[UPDATE] Koch Media PR reached out to clarify that Intel XeSS support won't actually be available until some time in the Summer.
[ORIGINAL STORY] The burgeoning Soulslike genre is about to grow even bigger thanks to Dolmen, an upcoming sci-fi/cosmic horror action RPG developed by the independent team at Massive Work Studio.
Following the recent hands-on we had at PAX East and ahead of next week's launch date, we chatted with Kiev Martins, Producer on Dolmen at Massive Work Studio. In our in-depth interview, we touched upon many game related aspects such as game length, combat balance and co-op functionality, next-gen console specs, and we also confirmed that Dolmen will be the first game to support all three upscaling technologies on PC: AMD FSR (though only version 1.0 at first), NVIDIA DLSS, and Intel XeSS. It also features ray tracing support on both PC and next-gen consoles.
As a reminder, Dolmen launches on May 20th on PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X for a price of $39.99.
To begin with, tell us about your development team.
Massive Work Studio was founded five years ago. Because of this project, different professionals from different areas were trying to do a Soulslike game, so they gathered together. Of course, we needed to build a company, which led to the foundation of Massive Work Studio. We have a lot of professionals who worked in other companies around the world. But we started here in Brazil because most of the team is Brazilian. Now we have 25 people. Of course, we have a lot of partners, freelancers, and Koch Media helping us.
I know that you have used Kickstarter to originally fund the game. What was your experience with crowdfunding there?
In different stages of the project, we needed of course feedback and money. Kickstarter was an important start for our community. We received a lot of feedback, a lot of help, and a lot of insights in that phase, and the game is what it is today because of the help of Kickstarter. I think that was important on both sides, monetary of course for the project's funding and the feedback from the community who helped us elaborate the project in the right way.
Can you discuss the partnership with Koch Media?
One of our partners introduced us to Koch Media. We showed them the Dolmen project and of course, Koch media gave us a lot of feedback to improve the project, like multiplayer, how to do marketing stuff and how to get better quality in technology, among other things. We set up a partnership and have been working together since then.
When you began the development of Dolmen, the Soulslike genre wasn't quite as crowded as it is today. Are you worried about the competition?
This is the result of market research. Five years ago, the Soulslike genre was already growing and we knew that this kind of game would have an explosion in a few years. This is the shared vision of a lot of people five years back. I think we did our homework right because Soulslike games are still growing and we are going to have a better share of the market now and in a few years. So I think that was a quite good decision back then.
What makes Dolmen unique, then, in your opinion? Is it the setting or the gameplay?
Dolmen has a few unique qualities. One of them is the space kind of environment and lore. This is not a medieval game, this is a sci-fi adventure, something like space opera. I think that's the right word here, but we also have the mixing between melee and ranged combat that is not a quality you easily find in other Soulslike games. We tried hard to inject this unique quality. So we have the different and unique space theme and the mixing between melee and ranged.
Do you think that melee and ranged combat are evenly balanced or is one still more convenient to use than the other in most situations?
In my opinion, I think that this is the best job done in this direction. I don't think it's perfect, because it's very hard to reach perfection when you talk about balance and at the end of the line, it depends on the player, and what he or she is comfortable with, but the game is very well balanced, and I think that's the best balance we saw in Soulslike games so far.
We made some tests and what we found was more fun for our players is the system where you lose your experience when you die, but you can recover them by reaching your body after death. That's common sense in Soulslike games, but in the early versions of the game, you also lost your loot. That meant you lost all crafting materials you were carrying but it was not fun because the risk was higher than the reward. At the end of the day, you could play for four or five hours and lose everything you have. That's not fair. In order to give a better experience, we decided that you lose only your experience, but you don't lose your crafting materials. They are always with you, so you don't need to worry about keeping them safe in the spaceship. That was just wasting time doing a boring mechanic. With crafting materials you can craft 25 weapons in the game, I think 15 ranged weapons, and six different armor sets each one of them with three tiers, plus a few skins if you participated on Kickstarter or pre-ordered the game.
I'm guessing Dolmen also features RPG-like progression for the character.
There are a few RPG mechanics. One of them is of course leveling up. You have different attributes and you need to gather experience points so you can spend them in the Starship so you can improve your main character.
Is there a level cap in Dolmen?
No, there's no level cap, but I think eventually you would need a ton of experience points to go any further. But there's no level cap.
You've also confirmed that there is a co-op, but just for boss battles, right?
Yes. We were inspired by other games like Monster Hunter, where you can call your friends to defeat bosses, but not regular enemies. We also realized that many players just want to fight that specific boss again, and they don't want to restart and do everything from scratch. So, we implemented a mechanic when you can respawn bosses and when you do, you can also call your friends again.
