Dolmen Review

Dolmen by developer Massive Work Studio and publisher Prime MatterMicrosoft Xbox Series X|S review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes 

Having originally taken a look at Massive Work Studio and Prime Matter’s Dolmen on the PC during the holiday break, this was one Soulslike that I've had on my mind since. Leaving behind the more medieval settings that so many have worked within, this adventure is all about how to survive in a non-dystopian science fiction format.

By this point in time I am definitely no stranger to a Soulslike. Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Elden Ring, The Surge 1 / 2, Salt and Sanctuary / Sacrifice, Ender Lilies, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, and several others. Each of these titles, whether from From Software or others, whether I’ve gone through and platinumed on the PSN or not, have continued to build what is now an incredible genre that has begun spanning multiple others for some pretty crazy adventures.

So it's within these titles that you can both see the influences and the innovations which is what drew me to Dolmen. After receiving a distress call, you are sent to investigate a planet where the material known as a Dolmen is mined. Not only has tragedy fallen to those that worked here, the walls of reality have blended making everything a surprise for both you, and your navigator.

So it's here that I once again find myself but with both prior knowledge of the first stage ahead of me and the thirst to know what comes next. Paving some new ground in order to find out, Dolmen has your protagonist equipped with a Health bar, a Stamina bar and an Energy bar. While health is the obvious one of how many hits you can take, stamina is also fairly self explanatory being how much you can swing your weapons, run around or dodge various enemy attacks.

Energy though is where things got interesting. Channeling the science fiction elements, Dolmen allows for you to equip a variety of futuristic long range weapons such as pistols and rifles over to shotguns for some serious up close, yet still ranged, action. Each of these not only take varying costs of energy, but can also switch between temporary or permanent energy depending on the firing mode. Temporary energy will be restored after a time of not being used like your physical stamina. Permanent usage tends to carry a much higher impact but at the cost of having less overall energy to work with.

Moving into a more melee build, it’s also possible to equip yourself with an element of your choice and channel it into your attacks. Fire, Ice, Acid, these can be swapped between whenever you need to and will act as your primary element when you really need a boost. This boost uses temporary energy so there’s no reason not to use it. It makes the implemented energy system just as useful for melee builds as it does for ranged builds. Finally in regards to elements, not only do these do what you would expect such as fire burning and ice slowing you or others down, but they also add percentage based status effects such as fire also decreasing an enemy’s defense making it a favorite of mine.

Also keeping things interesting is that energy is also used to heal yourself by taking a portion of your permanent reserve. This can be done in quick succession if needed, but once it’s done, like your range weapons, that gauge will wind up pretty empty. So it’s a good thing that like other Soulslikes, you have a specific item that exists for this very situation. The only catch that comes with using this consumable is that it won’t restore your energy completely and it takes time in order to use it. So if you are planning on using it? Make sure you have the time as you often won’t in a boss fight!

Now here’s where I found myself at odds. On one hand, all of these ideas still felt as well thought out as they had back over the holidays when I first took a look. On the other hand, I found myself thinking back to Hellpoint where while the ideas were all there, the execution of these ideas at times had me wondering, is it just me or is it the system? Dolmen for lack of a better term “isn’t easy”. Enemies hit hard, the environment isn’t forgiving and the boss even more so. This is generally what we look for in a Soulslike, but, there is a difference between being hard and fair versus hard and what the hell just happened.

A lot of your enemies won’t flinch and be able to hit you as you hit them. Bosses will oftentime have completely unblockable attacks meaning that if you want to survive, you’ll need to get good at long range attacks or learn to dodge like a pro. Spoiler alert… I did the first one. It’s not that dodging isn’t feasible but if you keep dodging all of these attacks, there’s no stamina left to work with, so I opted for a more ranged build. This build is perfectly within the cards but there are a lot of times that it felt ineffective versus a good old fashioned stick.

So it’s really here that I started to have both a love and a hate relationship as there’s one other element that comes into play. Character gear. For character gear, the first set of these is going to be your armor sets that can be mixed and matched if you want to, or, can all be the same vein of technology in order to get better synergy. The better the synergy, the more bonuses you can expect from the pairings. Also great is that as new gear gets unlocked, or old gear improved, the new pieces may blend technologies allowing even better synergy.

Still on the love side, as you create or modify your gear, you can put in components to increase various statuses and gain bonuses to its physical or elemental resistances. Where I started to form a hate relationship is also here as to create any new gear, not only do you need new materials, you also need to make sure that you have the stats for it. While this sounds par for the course, if you level a chest armor from level 2 over to level 3, you NEED to check the required stats as it will change if you aren’t paying attention the first time. You can’t wear it and will be a lot squishier for the foreseeable future until you can.

Also, only requiring the materials to create or level up gear can be a chore as it’s luck based if you can even find it. Weapons are not as bad, however, they don’t unlock as frequently as gear often making me wonder when I can get something new because what I have just isn’t cutting it. There are certain better weapons that in a sense are more readily available but you’ll have to fight for them which is perhaps where Dolmen re-won me over. You can respawn bosses to basically farm them for materials to create special weapons.

This is a feature often not found in a Soulslike. Generally, once a boss has been defeated the next time you see them will be in a new game plus (NG+) and if you got material for a weapon? You need to choose wisely as it’ll be a while before you can again. Being able to respawn bosses was a neat addition but it doesn’t come without a cost. To respawn a boss, you’ll need two things. The first are nanites which is what you need in order to level yourself up. The second are Dolmen shards that you can randomly pickup from enemies. They drop often enough but I would highly advise NOT to go into a new boss fight while carrying double digits. Go spend them first unless you are really sure that you can win.


So overall, Dolmen is sitting somewhere in the middle for me. On one hand, you have some really great ideas, but on the other, there’s still some refinement to be made to the overall experience. A lot of these issues I could see being fixed down the line through a few balancing and adjustment patches, but I think Massive Work Studio and Prime Matter have done a good job. I hope to both see some refinement as well as a potential sequel down the line.

Score: 6.75 / 10



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