NextGen Take - Dolmen

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

Dolmen

By Paul Hunter

It seems lately I just can't stop playing soulslike games whether that's beating Bloodborne's NG+ last year, plunking 150 plus hours into Elden Ring or working my way through PS5's excellent indie game Salt and Sacrifice. And well, I did it again, this time with Dolmen on PS5 from developer Massive Work Studio.

Dolmen is a new soulslike game that sets you into the role of a mercenary—hired by the Zoan Corp—who must explore the planet Revion Prime to uncover the cause of a catastrophic accident. Your main task is to acquire Dolmen crystals that have the power to control the space between dimensions, potentially revolutionizing space travel. But along the way you'll discover a hostile planet where everything from machines to monsters to even the environments themselves are out to get you. So let's step into our Zoan Ship and head to the surface, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.


Liked: The Mixed Sword and Gun Gameplay

A big reason I wanted to check out Dolmen was to experience its fascinating mix of melee combat and gunplay—and it didn't disappoint. While Bloodborne also features various guns, ammo in that game was fairly limited (costing health to replenish!) and the weapons were meant to stun enemies, not inflict real damage. With Dolmen, gun shooting is integral to the gameplay.

You start out by choosing your starting class, which comes with various stats and loadouts: for my playthrough I chose the Recruit that's basically like Elden Ring's Wretch starting at level 1 and possessing the most basic weapons. My character initially had a basic axe and a starter pistol, but over the course of my 15-hour adventure I fabricated over 20 additional melee weapons and a dozen new ranged weapons. By the end, my arsenal consisted of two-handed swords, gauntlets, clubs and claws, plus a variety of handguns, rifles and shotguns.

Stringing together light and strong melee attacks with ranged shots—both standard and charged up heavy blasts—was satisfying in Dolmen. Especially when you factor in that weapons have one of three elemental properties, either fire, ice or acid, and enemies are always weak to one and resistant to the other two. This game of rock/paper/scissors kept combat interesting as you swap out your loadout (which can be done in-menu on the fly) to maximize your damage output. Also, there are some really powerful and cool-looking boss weapons that you can fabricate like a vicious pair of dual blades and a ranged gun that shoots exploding bullets.

Liked: Weapon Synthesis and Character Upgrades

To make combat more interesting, Dolmen has a unique weapon synthesis system that lets you customize weapon attributes to your liking. The way it works is as you explore all the nooks and crannies of Revion Prime you'll discover different enhancement materials used to customize your weapons. Then you go back to your Zoan Ship home base to synthesize new weapons or armour.

There are many different enhancement item 'types' and each of them have rarity tiers, i.e. common, rare and legendary. Every type enhances your armour and weapons in different ways, some might improve a gun's rate of fire, others might reduce the energy cost per attack, while others still enhance the damage output. It's a great system that encourages you to explore everywhere and rewards you handsomely with high-quality materials to boost your gear's stats and abilities.

Likewise, I also enjoyed the levelling up system in Dolmen that very much will appeal to soulslike fans. Defeating enemies rewards you with Nanites and these can be cashed in on your Zoan Ship to upgrade stats that improve you health, energy, melee or ranged weapon damage and your defences. Also in true soulslike fashion, weapons and armour have stat requirements, meaning you'll need to decide what type of character you want, such as a strong melee fighter, a ranged-weapon expert or a tough-as-nails tank. One big reason why I enjoyed the upgrade system is how rapidly you gain levels (I was over level 60 after 15 hours) and how much of a tangible impact each upgrade makes. I felt a great sense of progression through the game, thanks mainly to the well-balanced upgrade system.

Liked: The Multiplayer

Dolmen is mainly a single-player adventure but you do have the option specifically just for boss fights to summon up to three other players to your game. All you need is three Dolmen Fragments to initiate multiplayer, and the game generously gives out these fragments by defeating common enemies. The only real concern is when you die you'll lose whatever fragments you have, although in traditional soulslike manner you can then recover your body and gain the fragments back.

The first time I beat every boss I did it on my own to test my skills and for personal triumph, however, you can then respawn bosses to give them another go. I fought each boss a minimum of three times (the required amount to fabricate the boss' weapon or armour) and each subsequent time I did it via multiplayer. It was a lot of fun to buddy up with other players and take down the game's nine different bosses, and I generally only had to wait a minute or two for each multiplayer session to start. You can also spend a single Dolmen Fragment to hop into other players' games and help them take down whatever boss is in their way.

Didn't Like: Enemy Sponginess

While the mix of melee and ranged weapon gameplay was a lot of fun, I did think most enemies were a bit too spongy, especially if you opt for the weaker ranged gun approach. Some enemies took far longer to defeat than what you'd expect, and overall the enemy A.I. is rather dumb, so often times I could just continuously circle opponents while firing away without them really mounting any significant offence.

If you go the melee route, combat is a lot better since melee weapons can inflict some serious damage. You have the ability to parry or block attacks so for that reason I often leaned more towards melee brawls even though I thought the gunplay was more novel and exciting. I will say though, once you start unlocking the advanced guns, like the fire shotgun or the deadly ice AR, then ranged combat gets significantly better.

Didn't Like: Poor Boss A.I.

So I'm not usually one to cheese bosses but Dolmen made it far too tempting to resist, and in some cases I had no other choice. In an early boss fight against the Ancient Soldier, I quickly discovered that you could just circle around a descending staircase blasting away the boss without it ever having a chance of hitting you. But even worse, midway through the game this giant fly-like boss I was battling actually stopped moving entirely just a minute into the fight. It just sat there and let me pummel it to death, basically ruining the entire boss fight.

As if that weren't enough, during my fight with General Vesib (the game's hardest boss), I got stuck on the other side of an invisible wall but yet my gunfire went right through and hit the boss. So I literally just sat there blasting the boss's health down to zip all while his melee attacks couldn't hit me. Granted, with all these boss fights that bugged up on me I ended going back to fight them again properly, but it's still disappointing how many boss fights became hilarious chessefests. But hey, if it's any consolation, the bosses look great and most of the fights were pretty cool.

The Verdict

I had more fun than expected playing Dolmen and everyone who enjoys a good soulslike game should check it out. The environments are varied and look nice, the level design was appealing, it has great character and gear upgrades systems, and multiplayer was a nice touch. The real downside is the poor enemy A.I., so while combat was satisfying, aside from a few well-designed bosses don't expect a stiff challenge. Overall though, it's a solid recommend.

Final Score: 7.5/10 - Good


Dolmen details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Massive Work Studio
Publisher: Prime Matter
Genre: Action role-playing, Horror
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)


A key was provided by the publisher.