Review – Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I went into playing this game not expecting it to be anything more than your typical movie franchise cash grab. As it stands with nearly every video game based off of a film, more often than not the game features a flimsy plot with characters from the films making an appearance (usually voiced by different actors) and absolutely horrible gameplay mechanics. In fact, I only gave this game a shot because of how much my kids love the How to Train Your Dragon movies. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by what Climax Studios was able to pull off with Dragons: Dawn of New Riders.
Dragons: Dawn of New Riders starts off with Hiccup and Toothless discovering the ransacked island of Havenholme, along with a boy they call Scribbler, who has lost all of his memories. They soon discover a dragon egg and chase it down after it is stolen by poachers. Once they rescue the egg, the dragon hatches and bonds with Scribbler. Right away they realize that this is no ordinary dragon. He is growing at an alarming rate and has multiple powers. Soon after they learn that he is a scientifically manufactured dragon species called a “Chimeragon”, so they aptly name him Patch, as he is a patchwork made up of various dragon species. But with Patch still aging at an advanced speed, it’s up to Scribbler to find his creator and discover a solution to slow down his rate of growth.
Naturally, many of the heroes you’ve come to know and love from the How to Train Your Dragon franchise either make an appearance or are mentioned via Terror Mail (scrolls delivered by dragons). However, they aren’t very integral to the story and I actually preferred it that way. This made it easier to focus on the new adventure without having to try to force a whole new storyline into the already existing cannon.
I was really shocked to find out that Dragons: Dawn of New Riders wasn’t a game that focuses on fighting or racing other dragons like their previous installments. Instead, it’s more of a dungeon crawler with strong inspirations taken from Diablo and Zelda. It’s displayed in a top-down manner, much like Diablo, and also features some very elementary crafting elements. You can speak to Astrid and Stormfly to trade in your collected herbs for health potions and stat boosters or you can have Gobber upgrade your equipment. It’s all very basic as you only have three weapons that can each be upgraded three times and a total of six items of armor you can craft, but it’s understandable since this game is meant for children. It’s a really nice introduction to the RPG genre for young ones.
Dragons: Dawn of New Riders isn’t an overly long game, offering a few main dungeons or “ruins”, as well as a handful of smaller islands you can visit to unlock other upgrades or help free dragons that have been captured. The smaller islands usually have environmental obstacles to bypass or large groups of poachers to defeat. I made the mistake of visiting all of the smaller islands first and completing their quests before moving onto the main missions. This made the first few ruins I visited very boring as I was tremendously over leveled. Luckily, Dragons: Dawn of New Riders balanced itself out in the later levels.
The ruins are where this game has a more Zelda-like feel. There are puzzles scattered throughout, most of which involve activating certain switches, standing on pressure plates, or classic block sliding puzzles. You can freely switch between controlling Patch and Scribbler and this technique is needed for solving nearly all of the puzzles within the ruins. In earlier levels, the puzzles are ridiculously easy, but there is a nice increase in difficulty as the game progresses. Of course being a kid’s game, the puzzles are never too tough to figure out, but some of the later ones made me think for a minute.
The gameplay is where Dragons: Dawn of New Riders struggles. The combat is rudimentary as you might expect for a game geared toward a younger audience. You can do your basic attack, hold down the button for a charged attack, roll around, and lock onto an enemy. The targeting feature gets frustrating when there are multiple enemies on screen because it seems to lock onto which ever enemy is technically closest despite which direction you are facing. It’s also very difficult to switch between targets, so I ended up not using it most of the time.
In order to visit each of the islands, you’ll have to ride on Patch and fly to each destination. You would think that having a game featuring dragons it would have well designed flying controls, but this is by far the worst aspect of Dragons: Dawn of New Riders. The flying in the game is absolutely dreadful. I had to invert the controls to make it move like most of the other flying games I’ve played, but even then the controls were dicey at best. The camera has a mind of its own and frequently drifts in different directions as you fly. Then when you try to redirect the camera, your dragon will fly off course as well. Plus, the island’s locations don’t often align well with their placement on the overworld map, which can make it confusing at times to find the specific small island you’re looking for. If it was this difficult for me to navigate while flying, I can only imagine how tough it must be for its target audience.
The graphics in the this game keep in line with the animation style from the movies, although the quality of animations is much lower. It still has that cute children’s animated movie feel with a vibrant color palette and bold scenery. However, the movements of the some of the nature in the environment are jerky and the textures are frequently shallow and lackluster. It also suffers from framerate drops when multiple enemies are onscreen as well as having very long loading screens. I did like how some of the surrounding environment reacts to your presence like birds fluttering out of a tree you’ve struck or small wild dragons flying away from you as you pass, only to return once you’ve stopped moving and they feel more comfortable. There are a lot of nice little touches to the world to make it more charming, but you can definitely tell the budget for the animations is nowhere near as large as it is for the films.
The music is also very true to the How to Train Your Dragon score. It has a lighthearted Celtic soundtrack that fits the tone of the game, but without being too overpowering. The sound effects are pretty good for the most part, with the sounds of nature being portrayed nicely. There isn’t really any voice acting in the game, only grunts and guffaws as the dialogue is conveyed through text boxes or scrolls. It’s a shame they couldn’t get the actors to reprise their roles for the game and deliver some lines for their fans, but the groans and laughs are still done convincingly enough to get the point across.
As someone who wasn’t overly excited to play Dragons: Dawn of New Racers based on prior experiences with movie related video games, I have to admit that it really surprised me with how decent it is. It’s a well rounded dungeon crawler with light RPG elements that is a wonderful way to introduce younger kids to the genre. It has an okay story with basic fighting mechanics and introductory crafting components that won’t offer much of a challenge to adults, but should absolutely delight children ages five to twelve, especially if they are fans of the How to Train Your Dragon franchise.
It has the same animation style as the movies, but with a much smaller budget. Frequent framereate dips and long loading screens.
The combat is extremely basic, but handles well and is appropriately designed for a younger audience. The flying mechanics are atrocious.
A traditional Celtic soundtrack fits the feel of the movies well. No voice acting, which is disappointing.
While very easy, this game is surprisingly fun and well rounded. It’s a great game to start young kids on to get them use to RPGs and dungeon crawlers.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Dragons: Dawn of New Riders is available now on Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
Reviewed on the Switch.
A copy of Dragons: Dawn of New Riders was provided by the publisher.