Ah geez... where to begin?
I've logged hundreds of hours on the game and I'm still finding new things every time I play.
So let me start here. The depth is pretty much unrivaled but still pretty limited. When I say that, is that the concepts are easy to grasp as what needs to be done
, but there is always something to do which gives it pretty much unlimited depth. Add to it that it doubles as a sandbox game, and then you always find yourself doing something.
You have your 7 dwarves, and (hopefully) a 3rd party program to help you manage their skills (Dwarf Therapist) since doing it in game is cumbersome. Let's assume you get the hang of managing them so that you never really have dwarves standing around and people are always doing what you need them to do.
Then come the workshops so you can produce goods for your fortress (beds, doors, barrels, buckets, tables, chairs/thrones, etc). Then come the workshops for 'extras' (toys, instruments, non-interactive items) so you have something to trade when caravans come through. Then you have the workshops for outfitting your dwarves and workshops for starting on making efficiencies (armor and weapons for defense/offense, mechanisms and other miscellaneous things for creating pumps, floodgates, etc).
All the while trying to handle the influx of more dwarves (I usually have to modify my ini file so I don't get too many dwarves too fast). Once you reach certain numbers of dwarves, and certain valuations of your fortress, more become unlocked in your dwarf hierarchy. You need to implement a punishment system, and possibly even currency and accomodate a king.
You of course also have different types of creatures attacking from small raiding parties, to huge sieges (usually the worse ones do not trigger until you have at least certain valuations), and possibly even to titans and other mythical beasts. But those are rare.
You also have about 100+ different types of stone that you can just about make anything out of and the item you make is valued differently based on the material, on top of about another 50+ different precious gems you can make stuff out of or encrust other items with. All of which have a defined freezing and melting points (except for odd glitches like wooden stairs being immune to lava) for making different contraptions out of (fire safe and magma safe are two defined different things).
Of course, there are also some mechanics that aren't usually put in other games, such as flowing water and lava (as well as finite sources of them), volcanoes,
So overall, the concepts are simple and straight forward. But it is easy to lose (forget one plant or accidentally strike water in the lower levels and flood everyone, or dig too deep and strike some very spoiler-laden areas), and unforgiving if you mess up a little (oh, did you just suffer a nuclear catsplosion? too bad).
Let me give you a quick rundown of a simple beginner fortress for me;
- Outfit your traveling party with (hopefully) enough supplies and a single cat before disembarking
- Find a quaint spot that isn't too evil and has some flowing water readily available
- Repeat 1 and 2 when you realize that you're actually on an aquifer, preferably saving your loadout so you don't have to recreate a third time
- Strike land and hollow up some space for stockpiles, preliminary workshops, dorms (temporary housing), and even an outpost
- Create a decent farm and make sure you gather plenty of trees and outside food while things are being built
- Build your great hall since everyone not working (including animals) hang out there
- Build some workshops to produce doors, chairs, tables, beds, toys, and other knick knacks
- Probably a caravan or more dwarves at this point. If caravan, handle trading for all the things you forgot back in step 1. For dwarves, open up Dwarf Therapist and reassign things like soap making to more useful things like brewing
- Start up production based things, like charcoal making so you can eventually use that for your furnaces to process iron and other metals
- Curse at dwarves as you queue more jobs and realize they're doing them out of order so someone just got trapped behind a floodgate and drowned/starved/etc
At this point, as long as you have a way to lock doors and have good food and drink supplies, you should be pretty well off. Seems simple enough but there is always something to do. Dwarves can also be taken by 'moods' and either successfully create something awesome and become the highest level master of that profession they created something of (nevermind the fact he made an awesome sword, even though he only knew how to fish).
For me, it feels busy without feeling overwhelmed. It seems a bit daunting at first, and if you're new and really want a good serious start, reading a guide can help, if not only for the basics but for a good idea of 'flow' of a game. I used this one
at one point, and with a graphics pack or two, it's not bad.
Now, for history.
It does nothing but add some little easter eggs here or there. This is because while there is history, nothing really relies on it unless you pay specific attention to the history. For example, one of the things you can do is engrave items. The engraving may show something that happened in the history of the world. "The engraving shows the great dwarf X slaying the titan Y". Since a titan can only appear once per world, it also means that the titan mentioned will never show up for you. Of course, if you allow for more years of simulation, the more other civilizations there are which do restrict where you can embark (since you can't embark over a civilization) and who trades with you the most.
I believe it also affects how 'evil' the world is, as more civilized worlds are less evil, but not to an extent that you can't find evil sections.
As for getting lost in the gameplay? You bet. I also get lost in their wiki VERY easily (and can sometimes give you a good overview as well as you go through the different sections).
I know this is long read, but anything DF related is bound to be lengthy.