Dwarf Fortress: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Strike The Earth

dwarf-fortress

It’s been a year and a half or so since I first picked up the infamous game Dwarf Fortress, renowned for its steep learning curve and almost bizarre level of depth. Dwarf Fortress is hailed as having “two and a half” game modes, which, while sounding strange at first, makes complete sense upon looking through what it offers. The first game mode, and most popular, is simply called “Dwarf Fortress”. This mode revolves around managing a group of dwarfs and having them build and defend a fortress or settlement and strengthening trading connections with the other settlements in the world. The next “full” game mode is “Adventure Mode”. This is where Dwarf Fortress gains its status as a roguelike of sorts from the goal of setting off as an adventurer, doing quests and other typical RPG things (read: beating the crap out of monsters and animals because you can). The last “half” mode is called “Legends Mode”. While no gameplay is involved, many fans of Dwarf Fortress thoroughly enjoy the functionality brought forth in this mode, and the depth it brings to the game as a whole. Legends mode allows a player to read the in-depth history of every settlement throughout the history of their worlds. Yes, every settlement. That means that all of those procedurally generated towns, cities, and bastions of all races (most notably dwarfs, elves, and various animal-people) have their own recorded histories that you can read through. Depth is one of the driving forces behind the cult following of this otherwise unknown game.

Fortress Mode
“Strike the earth!”

In all of my time playing Dwarf Fortress, I am not ashamed to say that upwards of 90% of it was devoted to Fortress mode. It may be because I never could be bothered memorizing the hotkeys for Adventure mode, or it may simply be due to my passion for micro- and macro-management games, but I have a long and strong history with this mode. The learning curve in this mode is akin to that of Adventure mode, in that it will take you upwards of one hundred tries before you make a fort that doesn’t crumble after the first invasion. Dwarf Fortress’s complexity shows before you can even reach the actual game, as you have to organize your dwarfs’ skills and equipment before embarking upon your tedious journey to greatness. (A quick tip: make sure to bring an anvil with you, since trading will be cryptic until you get the hang of the more pertinent aspects of the game). Most tutorials advise that you begin with digging a fortress out of a mountain to begin with, a method that I rarely stray from, and a method who shows through the mottoes typically heard in discussion of Dwarf Fortress (“Dig greedily!” and “Strike the earth!”). This is probably the easiest part of the game, and will lead you to things like stockpiling, building furniture and weapons, smelting ores, and most importantly, militarizing your dwarfs. If you want to become invested in this portion of the game, be prepared to lose upwards of five hours at a time.

Adventure Mode
“DEAR LORD THE BOGEYMAN IS RIPPING MY ENTRAILS OUT”

If 95% of my playing time has been devoted to Fortress mode, I am forced to admit that a mere 4% has been devoted to the Adventure mode. I hesitate to truly make an assessment of this mode, citing my limited experience and inability (and unwillingness) of running a game for more than an hour with a demigod character. This mode starts out with a rather simple character creation, allowing you to play and elf, a dwarf, or a human from one of the many settlements in the world that is generated for you in the world maker. While not entirely refined, this mode revolves around gathering a band of warrior companions and doing quests or exploring. I have yet to do much more than run around with a couple of crossbowmen shooting random animals until night falls and the vile creatures of darkness find me, quickly ending my character’s life. And don’t expect Dwarf Fortress to be forgiving in any way, either. Be prepared to read the gruesome details of a creature ripping out veins and organs and crushing your bones. Even the blood gushing from your character is detailed on the ground (you can look around you and see puddles of your own red juice). Despite my trepidation with Adventure mode, I find that it still holds true to the wonderfully in-depth and fun gameplay that I have come to expect from Toady.

Legends Mode
“And in the year 184, Urist McDorfbucks was struck down by his own followers…”

Legends mode is truly the most hardcore of all modes, and the most immersive by far. Reading through the lists of events, rulers, and forts through the history of your world brings an entirely new face to this game. You are no longer simply playing a management game or a roguelike, you are now taking part in the history of a developing world, and contributing to the power struggles of the cultures within. As a history buff, the 1% of my time in this game was devoted to the awestruck study of the history of my people. Even your own forts and adventurers appear in this mode after they crumble to their end, and your achievements and follies are categorized in neat chronological order from the founding, to the crumbling end. This is truly the peak of this game, bringing the other two modes together in the deepest and most detailed way one could hope for. You can imagine yourself as one of the great people in history, as a catalyst for the rising and falling of nations, all within the tomes of Adventure mode.
All-in-all, Dwarf Fortress is NOT the game for everyone. A small portion of people have the patience and audacity to learn the mechanics and frequently confusing aspects, but for those who persevere, Dwarf Fortress is one of the most satisfying games I have ever picked up.

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