Here's the quick summary of what Dwarf Fortress is: It's gameplay of Dungeon Keeper mixed up with the style and interface of Rogue spiced up with The Sims. It's one large sandbox game taking place in a fantasy world. And it's all about dwarves, mining and dying. The unofficial motto is "Losing is fun", which is pretty accurate.
The main gameplay is the fortress mode. It's one of those endless sims where the player has to create a working fortress for the dwarves. It starts with 7 dwarves and some equipment, but depending on players actions, it will later bloom into a thriving community with all kinds of workers, soldiers, and even nobility. Player has to dig, gather all-kinds of resources, build workshops, create items, start an army etc. There's lot of things you have to do, and even more things that you can do.
You never have direct control of the dwarves themselves. If a dwarf is assigned to do some task, no matter if it's his expertise or not, he will do it unless he has something else to do. In turn, you have to take care of them by providing food, water, booze (to keep them happy), bed and protection. Each dwarf is an individual with likes and dislikes, and during the time in the fortress, they create relationships with each others and might even fall in love and have babies. Of course, if things go bad, they become depressed, and later on might turn into a loose cannon.
There are lot of options on creating a fortress, usually depending on what kind of location the player chooses. Depending on the area, there might not be any wood, drinkable water or even solid rock. Then there's all the wildlife. Some are passive and generally just there for your hunters, but some will rip your dwarvesinto pieces.
Oh yes, rip into pieces. Despite the fact that it is ASCII graphics, the game is really violent. dwarves and other creatures all have different body-parts, which they might damage, or even loose during the battle/accidents. In most extreme cases, a hammer gobbling manages to hit dwarf straight in the head, and send it flying across the map like it was a golf ball. Also, as the game's engine is really flexible, you can build up all sorts of death-traps, even for your own dwarves.
The losing aspect is the funniest part of dwarf fortress. If you manage to create a fortress where nothing happens, you're gonna find out that it is very, very boring. But the fun and games start when hostile creatures attack, and accidents of all sorts happen. Or when you build up some megalomaniac construction. The best way to play this game is to be creative, or just plain crazy.
Aside from the fortress mode, there is also an adventure mode, which plays more like a classic roguelike. You basically just explore your fantasy world, meeting people, and doing quests. You can even visit your old abandoned dwarf fortresses.
And finally, there is a legend mode. When you create a fantasy world, it also creates its own unique history, with its own people, locations, important monsters and events. Every time you play, you might meet up these historical figures or create your own history. All the dwarves in legend mode also go down in history, meaning that you can later up meet them during the adventure mode.
I have to admit that this review is pretty lackluster. It is really hard to describe and tell about this game, because it is so huge. It has been going on for about 8 years, and its not even close to being finished. Its creator, Tarn Adams, has a lot more ideas for Dwarf Fortress, and his goal is to make a one huge fantasy world simulator with tons of little things.
As the game is not finished, there is, of course some bugs. They're not that bad though, and usually they just add more to the "fun" factor. Say, a burning dwarf decides to visit your alcohol storage, rather than concentrating on trying to extinguish himself. The only bad thing is that the Adventure-mode is pretty useless, as there's not really much to do, other than just go around and kill things.
Dwarf Fortress also has some technical problems. Believe it or not, this ASCII game will not work properly on older computers, especially when there's lots of stuff moving around on the screen. It needs at least 512mb RAM to work properly.
Also, as Dwarf Fortress is a huge sandbox game, it is very complicated. New players will get confused on all the possibilities, and all the things they are required to do. You will fail the first time, and the only thing to do is to try again. The Roguelike interface does not help either. There are good tutorials out there though, and for lot of help and information, you might want to check out the Dwarf Fortress wiki: http://df.magmawiki.com/index.php/Main_Page
To sum it up; game starts with the words "Beyond Quality", and this game has all the rights to say that.
Review by: TheChosen