I have a real love for finding tiny, unknown, indie titles -- especially ones that are obviously made for younger gamers -- and playing them for a write-up. It's one of the perks of the job; I get to dig up these gems and tell thousands of people about them. Games like Dino Storm also serve to remind me about why I got into blogging about games before I was ever paid to do it. There are virtual worlds to discover out there, and I find that thrilling. I especially like it when they boast this level of quality.
Dino Storm might not challenge a more mature player, but it's surprisingly complex. It's got everything it needs to be considered a full-fledged MMO, but it also keeps in mind that younger players need a little help along the way. You'll play the role of a cowboy or girl who rides around on the backs of well-animated dinosaurs ranging from tiny to massive, and you'll also hunt after all sorts of quests and goods.
I did have a few small issues with the game, but the development team seemed willing and ready to patch them up.
The game runs within a neat pop-up window, but graphical options allow for a better-looking, full-sized game. I was actually impressed with how striking the game looked, despite the fact that I could run it on my creaky old laptop that has only a basic graphics chip. Dinosaurs are pleasingly animated, the environments are crisply textured, and there are many maps to explore. You can even customize your character (and your dinosaur, of course) easily and without spending a dime.
You'll start off going through a series of short tutorials that will cover the basics, but in no time you will be out in the real world, surrounded by other players all riding around dinosaurs of every size and color. I can only imagine the magical feeling that a 12-year-old must feel when stumbling across such a thing. I'm envious of today's younger MMO gamers.
As soon as I found myself in the non-tutorial area of the world, I was also surprised by an open world quest. As in RIFT and Warhammer Online and many other AAA titles. Pretty cool, huh? I couldn't tell what was going on at first, until a pop-up indicated that a certain percentage of the goal had been achieved. Next, I was invited to a group and watched as literally scores of players came together around the same area to destroy bandits, defend lumbering transportation dinos, and gather materials. We would all work alongside each other to eventually achieve the goal. How lucky I was to find yet another game made for younger players that still provided me with a familiar challenge. Sure, it's not as intense as taking down a raid boss, but remember the core audience. This is perfect for little kids and big kids like me.
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The questing becomes a bit more confusing after the tutorial quests stop, however. Only a little more complicated, though. When it seemed that I'd run out of things to do besides grind on killing innocent-looking dinosaurs, the in-game guide helped me out by touring me through the town and leading me to different quest-givers. There is a simple achievement system in the game, as well, one that actually pays off in in-game funds and the occasional useful items. As these types of achievement systems have started to show up in MMOs more and more, I have begun to see how useful they can be. They're essentially a basic quest that results in cool stuff. And as much as I want to pretend that I couldn't care less about whether other players think I am a noob or bad at gaming or whatever, it is pretty cool to gain some bragging rights through an achievement system.
As I ran around the first town scoring as many achievements as I could, I thought it would be fun to go off and explore other areas. It seemed as though the greater world map is really large, but I wasn't sure. My exploration impulse was kicking in. I've had to learn to temper it often so that I can absorb a game more. My biggest problem is skipping content for exploration, so I stuck around and found even more world quests popping up while I played. Sometimes the number of players who showed up was really impressive, but I wondered whether the game's engine could handle the traffic. I noticed some hitches and I was at that point playtesting on a gaming PC rather than my low-end laptop.
I like the fact that you can level your weapon and dinosaur separately. You can also decorate your avatar by switching outfits and individual pieces that sometimes buff stats or give other bonuses. Switching out your dino's skin is easy enough as well, and you're given different skins (and different dinos!) as you level and turn in quests. I haven't yet upgraded my weapon, but if it works like the other upgrade systems in the game, you simply collect the tuning kits and cash and upgrade away. You'll also earn fame as you play the game and can even run for sheriff and other political positions. It's pretty intricate stuff for a game aimed at very young players, so I'm guessing teens to late teens will enjoy that extra level of complexity.
That brings me to one of the only issues I had while playing the game: the chat. If you watch me in the livestream, you'll see me comment on how some younger players will test the rules and show off by cursing or pushing the limits of the community rules. (As if they really ever read them.) I told one kid I would report him if he didn't stop misbehaving, and sure enough he stopped his behavior. It works in most MMOs made for younger folks. Later that week, I ran into a group of players hurling racist and sexist slurs and generally being foul-mouths. I told them I would report them and was challenged by more cursing. There was no way to ignore the players in the game, unfortunately, and the only way to "report" them was to navigate the website. Some 12-year-old would not think to do the same; he or she would probably just sit there and take the abuse. That process could use streamlining.
"A game that is geared toward younger players has to have very tough chat rules and tools for reporting players. It's not only an issue of keeping players happy but an issue of safety and liability."
A game that is geared toward younger players has to have very tough chat rules and tools for reporting players. It's not only an issue of keeping players happy but an issue of safety and liability. Just ask Habbo Hotel about the problem. I reported several players, complained on Twitter, and even asked the developers if they had plans to change the situation. They said they did have plans and that more chat options were coming soon. Sure enough, the next day the chat box allowed players to ignore others. Even then, it needs a one-click report function that a kid can operate -- with appropriate, explanatory pop-ups, of course. I also noticed an issue with targeting enemies when other players were around; that was a minor complaint that became worse in larger groups.
Other than those two issues, I really had fun with Dino Storm. It has several systems in it that many "grown-up" MMOs can't claim, and it runs well on different devices. The quest system is a bit confusing at first, but the pop-up quests and helpful guides make it all pretty easy. Those previously mentioned world quests are impressive and can provide a lot of entertainment all by themselves. Now that the chat issues seem to be getting resolved, I'd recommend this game for anyone who wants to game with a son or daughter or just wants to play a fun, casual game.
Oh, and it has cowboys and girls with laser guns on dinosaurs!
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!