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Dwarf Fortress Steam edition is out now

The Dwarf Fortress Steam edition is available at long last, bringing the legendary city builder to a whole new audience - but is it ready for prime time?

Dwarf Fortress Steam launch: a painting of three jovial dwarves adventuring into a spooky cave, with a dark fortress facade in the background

After years of anticipation and dogged work, the Dwarf Fortress Steam edition has arrived. That’s right, you can go play the legendary city builder right now on Steam, with graphics and a mouse-driven interface and everything. However, while this updated version of Dwarf Fortress is unquestionably a quantum leap forward, this is still very much Dwarf Fortress, and it can be an extremely fussy game to play – especially if you’re expecting a game like RimWorld.

I say this with love: I’ve spent about 20 hours with the Steam version of Dwarf Fortress, and it’s latched back onto my brain with the same vise-like grip it did when I first read about the Saga of Boatmurdered – a long-running settlement that was catastrophically managed by a series of forum posters back in 2007.

Dwarf Fortress is putatively about establishing and running a colony of dwarves, but there’s much more to it than that. When you begin your first game, Dwarf Fortress will generate a world according to your specifications, and this world will have history, geology, and lore – all created by the arcane algorithms that creator-brothers Tarn and Zach Adams have been fiddling with for two decades.

As with other colony management games, a Dwarf Fortress game traditionally begins with a handful of settlers, who you direct to start digging, harvesting lumber, and farming. Precious minerals can be found in the rock underground, and you’ll create workshops in which dwarves can fashion precious cut gemstones, weapons, furniture, and a truly dizzying array of crafts and products.

What fascinates me most about Dwarf Fortress is how it models its dwarves’ inner lives. Each individual dwarf has feelings, thoughts, and memories, and their needs go beyond sustenance and shelter. Dwarves develop incredibly believable personalities that are shaped by their experiences, and they’ll often express themselves through their work and art, which will reflect major events in their history or their lives.

Dwarf Fortress creates some of the most compelling stories I’ve encountered in videogames, and I’m thrilled to see it finally arrive on Steam. It’s much easier to play now than it ever has been, but I think it’s important to caution newcomers: saying this version of Dwarf Fortress is easier is a different thing entirely from saying that it’s easy to play. It’s not – this is still a strange and fussy game, and getting to grips with its unique structure is going to take some time.

If you’re eager to dip in, I strongly recommend using the new tutorial system and reading through all the initial guides. There will still be plenty to learn, and a lot of that will come through failure – the worlds that Dwarf Fortress generates tend to be full of dangers of all kinds, after all. In a recent session, I mistakenly sent my dwarves to a valley full of undead groundhogs – things went sour pretty quick.

All this is to say that if you’re new to Dwarf Fortress and keen to jump in, do so advisedly. When they tell you “Losing is fun,” they mean it. This is a complex and strange game, and it’ll take some getting used to – but my advice is to keep digging. At the very least, you’ll get a good story out of it.