So they're not kicked out immediately if you respawn the boss?
No, they are kicked out when you defeat the boss, but you can call them again if you want to respawn the boss. Or if they respawn the boss, they can invite you. You can do this many times and you don't actually need to restart the game and start a new campaign to do that.
There is no PvP in Dolmen, right?
No, no PvP so far.
Okay. Did you get any feedback from the community requesting to add it in the future? Is it a possibility?
So far people are more interested in knowing how good the game is going to feel, and they didn't give us any feedback about PvP. I don't know about the future so far. If the community demands something like this, we can of course prospect the possibility, but so far we didn't receive any request about PvP.
In our recent preview from PAX East, Kai complained about the weapons' lack of impact. Has this been fixed?
I can tell you that regarding combat mechanics, it was the definitive version of the game. It's important to notice, however, that you need to use the energy mode to really feel the impact of the weapons. We have this new mechanic, there's nothing particularly similar in the market. The energy mode is important when you try to balance everything in the game. In order to experience the impact of the weapon, you need to tune the buff and the weapon type of damage you are using. For example, if you freeze your enemy and try to use a fire weapon, you won't feel that it worked properly.
How many bosses are there in Dolmen and how long will it take to finish the game?
We have nine bosses. It should take 12 to 16 hours to complete the game, a few extra hours if you're not an experienced player.
How important is the story in Dolmen? Is it any more important than in the average Soulslike game?
No, no. You don't need to spend hours to understand what's happening. It's a straightforward kind of narrative. We invested a lot more energy in the lore, in the environment. So you can feel the planet, feel the alien atmosphere, feel the aura in the details, but the narrative is kind of simple to understand your missionary and it was hired to solve a problem. You are not that save one. You are there to save the company's investment on the planet. I don't think that you will feel that you are a hero when playing Dolmen.
Does Dolmen support ray tracing?
Yes. On next-gen consoles, like PS5 and Xbox Series S|X, and PC.
Which graphical effects will be rendered through ray tracing?
Reflections, shadows, and so on.
Can you share the next-gen console specs and talk about any differences with PC?
- PS5 Performance Mode: 60FPS, 4K, RayTracing OFF.
- PS5 Quality Mode: 30FPS, 4K, RayTracing ON.
- XSX Performance Mode: 60FPS, 4K, RayTracing OFF.
- XSX Quality Mode: 30FPS, 4K, RayTracing ON.
Between the consoles, they all share the same quality settings. When compared to the PC we have only slight differences which are more technical due to the different hardware that is used on the consoles and its own internal pipeline. That sometimes can even provide slightly different visuals even on the consoles that are sharing the same quality settings.
One of the differences that can be seen on PCs is increased shadow quality and improved anti-aliasing. The main difference is that on PC you can go higher on resolution and frame rate as it is really up to the hardware that you are using.
I know that you've also partnered with Intel for XeSS implementation on PC, right?
Yes. We have a partnership with Intel. They are releasing new graphics cards in the market and they asked us if we could work with them to test them.
Will XeSS support be available at launch?
I think I can tell you that everything, including the partnership with Intel, will be released in the Day One patch.
Does Dolmen support any other upscaling technologies, such as AMD's FSR and NVIDIA's DLSS?
Yes. The technologies you mentioned are in and will be working with the game.
Okay, that's nice. Are you planning to upgrade AMD FSR to the 2.0 version?
Dolmen will ship with FSR 1.0, but we have the intention to upgrade to 2.0, yes.
Good to know. The game is coming out soon, so I'm guessing you are already thinking about the future a bit. Let's say that Dolmen succeeds according to your standards, would you like to do any DLCs for the game or perhaps directly a sequel?
We want to receive feedback from the community and see what they like in the game so we can properly plan future patches or DLCs, or even a Dolmen 2 version. Right now, what we expect is to have a good reception from the community, they will tell us what they like and what they don't like. We will try to fix some things and think about what we should do from now on. To be honest, after five years, we also need some vacation, so I think we are gonna sit back and see what we can do in the future. But right now, the only expectation is to do a good game, have good criticism, and good grades I guess.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about Dolmen?
It's important to mention that Dolmen will be released in 13 different languages. That's a lot for an indie game. We also have different voiceovers in English and Portuguese. The latter, of course, because we are a Brazilian studio. It is very good for us, it is something that we are proud of and we are happy that Koch Media helped us with that. I hope that everyone likes it.
Thank you for your time.