Dolmen is the first attempt at a new Soulslike by Brazilian game developers Massive Work Studio. Oh, Dolmen. We had such high hopes for you. Both Matt K and I really had high hopes that Dolmen would overcome it’s technical issues that we both noted in our individual previews spaced out five months apart.
Ultimately Dolmen delivers little more than a few clever ideas that are buried by a cavalcade of performance problems, technical issues, and a completely forgettable story that’s barely even coherent. Does Dolmen deliver more than simply being a Lovecraftian inspired Souls clone? Find out more in our Dolmen review:
Developer: Massive Work Studio
Publisher: Prime Matter
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X
Release Date: May 20, 2022
Players: 1 (Up to 4 for boss co-op)
Price: $39.99 USD
I’m just going to spit this out because there isn’t a better way to say it: Dolmen has one of the worst stories for this type of game I’ve ever sat through. I thought Hellpoint had a dumb story, but Dolmen‘s story is the most bland, cobbled together mess I’ve encountered outside of a $5 indie meant only to unlock achievements.
I don’t know if Dolmen‘s story suffers because the developers don’t speak English as their primary language, or if they simply only had a framework of a story in place that they ran out of time to expand on, but honestly, Dolmen would have been a more enjoyable experience if they hadn’t even bothered with one. My Dolmen review actually suffers because it did.
The story of Dolmen is as follows (and I’m even going to spoil the ending because of how bad it is, which is something I never do): The Zoan corporation is scouring the planet of Revion Prime looking for these power crystals called Dolmen, and for whatever reason, these alien creature things have them.
There’s also a few dudes there who ultimately control the monsters because they have the ability to harness the power of the Dolmen crystals. Once you beat the final boss, the Zoan corporation decides it’s best to forget that this ever happened.
Zoan then spawns like eight more people out of cryopods (why the hell was I doing this alone if this was an option?) to go and clear the planet, erasing any trace that anyone may have ever been there. It’s so incredibly bad that they should have just made the game not have a story, seriously.
Dolmen isn’t all bad. There’s some interesting scenery, unique enemies, and challenging boss battles that lie within. Every boss has a unique gimmick to the fight, which makes the fact that you’ll need to farm the bosses for components to build weapons more interesting. For example: In order to make the Terrorantula weapon, you’ll need to kill that enemy four times.
This a pretty straight forward fight with a big ass spider that occasionally summons little spiders from around the outer edge of the arena to assist her. The fight with the queen also has some unique mechanics that involve attacking tentacles that come up through the floor.
The queen fight has you then avoiding an entire grid of the tentacles that rise up, so you’re tested to quickly observe your surroundings and find the one safe space in the arena before you’re murdered by whirling dervish tentacles that also for whatever reason inflict fire damage.
I actually found the boss mechanics neat, even though they were frustrating at first. This is the strongest part of the Dolmen experience. There’s also some interesting normal enemies, such as dudes that swing a chain that they whirl in front of them and create a shield that reflects all projectile attacks, pausing briefly to lash the chain out and hit you with it.
The shadow monsters are neat too, as you can get them near death and they’ll teleport behind you and grab you to feed, returning to full health if they happen to grab you since they siphon your health to refill their own. Sadly, aside from the bosses and a few challenging mobs, most of the enemies you’ll face are generic bug/spider types that you’d find in any other dark exploration game.
Unfortunately, if you want to experience the best things Dolmen has to offer, you’re going to have to deal with a bunch of technical issues to experience them. Multiplayer only exists for farming the bosses, so you’ll be able to summon up to three additional players to help you out, but the multiplayer experience was straight up broken during my playthrough.
I joined a player to help with a fight about 75% of the way through the game, and not only did the game not update when I took damage so I was never sure what my health was at, the boss also never updated to show damage so I wasn’t sure anything I did even dented his health bar.
I learned the mechanics of the fight later on when I got to him naturally in my playthrough, but even when hosting multiplayer lobbies, the game would load new players in while the fight was going which resulted in people who couldn’t enter the boss arena standing there like goons and also being out the cost of entry for joining the session.
See, enemies will randomly drop Dolmen fragments, which you’ll use as a currency to respawn or challenge bosses. It takes three fragments to respawn a boss for an attempt, which means you’ll either pay the fragments and be teleported into the boss fight solo, you can host a session where you will aimlessly stand around waiting/hoping someone else will join you.
You can also search for open sessions and join one by also spending three fragments. If you die, you’re out three fragments which are a random drop and can’t be reliably farmed. I know it took me about 45 minutes of clearing trash mobs in order to get three crystal fragments.
I needed those fragments so I could attempt to spawn the Ferromancer again trying to farm the pieces to build the boss weapon. During my Dolmen review playthrough, I joined and hosted around six multiplayer boss battles.
I think the fragments are a neat idea, but I think it would be far better if the crystals could drop as whole pieces that could be shattered in the crafting station – even if it were only three fragments per crystal, and you could convert the fragments to an item that would allow you to bank those points for when you need them.
This is a cool idea, but since you not only drop your Nanites (souls) but also any Dolmen fragments when you die, becomes an issue due to the game’s performance.
I can’t tell you how many times I got cheap-shotted, stun-locked, or simply fell to my death on the way back to a corpse due to Dolmen‘s unreliable performance and environmental collision issues. Throughout my Dolmen review, I’d venture to guess I lost more than 30 fragments over the course of the eight hours or so it took me to get through the game.
I’m extremely frustrated in scoring Dolmen because I liked it, even though it actively worked against me the entire game. On PlayStation there’s a Quality mode which looks nice and has ray tracing, but it runs at something like 12 FPS and is unplayable. In performance mode it’s smoother and definitely playable, but it still suffers from jank and stutter.
Frame rates can randomly dip/stutter and enemies sometimes just texture pop in out of nowhere. On top of that, locking on is unreliable, where you’ll go from shooting a locked on enemy to suddenly shooting the ground because it just decided to unlock. I also fall off of the world because I got too close to an edge or a hole even though you should be able to walk right across it, as the camera randomly deciding to just start spinning, and yeah, you get the point.
Dolmen isn’t a terrible game, but it definitely wasn’t ready to be released yet. Perhaps it can be improved by future patches, but as it stands, there’s no way this game is worth $20 in its current state, let alone $40. Pick up Dolmen if it shows up free on PS+ or Xbox Game Pass, but otherwise, go play Hellpoint or The Surge games if you want a futuristic Souls clone.