Dwarf Fortress Steam review – A fortress that’s built to last

Dwarf Fortress is the most complicated world simulator out there. Read our review of Dwarf Fortress today.
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Image: Bay 12 Games

The early 2000s is when gaming really seems to have hit its stride, with some of that generation’s consoles being the highest regarded. That being said, it wasn’t easy to develop games at that time, especially for independent creators. That’s what makes those games that came out around that time uniquely special in ways that aren’t as common today.

While there were a fair few games released back then, one of the ones that flew under the radar was Dwarf Fortress, one of the first colony management simulators to ever be released. While that version didn’t look like much, the developers at Bay 12 Games would continue to work on it over the next 20 years to evolve it into one of the most comprehensive world simulators to ever be created.

Now, in the year of our Dwarf 2022, players from across the world are experiencing this truly unique game for the first time as it releases with a whole range of improvements on Steam. On this special occasion, it’s time that we take a look at the game, knowing full well it’s an ever-evolving experience that will continue to improve in the coming years.

The QoL improvements evolve the game

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Image: Bay 12 Games

Before the game was released on Steam, it was really hard to get into Dwarf Fortress for a variety of reasons. Most of these reasons had to do with accessibility and ease of use, which the game was not known for being a champion of. However, that is one of the biggest attractions in the Steam version of the game, with there basically being an entire accessibility overhaul.

Not only are the menus improved, but this version of the game adds mouse support, allowing the player to click through the menus. In previous versions, the player was forced to navigate everything using just the keyboard, which could prove hard for those who didn’t remember all of the specific hotkeys. Players can now click on an object, character, or nearly anything else to get more information.

That being said, the UI and menus still feel like early versions of something that can be improved as the game continues to develop. With such a huge change from the previous versions, it’s such a large improvement that you don’t even notice what you don’t have. New players, on the other hand, may find navigating the menus and tabs to be a bit overwhelming at first.

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Image: Bay 12 Games

One of the biggest changes that were marketed is the improvement to the graphics, namely by adding them in the first place. Before the Steam version was released, Dwarf Fortress was a very simple game visually, with different symbols denoting everything from the items to the characters. In this update, the game looks more similar to RimWorld as opposed to its previous ’90s retail software vibe.

Honestly, the pixel graphics are really charming. They’re not the most beautiful thing you’ll see in gaming, but that’s not really the reason to play Dwarf Fortress in the first place. Instead, these visuals serve as a way for new players to better understand the world and what’s happening in it. There aren’t many negatives to this outside of the characters don’t really move so much as blink across each area.

There’s a whole world out there

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Image: Bay 12 Games

The gameplay is very similar to games like RimWorld, Prison Architect, or really any other game where you’re managing a colony of survivors. However, in many ways, Dwarf Fortress goes above and beyond what these games are able to do. This is largely due to a dedicated development over the last couple of decades, predating many of the most popular colony survivors by over 10 years.

While this complexity is ever present, it’s easy not to notice this in the early parts of the game when you’re first getting your colony started. In the beginning, you’ll largely be focused more on survival than worrying about the politics of your surrounding cities and neighbors. It won’t be until you’re inevitably invaded by an angry elf neighbor that you’ll be forced to reckon with the world at large.

The game world feels vast and complex from the outset of the game. When you choose to create a new fantasy world, you can actually watch as the history of that world is created by the computer in front of you. At any point, you can stop the progression of time and join among the most recently developing lore, engraining yourself in this new fantasy epic.

Dwarf Fortress‘s world feels ready to be explored, but done so at the risk of facing the larger dangers that exist out there. That’s why it’s best to have a good fortress and a strong set of Dwarves before you ever leave the comfort of your home. There’s so much to do you in your fortress that you likely won’t need to venture out for much of the first year, at least.

It won’t always be so easy

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Image: Bay 12 Games

The game loop as it stands now is very much a management-style game, with players forced to make sure they are creating self-sustaining fortresses that are able to function largely on their own. Even with the new visuals, there’s still a lot of watching numbers going up and down and making sure you’re keeping up with the supply and demand of your settlement.

As it becomes more complicated to run your fortress, you’ll need to make harder decisions. However, first, you’ll need to get to that point, as the game can reach a steep learning curve at points, decimating your entire fortress. There will sometimes be events that were entirely out of control, forcing you to react and try to save as much of your settlement as you can.

Unfortunately, you can’t save everyone and you’ll likely lose a few fortresses before you really learn what it takes to survive in the fantasy world. This can be frustrating for players who don’t like unexpected challenges and having to start over, or at least from an earlier point. Because of this and the still complicated interface, it simply won’t be some people’s type of game. However, for others, it’s exactly what they’ve been waiting for.

The Final Word

Dwarf Fortress is one of the most incredibly complex games to ever be released, with Bay 12 Games showing no sign of slowing down in the coming years. While the complicated menus and steep learning curve might be too much for some people, this game will be exactly what most colony management fans have always been looking for.

9

Our Dwarf Fortress review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!

Christian Harrison

Christian Harrison

Christian Harrison is a writer and gamer, the latter he's been doing for the last two decades. When not working, he enjoys streaming the latest show or spending time with his family and friends. Contact: Christian@tryhardguides.com

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