There's no way for me to describe Dawn of the Dragons without it sounding a bit like the old Mafia Wars-style games that were so massively popular on Facebook years ago. The truth is that, yes, games designed around clicking a button a few times or even several hundred times (depending on your tolerance) sound like they cast some sort of spell on the playerbase. Surely these people cannot behaving any sort of fun and instead are trained animals, responding only to the bit of food that drops out of the chute. I'm the first one to admit that much of the gameplay in a game like Dawn of the Dragons by 5th Planet Games pays out the most to those who hit the buttons the most. But I'm also the first to defend the design and to say that it can be a lot of fun.
Let's not pretend that even the most immersive, realistic, epic MMO in the world cannot be turned into a series of button-smashings. We've all known a player in almost any game who has reduced her electronic adventures down to an efficient science. Does a game like Dawn of the Dragons just do away with all of the mumbo-jumbo to get to the meat of the gameplay: the button mashing?
When you are faced with playing a game that is seemingly so simple, and you must write 1200 or so words about it without sounding like a complete idiot, what do you do? The simple answer is to answer truthfully, but there's more to it than that. I have to also consider why someone else might or might not enjoy the game. My priority is to inform you about my opinion, not to just list a series of cold facts about the title. I'm also here to guess what different people might think about the game. At least, that's how I like to write about a game.
Dawn of the Dragons claims to put the "RPG" back in MMORPG, and it does in many ways. It always reduces the MMO part down to a point, but that doesn't bother me. This is the age of casual-hardcore, core-middle-core, or casual-core-hardcore players. There are different people who all play in different ways, and there are literally thousands of titles to play. Yes, thousands, and that's all in the MMORPG category. So with all of these players and games that are different, why apply a general rule to them all? It doesn't make sense to say that Dawn of the Dragons, with its casual play that is open to almost a gambling style of interaction, should play like Guild Wars 2 or Fallen Earth. The fact is that some players find Guild Wars 2 boring, and many players find Fallen Earth a drag. And, yes, many of those players prefer to play a simple game that seems to be nothing but pushing buttons for a few minutes at a time.
Dawn of the Dragons is deeper than that, at least I think so. It's a simulation. It uses what I call representative gameplay, meaning that it offers mechanics or imagery that represent something more complex. In this case, you might go on a raid by pushing a button to activate it, pushing another button to invite players and pushing several buttons to interact with it. You're not literally swinging a sword with a mouse click, and you're not hitting the space bar to time jumps perfectly. The game represents the actions to you with some nicely done artwork, and then you find out what happens. You can be hurt, can be killed, or can come out on top with arms full of loot. It's really closer to a card game than what many would consider a classic MMO.
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The real controversy behind a game like Dawn of the Dragons comes in when I mention the words "energy mechanic." Ever since FarmVille came along and gave gamers some sort of word to sneer at every time it's brought up, I cannot use the term without people exclaiming their distaste in the comments section for "Facebook games." I'm so tired of correcting people that "Facebook gaming" refers to literally thousands of different styles of games and millions and millions of players and that an energy mechanic is actually more immersive or "realistic" than being able to carry around 500 pounds of loot for eight hours straight without ever having to stop and eat virtual food that I just don't do it anymore. Well, I just did... so I guess I still do it. Either way, the mechanic itself is not the issue. The mechanic is actually a brilliantly simple way to represent what would happen to any adventurer after a strenuous adventure: He grows tired. Of course, the mechanic is also a brilliant way to make money. A lot of gamers tend to think that making money should be nowhere in the minds of developers.
So, yes, you're going to have people in Dawn of the Dragons literally spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars in the game to buy Planet Coins, the in-game currency that can be spent to buy powerful goods or refill an energy bar. But those players, just like the players who spend thousands in Allods Online or EVE Online or World of Warcraft or practically any game in the universe, are a rare case. They are called whales, while the rest of us either spend a little here and there, sub to the game, or put in a regular but smaller amount. What do these big spenders get for the cash? Well, trophies maybe. A title here and there. A quick ride to the top of the charts and possibly a huge buff during combat with PvE and PvP opponents. Again, though, they are so rare that it shouldn't bother anyone. But it does.
"Many UI screens could be tweaked to be much smaller, and the annoying ads for the other 5th Planet Games literally force you to scroll down on smaller screens like the ones you find on a common laptop."
While I have no issues with how 5th Planet Games monetizes Dawn of the Dragons, I did have some issues with the layout of the game. I love the art, as I mentioned before, but I like any artwork that shows the involvement of its creator. If the art is too slick, it just blends in with all of the other pretty games. My problem comes from the way the developers have decided to utilize the real estate in the game.
Many UI screens could be tweaked to be much smaller, and the annoying ads for the other 5th Planet Games literally force you to scroll down on smaller screens like the ones you find on a common laptop. I tried out the mobile version, but to be honest, I found it more cramped and less social than the standard browser-based one, and I didn't realize that it was for am iPhone only, so it looked horrible on my iPad. This is the age of retina displays on tablets; any mobile developer should be aware of that.
I also had an issue with the normally wonderful system of raid-sharing. As I mentioned above, if you activate a raid, you can share it with friends or the community by posting a link to it in the chat room. Players can click on it and help you out, giving a sort of open-world feel to raiding. Of course this means that some players take the opportunity to spam the chat with raid invites, but the block or report button works well. The chat was actually well-behaved most of the time, although the community members rarely gave me a straight answer in lieu of a smart-alec quip.
Did I enjoy my time in Dawn of the Dragons? I'd say yes. It's a game that is meant to please the opposite ends of the gaming spectrum, though. On one end you have casual players who log in a few times in a day to check on a raid result or to do a few missions, and on the other end you have the extremely dedicated players who are obsessively clicking away dollars in the hopes of achieving virtual glory. If you think you're one of those types, try the game out.
Next week I will be checking out Heroes of the Realm, an interesting game that seems to offer many different ways to play. I'll be livestreaming the game on our Twitch channel on Monday, the 4th of February, at 5:00 p.m. EST. See you then!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!