Back near the beginning of 2010 I wrote a post for this blog about the 8 best indie games ever made. Aside from being my most popular post with a total of 1,974 page views as of this writing, it also got a number of comments demanding to know why Dwarf Fortress was not on the list and I had to admit that I hadn't played it.
It's not that I hadn't heard of Dwarf Fortress, I had. Rather, I was intentionally avoiding the game. All of the things I read about it made it sound like a complicated mess that was basically unplayable unless you were a Stephen Hawking level genius. Sort of like SimCity 3, which was so strict that if you built a fire station before your town was "ready" for it you would go bankrupt almost instantly. But I digress.
Eventually I did get around to downloading and playing Dwarf Fortress. After all the glowing reviews I was certain that once I was done I'd be able to sit down and write a new post singing the game's praises and lamenting that I'd not played it before.
Sadly, I just can't do that. It's not that the game is bad, and I am happy to say that my preconceptions were dead wrong, it's just...well, I'm getting ahead of myself.
For anyone who might be reading this who doesn't know what Dwarf Fortress is, a good way to describe it is this: Dwarf Fortress is basically like Minecraft for people who think Minecraft is too shallow and limited. Dwarf Fortress is complicated in a good way. You'll probably need a guide to get started (Here ya go!) but once you get into it the game is intuitive, deep, and best of all works. (Seriously, fuck you, SimCity 3.)
The only real fault with the game itself is that it's in the "losing is fun" genre of games. As fans of the game will be happy to tell you, you'll never know what fun really is until you conquer the beasts of Hell itself and wrest it from their vile claws. (Granted, even if that's true it's still not losing that's fun, so much as winning over seemingly insurmountable odds.) The problem is, unlike with other LIF games like Spelunky, you're not just losing a few minutes but potentially days, weeks, or months of your life every time you lose.
As with Dungeon Crawl, however, I'm willing to give this one a pass on the grounds that you can always just back up your saves if you don't want to lose everything.
No, the reason I can't make that worshipful post is simply that this isn't the universally awesome ultimate game I was promised. Dwarf Fortress is just not for a lot of people and sadly I'm one of them. Those who follow my blog are well aware that I'm not a graphics whore, but even so ASCII graphics just never did it for me. (Though I will say this game makes possibly the best use of them that I've ever seen.) I've also never been a huge fan of simulation games. Mostly, though, I just don't have time for a game like this right now. Those of you who know me probably know why and those who don't know me have no reason to care, so I won't burden you with the details. Maybe in the future when my life is working properly I'll come back to this game, but not now.
KR Rating: GREAT
So, if I were to rewrite the Top 8 Indie Games today, would I include Dwarf Fortress? No contest, I absolutely would*. Hell, it might even take the number 1 spot! It's objectively good and easily the deepest game I've ever played. The only real problem is, despite the adulation of its fans, it's simply not universally enjoyable. Dwarf Fortress is the textbook definition of a niche game. If you're not into sim games, don't like ASCII graphics, or simply don't have time for a game that will devour hours and even weeks of your life with the very real risk of losing it all to one unlucky incident, then this game has nothing for you.
If you, are okay with those things or even suspect you might be okay with them, then I strongly recommend giving this game a shot. Go ahead and get it here.
*I would also include Tastes Like Spelunky (sorry, vanilla Spelunky) and Minecraft.