February 11, 2019

Dragons: Dawn of New Riders - Review

The How to Train your Dragon franchise is a juggernaut, multiple movies, tv shows, the original books of course and then there is the video games, each has done something different, but most have stuck to existing material, but with Dragons Dawn of New Riders, they have a new story, new characters and of course new dragons, but is it enough?

The story kicks off with Hiccup and Toothless landing on Havenholme, an island that has been attacked, its people gone, its dragons gone or enslaved, and a small scholar is the one only remaining, though he is unable to remember his name. Hiccup provides him with the name of Scribbler, thanks to the book that is hanging from his belt and soon Scribbler comes across a dragon egg, which is stolen by a dragon trapper. Chasing the trapper down, results in the egg hatching and thus is born a Chimeragon, a dragon that is parts of many dragons, giving him some special talents, like the ability to spit ice. Returning to the village, Scribbler and the now named Patch, explain to Hiccup what happened and are then tasked by the chief of Berk, to explore the island and find out what happened, as he himself rushes off to solve the problems of Berk.

Now that you are ready to explore the island on your own, or at least with Patch with you, the game starts to show itself, it is much more like top down Legend of Zelda than anything else, with some light RPG elements added for good measure. The island of Havenholme has a forest look, with many bridges to cross and secrets to find, but as you make your way north, you will discover Astrid and her dragon Stormfly, just waiting around a little glen, ready to help you out by selling you some health tonics or if you must, Yaknog. Trading for them is actually one of the coolest ways of doing it in a game, as no-one has gold in any of the earlier mentioned as you actually need to trade herbs that you collect for things, which blends with how the people in Viking times would have actually done it.

Now that you are loaded with potions, you can continue to venture north, looking for any more survivors, you will eventually come across some ruins, that were built by Bork, the founder of Berk and the creator of the book of dragons. Astrid arrives just before you and lets you stock up on potions, because you are about to enter a dungeon, complete with puzzles and such. If you have ever played a Zelda game, not counting Breath of the Wild, then the formula will be very familiar, as you need to follow a set sequence of rooms, in order to locate an item, which will help you get to the boss room, where you will fight the enslaved dragon. As you make your way around, you will discover some switches that require you to stay put on them, so you will need to swap control to Patch, giving you the option of being a dragon for a while, shooting ice at enemies and switches and meandering around. What makes things a little different here, is that the paths you can take are more open than in the Zelda games, the doors might be locked, but you don’t need a key to open them, just some solid exploration.

Which is the main key of the game, exploration, as once you clear the first set of ruins, you can then fly on Patch, as he the ability to take to the skies, this lets you fly to the other islands that you have to go to, but also to explore smaller islands, each rich with things to collect. Flying is fun, but awkward, there were a few times when I would wish for a rogue dragon or even an enslaved one to be in the air, as there is nothing to do when in the sky, which given the game lets you know that you can do tricks like rolls and such, is a shame. Patch does not only get to fly after the first dungeon, but also the ability to swap to lightning, which opens up more puzzle’s options. As you get further into the game, there are more times when you need to take control of Patch, in order to activate statues with lightning, freeze water and more, these times can break up the formula of exploring, just a little, but you can’t fly solo, only together can you do that. Another thing that works better together is the combat, Scribbler and Patch, both have the skill of locking onto an enemy, dodging and what not, the problem with this system, is that you have to be looking right at the person you want to target, if you are off just a little, you might lock onto someone else or nothing at all.

While the game has three main islands and ruins to explore, the only reason to venture to the smaller ones is to locate dragon relics, which you can trade, along with materials to Gobber, in exchange for upgrading your items. But being honest, I never had to do that, past the first upgrade, I did the same with the armour for Scribbler, one level of purchase and then nothing for Patch, whilst one character would get knocked out, it is easy enough to revive them. The game is not a complete push over, some of the fights against dragons can be quite the challenge, thanks to their elemental parts, but those moments are few and far between. Perhaps most annoying is that the story moves ahead at such a pace, much like Patch’s aging, that it is over way to quickly and because of it, there is no connection to either of the characters you have just spent time with and when the story ends, I felt cheated because of it.

That is not the only issues though, the games length and story aside, the game also has many issues regarding its design, with one little thing popping up again and again as I played through. There are so many little ledges to catch on, that I would often spend time stopping dead, taking a breath and walking back away, as I would always seem to catch the little bit of world that I should not be on, which would never let me pass. The combat, whilst ok, lacks in one single area, and its not the 4 constant enemy types that never change, it is that Patch is useless in a fight and he is a dragon for petes sake. Shooting ice at enemies, might slow them down, but its such a low powered attack that he never dishes out too much damage, the lightning and fire attacks are stronger, but still weak over all. You can, like with Scribbler, hold down the attack button and charge up the attack, but it leaves you open to attack from the enemy, which makes it hard to enjoy.

When it comes to how the game looks, there are times when I loved it and times when I hated it, the game sports a watercolour-like aesthetic, mostly with how the world had been painted and it looks really nice. Exploring from the air shows this off far better than being on the ground does though and while being on the ground looks fine, there are times when it looks a little rough. Characters are another part where things a mixed, seeing characters like Hiccup or Astrid is nice, even with their stylised looks, Toothless and Stormfly look good in this style too, the problem is with Scribbler, Patch and Eir, the baddie of the game. While they match with how the other characters look, they look bad in comparison and I put that down to, we know how the others look, thanks to the numerous other times we have seen them, but this is our first time seeing these new characters and they look odd in the style.

The other part that I struggle to understand is that the game has a cast that includes Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and other members of the movie cast, only for them to say things like Hey, Hi and Bye, along with grunting, lots and lots of grunting. Apart from a few greetings at the start of a conversation, everything is pure text with nothing else to separate it and while I have no issues with a purely text driven story, I find it odd to have a ‘cast’ of high-profile actors, only to completely underuse them. The other point of the audio is the score, there are some noticeable times when it comes quite close to the movies, but for the most part it feels like the tv shows, similar themes and consistencies, but overall, its own thing.

Dragons: Dawn of New Riders is a game that is easy to recommend to two groups, one, anyone under the age of 12 and two, diehard fans of the series as a whole. The gameplay is strongly inspired by classic adventure games of the past and older gamers will find enjoyment in that, but a short overall story, which lacks any real depth of character or satisfying ending, will make the experience feel cheap by the end. If you can overlook that, you will find a charming game, featuring some fun characters and solid gameplay.

Review copy provided by Bandai Namco

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