What You Need to Know About Dwarf Fortress Explained

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What is Dwarf Fortress? 4
Credit: Bay 12 Games

Dwarf Fortress has finally come to Steam, and with it, you’ll get a whole new set of graphics and user interface, too, turning the original text-based game from 2006 into a relatively modern experience. But how is this release different from the original game, and why have gamers been playing this game for over 16 years? Not to worry, because in this article we’ll tell you what you need to know about Dwarf Fortress.

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What is Dwarf Fortress?

What is Dwarf Fortress?
Credit: Bay 12 Games

Development of Dwarf Fortress began in 2022, while the game’s first alpha version was released in 2006. Dwarf Fortress was a text-based game, though tilesets were used to an extent, that was a cross between a colony builder, simulation, roguelike, and RPG.

If that sounds like a mouthful, well, that’s because it is to an extent: One of Dwarf Fortress’ greatest selling points historically has been how open-ended its sandbox style of gameplay truly is and the robust extent to which the game would simulate a virtual world and its history.

Playing the game, you control procedurally-generated dwarves (in a procedurally-generated world) each with their own personalities, skills, wants, backstories, etcetera, and the ‘goal’ of the game so to speak is to establish a successful colony or fortress. This means building a base, generating wealth, fighting enemies, and more.

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To compare Dwarf Fortress to a more modern game, Rimworld is a good comparison, especially considering it was inspired by Dwarf Fortress. In Rimworld, you’ll enjoy a similar sandbox colony-building experience where you raise up a colony off the backs of your randomly generated colonists that each come with their own personalities, needs, etcetera.

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The biggest difference between Rimworld and Dwarf Fortress comes down to depth. Dwarf Fortress has been around a lot longer and thus has a lot more depth to its mechanics and simulation. There’s more to do, more options to take advantage of, and more ways to play in Dwarf Fortress. Though, Rimworld is a much more modern game with more modern graphics and a more modern user experience, making it a lot more accessible.

The Steam release of Dwarf Fortress, though, has a lot more in common with Rimworld than it does the original text-based game from so long ago.

What is Dwarf Fortress on Steam?

What is Dwarf Fortress? 2
Credit: Bay 12 Games

Dwarf Fortress coming to Steam doesn’t just mean you can play the game on Steam. In a lot of ways, it’s a ground-up rebuild of the game. Now, Dwarf Fortress comes with familiar, modern graphics (albeit relatively simple 2D ones) and a modern UI that makes the gameplay a lot more like an RTS or, well, Rimworld.

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There’s even a tutorial, too. Put simply, what was once an incredibly deep, interesting, niche text-based game is now a reasonably accessible experience just about anyone can download and play without having to spend hours and hours and hours researching how to play.

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Though, it’s important to note that Dwarf Fortress on Steam isn’t the full Dwarf Fortress text-based game just yet. More modes were available in the original game, the hotkeys are different, there’s a new soundtrack, and a host of mechanics from the original game have been tweaked and updated, too.

However, don’t think of Dwarf Fortress on Steam as an ‘Early Access’ type experience. This is very much the full Dwarf Fortress game; however, there are just some extra bells and whistles that were in the original game that are yet to come. What’s more is that they will definitely come, considering the development plan.

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Dwarf Fortress is the creators’ baby in the sense that since 2002 the devs have made Dwarf Fortress their life’s work, and they plan on working on the game for at least another 30 years. So, not only can you expect all the features of the original came to come to the Steam version, you can also expect new features to be added to the game in time.

Plus, Dwarf Fortress on Steam also comes with Steam Workshop support for modding. Already, though the game just came out, there are a ton of mods available. Doubtlessly, going forward many, many mods will come to the game that expand upon its core functionality, especially considering how passionate the fanbase is and how long they’ve been playing.

Should You Try Dwarf Fortress?

What is Dwarf Fortress? 3
Credit: Bay 12 Games
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As an important piece of gaming history alone, Dwarf Fortress is worth playing, but is it a good fit for the casual gamer?

Well, it really depends. Dwarf Fortress isn’t as easy to play as a Rocket League or Fall Guys, for sure, but if you play any type of strategy game or simulation or anything of the kind, Dwarf Fortress on Steam won’t be too complicated and deep for you to get into.

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Especially for fans of games like Rimworld, Kenshi, Factorio, or Oxygen Not Included, Dwarf Fortress will likely be those gamers’ cup of tea, even if Dwarf Fortress is a bit less modern, most notably graphically, than the above games. If you like these kinds of sandbox experiences, though, you may well find yourself spending thousands of hours on Dwarf Fortress.

However, if you don’t play any kind of strategy, RTS, or simulation games, Dwarf Fortress probably won’t be able to convince you to make the jump. It is still a relatively complicated game, and it definitely looks dated. Though even if you aren’t super familiar with this style of game, Dwarf Fortress has been around for decades, so there are tons of helpful resources out there you can rely on to help get you started.