We all know dwarves are a stout, hardworking sort known for diggy-diggy holes and offering you their axe. Dwarven Skykeep is a game where you play as a wizard who takes on a number of tasks in a delightful mix of real time strategy, puzzle-solving, and card game elements to build a tower for victory. There’s a little bit of time management and combat, and there’s a lot of elements in play in Dwarven Skykeep, but does it manage to have a real identity of its own when borrowing this many different genre mechanics? Let’s find out.
The story of Dwarven Skykeep is mostly cheeky fun that’s simplistic in presentation, and largely exists to give window dressing for the various levels you’ll be challenged by as you play through it. You play as a sorcerer in the Nameless Kingdom, and the title tends to be quite self-aware in its references to other media, fourth wall breaks, and so on. For the most part, you’ll start the game walking back and forth in Dwarven City, and when you go through enough dialogue, the next level will open up for you to challenge your tower-building prowess by passing through mirrors.
For the most part, gameplay in Dwarven Skykeep is simple, though it does take some getting used to since you’ll be constantly shuffling a wizard around his ever-expanding 2D tower. There’s a tutorial that explains what you need to do and when, but you really have to challenge a level on your own to truly understand what you’re actually being asked to do. Some levels will require you expand your tower in a specific way, such as building into the ground to unearth ore or some other precious macguffin, while other levels might focus on having players gathering resources topside or killing a specific number of goblins. The levels will basically require all of your skills for tower defense, RTS time management, and ability to adapt to RNG (random number generator) using the game’s card system.
Cards in Dwarven Skykeep are absolutely everything. The room cards you receive determine which directions you can build your tower, getting a blacksmith card will allow you to equip your dwarves with weapons to protect themselves, and so on. A workshop card will allow for establishing a carpentry room in your tower, which can be used to produce other room cards, and there’s even a card that sets up a room with a crystal pedestal that can give you spell cards that can be applied for a variety of effects such as making a target goblin disappear. Warehouse cards also provide a valuable effect, letting you swap cards for other ones in your deck, and you can get valuable cards that can extinguish fires in your tower, repair rooms that are damaged, and more of the like.
For the most part, while trying to accomplish your goals, you’ll have goblins and various other enemies sneaking into your area to hassle you. Some foes will be goblins who just pop in to commit a light offense of arson, while enemy sorcerers may show up to explode your dwarven manservants, and those dwarves always fail their dexterity save. While keeping an eye on those annoying buggers, you’ll also be moving and grooving about your ever-expanding tower to generate new cards at a relatively constant clip, and managing each of your workstations while your dwarves continue to build or fight is key to success in Dwarven Skykeep.
The variety of stages in Dwarven Skykeep is actually quite decent, as it’s not even always requiring that you defend your tower. One level, if I recall properly, wants you to collect a certain number of moths in a time limit. Seems simple enough, but it was funny when I realized that expanding my tower skyward as much as possible and letting a goblin set it on fire, which attracts moths, was one of the easier ways to finish the level. Due to the random nature of enemy events and a RNG picking which cards you’ll have available at what time, you will have a variety of ways to handle problems at hand. You might get a card that puts out a fire, but you can also summon a rainstorm to do it if it’s above ground.
While Dwarven Skykeep gives off the air of a 2D real time strategy game, its RNG card premise denies a lot of its strategic elements, at times. Due to the fact that players are entirely beholden to whether or not they can build new rooms, generate new dwarves, etc., at random, some missions can have exceptionally slow starts as the title just outright won’t give you what is needed to properly build out your towers. Even when you’re spamming card generating stations, you might just keep getting room cards with only one entrance that don’t properly connect with other room cards generated, which can make it very time consuming to reach the objectives for the mission you’re on if you don’t draw a Wallbreaker card to outright make a new entrance.
Of course, you can also change up your deck’s loadout of cards based on the mission, but you won’t even remotely know what you’re about to face until you’ve tried it the first time. Unfortunately, this means that if you realize a mission will be overly time-consuming to complete with your current deck, you can’t access the deck tuning menu by restarting- you’ll have to outright lose, and only then can you access that menu. So, this created a loop of starting a stage, realizing I needed a completely different number of cards or artifacts I explicitly didn’t need in the last level, exiting back into the town so I could adjust my deck, which necessitated running back to the mirror to challenge the level again.
The good news about the card system is that the developer is listening. Updates have been released that dramatically reduce these tiny annoyances or oversights in the game design, with one being released the exact day this review is being finalized that allows deck and artifact tuning with every level restart. It also reduces RNG’s influence on your gameplay by allowing for the selection of a card you’d like to draw from the workshop and magic-generating rooms. It also apparently includes a tutorial that more adequately matches gameplay, too. It’s always nice to see a title being updated positively and in ways that should make it more enjoyable in the long-term.
After Dwarven Skykeep’s last update, the fun factor for it has increased substantially, and the need to quit back to town has been dramatically reduced from its initial release, which is great. There’s a variety of methods to tackle its differing levels, and the vast majority of challenges that might seem overly difficult typically just require a slight change in approach in order to complete. Of course, there might even be times when you can brute force a bad strategy simply because you got the perfect draw of cards, but that’s going to be pretty rare. That isn’t to say that Dwarven Skykeep is overly difficult, far from it actually, it’s simply that the title tends to pride itself on making players attempt some stages more than once until they adopt the correct puzzle solution to the level in question.
All in all, Dwarven Skykeep is a very fun 2D tower defense/strategy/puzzle solving hybrid. The updates have improved it in practically every way, and if you enjoy base building games then Dwarven Skykeep might be a great cheap pickup to keep yourself entertained for a good amount of time. The deck building mechanics add an additional layer of strategy without seeming superfluous, and as of the last update that provides the player with more control of what cards they have access to, it’s a great blending of multiple systems for a very one-of-a-kind experience.
Developers: Hack The Publisher
Platforms: PC, Steam