluster melee combat. Animations are clunky and static, as most enemies don’t even react to your attacks connecting. It’s hard to describe exactly, but weapons have no real heft to them as most attacks feel the same. The energy savings of light attacks compared to heavy also don’t feel worth it, so most of the time you’re better off swinging for the fences with nothing but heavy attacks. Dolmen’s version of difficulty involves giving all enemies enormous amounts of health, and some of them pack the ability to kill you in one hit. Bosses are also easy to figure out, and many have a way to cheese right through an otherwise frustrating battle. The whole thing just lacks the finesse of more refined games in this genre.
Multiplayer functionality is included in Dolmen, but again, not quite to other Soulslike games’ standard. Other players can join you, or vice versa, for a boss battle, at the cost of a Dolmen crystal, which are occasionally dropped by enemies. Up to four players can take on a boss, with the game ramping up the difficulty for each additional player. But as far as player interactions go, this is it. There are no notes to be found left behind by others, no invading other games, just co-op battling against a boss you can probably figure out within a few tries or less. It is a good thing it’s included, but should have been expanded given what else is out there.
You probably could have guessed this by now, but Dolmen should have released before Elden Ring. All Soulslike games from here on out will constantly be in that game’s gigantic shadow. It’s not that there’s not enough room in this genre for more entries, especially ones that are in such a wildly different setting. It’s just that whatever games release in this space must now meet such incredibly high standards or face intense criticism and likely faltering sales. Dolmen will surely appeal to those who want a Soulslike adventure in a sci-fi setting, and perhaps were disappointed by 2020’s Hellpoint release. Just go in with lowered expectations owing to a smaller dev team, and perhaps you’ll have some fun smashing enemies to bits.