Review: Gnomoria

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Ever heard of a little game called Dwarf Fortress? It cast a long shadow for a one-man ASCII project, but if you could get past the atrocious interface it was a bewilderingly deep fantasy sim. Unique projects like that tend to attract imitators, and that’s where we get Gnomoria from. But don’t write that off as a bad thing just yet, because there’s plenty of room to fiddle with the original formula.

Gnomoria plops you in the middle of the wilderness with a band of eight stubby settlers and a few supplies. From this humble beginning it’s up to you to help your little friends find food, shelter, and purpose in life. There are extensive commands to have them effect change in the world around them, including numerous digging options, room designations, workshop placements, and foraging orders. You might notice there are no direct movement or action commands, and that’s because everything in this style of sim is treated like an open order. When you mark walls to be tunneled through, one of your gnomes that can mine and has nothing better to do will scoot over and start tunneling for you.

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You have further control over the order system by assigning jobs to your petite populace. There are several roles like Woodsman and Miner that can be further customized with granular tasks like “hauling wood” or “stonecarving”, giving you full control over the workday. Of course, your gnomes will wander off to find food or drink or catch a nap if their needs persist, but they tend to be diligent enough in their tasks to not cause any headaches.

What WILL cause you headaches is the steep learning curve in Gnomoria. I know all of this sounds simple thus far, but the amount of production systems to come to grips with is staggering. The number of workshops alone is utterly gobsmacking, including professions like bone carving and weaving. Production chains can be frustratingly complex, and the best example of this is making a single bed. A bed is made from a frame and a mattress at a carpentry workshop. The frame is made from planks cut at the sawmill from logs felled outside. The mattress is made from cloth woven by your tailor, using cotton grown on a farm and a bone needle from your bone carver obtained by slaughtering animals. Thus to make a single bed, you need four different workshops processing goods from forests, farms, and livestock.

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There are helpful tooltips that will explain where to get component materials, at least, and if you have all the workshops set up then materials will be auto-queued when ordering a finished product. Little quality of life features like this help make Gnomoria easier to come to grips with, but it’s still very much a game that requires a wiki. A tutorial walking you through the foundations of production would be a godsend, and it’s a shame that will likely never happen.

You’ll run into other difficulties like trying to dig stairs and ramps in the chunky isometric interface, or rooms not functioning and not really getting any feedback why. However, I maintain that there’s enough charm and variety to keep you pushing through the rough spots. You are given impressive reign to tunnel and build as you see fit, and sprawling underground kingdoms are not out of the question. It never quite reaches the bar set by Dwarf Fortress, as you don’t have a wider world to explore past your immediate map and your gnomes don’t have the psychotically detailed personalities of DF inhabitants, but the accessibility goes a long way towards balancing that out. Gnomoria makes a great entry point for this particular brand of ultra-detailed sim, with enough features and polish to keep you digging for hours.

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