Dolmen Hands-On Preview – Cosmic horror, cosmic potential

Posted on December 14, 2021

Serving as a bombastic action-horror experience featuring players within a Lovecraftian world with Souls-like combat, Dolmen certainly promises big things. The game also happens to be one of Prime Matter’s (the new publishing division of Koch Media) ever-nearing releases. Slated for release sometime in 2022, it could be a good get for those purists that enjoy tough, slow and methodical third-person action games. Getting a bit of an early hands-on with Dolmen, this promise feels mostly matched, even if it has a long way to go.

Dolmen puts players in the shoes of a souped-up human, colonising an alien planet in search of a valuable crystal that shares the game’s namesake. These materials are used to interact with different realities than the one the player is currently in. I imagine this has big implications for however the narrative will play out come full release. However, the appearance of the Dolmen crystal, or its effects, was not seen in my hands-on experience. Instead, I got to be in the thick of things, with my time largely spent getting a handle on the game’s vibes and gameplay.

I’m thrust into an area that’s called ‘The Dumps,’ and it’s here I’m tutorialised quite aptly. Dodging, blocking, parrying, rolling, learning the nature and animation speed of both your own and enemy’s attacks… all the meat and potatoes of the genre are present. Your typical affair for this type of experience, if you’re at all familiar with it. These games live and die by this combat and I’m relieved it already works quite well here. I tend to take my time with these types of games more than the average player and felt rewarded in this.

Getting a single hit in with my blade or club, then timing a dodge backwards ahead of the enemy’s returning blow… when I was finally into the swing of things I truly realised just how much this is a formula I’d been missing. The last third-person action game I’d played with this heavy a focus on that slow and methodical combat was last years Demon’s Souls. I felt oddly comfortable with my constant slow crawl of progress, met with constant deaths. I was eager to bring it home.

“…when I was finally into the swing of things I truly realised just how much this is a formula I’d been missing.”

Dolmen has many elements provided by other Souls-likes prior. My time with the game had me making either cautious runs or careless sprints, hoping to reach the next teleporter dedicated to taking me back to my ship and spend my hard-earned currency (nanites) to upgrade my health or other stats. There are welcome additions in there such as craftable guns or mixing up cores for my suit that can add elemental damage to foes, hopefully making the fight that little bit easier.

Even getting more powerful armour involves retrieving limbs and shells from the bodies of extraterrestrial creatures you’ll be fighting. All of this is stuff you’ve seen added before in games like The Surge or Remnant: From the Ashes, but due to its competence, it never feels too derivative.

Where Dolmen is at my opinion at its strongest thus far is in its atmosphere. The Dumps, featured on Rezion Prime, the planet you’ve found yourself on, is incredibly eerie and will at times quite confidently leave you with feelings of dread. Cosmic horror vibes are aplenty here with an army of alien arachnids and soldiers with guns and swords to also give you a run for your money. As you wander throughout this unnerving blend of rusted steel structures combined with foreign flora and creepy crawlies, I was soon invested in the space surrounding me. Which corners and crevices have things hiding around them? Is a spider going to jump out of that sac? Oh God, I hope not.

While Dolmen promises a tantalising world and combat that looks the part, not enough of its best hand was shown just yet. I only got to see the surface of the game’s survival elements, including what looks to be a quite in-depth crafting system. Bugs I found included losing my save state and a peculiar instance had my character frozen, unable to move after taking fall damage. Signposting on players’ intended path needs some work too — I brought about the opening up of an area that did not seem accessible in this build. This is a game that still feels early days. If Dolmen is to release next year, I hope it gets these gaps together in time.

My preview run concluded with my first and only boss fight. The Dementula, a gigantic spider stared me down and after a few challenging goes, I was able to triumph. I dodged at just the right time, got just the right hits in and it soon crumbled beneath my feet. Whilst satisfying, this as a whole was brief and before I knew it, my time with the game so far was over. Not as many questions were answered as I’d like. I still am guessing a lot as to how the rest of Dolmen will pan out. Though I’ll be damned if I’m not eager to see just that.

Dolmen and its cosmic horrors await the PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC sometime in 2022.