When How to Train Your Dragon hit movie theaters back in 2010, it instantly took the world by storm. Since then, we’ve seen the arrival of two sequels, a television series, and a few mediocre games that, by and large, have been developed to cash-in on the craze. The third movie in the franchise has freshly hit the big screen, and as to be expected, a new game has followed suit. The big question here, however, is whether or not Outright’s Dragons: Dawn of New Riders is worthy of your time? Short answer, well, that really depends on your age.
The game’s target audience is that of the younger player, and for that bracket, Dawn of New Riders is certainly serviceable. That being said, the game’s overall structure is lacking in refinement, depth, and innovation. However, through the lens of a youngster that likely wont look too deeply into the mechanics and functionality of a game, we can argue that, for them at least, this is forgivable to a degree. Immediately, the game showcases its low production value; weak gameplay variation, bland audio, and a shoddy, forgettable plot.
The game throws players into the role of Scribbler, a young soon-to-be dragon rider that cant remember his past as a scholar. Initially taking place on the recently ruined island of Havenholme, Scribbler stumbles upon a dragon egg. However, before long, some grunts appear, steal the egg, and run through the island. Your primary objective is to follow them, and after a few tutorial sections that feed you into the basics of play, you’ll find your egg merely moments before it hatches. Meet Patch, your shiny new dragon companion.
Patch is a unique breed known as a chimeragon, a dragon capable of utilizing varying powers and capabilities. Together, this unlikely duo set off on an adventure to chart new islands, tackle heaps of foes, and uncover their collective origins. The game’s antagonist is Eir, a character you meet early on. This nefarious girl is using dragons as weapons, largely to carry out her evil plans. This doesn’t sit too well with the dragon riders, and together with the aforementioned plot points, this all makes up the story that you’ll gradually unfold.
The story isn’t particularly memorable, nor is it very well delivered. Characters from the movie counterpart make frequent appearances; Hiccup, Astrid, their dragons, and so forth. These interactions, as well as the core plot, are relayed through a mixture of cutscenes and text. There’s no voice acting here, but instead, grunts and moans that do little to add any character. Though again, for its target audience, this is serviceable. Thankfully, Dawn of New Riders’ controls are well laid out and very simple to pick up on, if at times quite clunky.
Movement is tethered to the left stick, with attacks tied to the X button. Dodging, running, and interacting with the environment is achieved through the use of the A button. There’s a useful health tonic that you can drink through hitting the B button, and character swapping can be utilized via LB. Blocking, however useless it can be at times, is triggered by holding LT, whereas swapping your weapon or element (Scribble for the former, and Patch for the latter) sits with RT. Eventually, you can call an air strike through the use of tapping RB.
Outside of that, you can take off and escape a dungeon through the Y button, and browse the map and the game’s menus through the view button and the menu button, respectively. That admittedly sounds like a lot to take in, but many of these functions are dependent to what character you’re using, and where you’re based. Starting out, you’ll spend the majority of your time on foot, however, once you’ve finished the first dungeon, Patch will instantly gain the ability to fly, and from here, you can explore the small yet compact world within.
Th crux of play typically sees you making your way through villages and dungeons until you hit the end-dungeon boss. Rinse, and repeat. To the game’s credit, the several environments are distinct and unique, ensuring that there’s always some new sort of theme to wander through. I’ll also commend the game for its clever use of its character swap feature. The game is chock-full of puzzles, most are as simple as you would expect from a game of this type, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have to scratch my head from time to time.
For instance, during the first dungeon you spend most of your time exploring the surroundings. You’ll hit some switches to open doors, stand on pressure plates to open a pathway for your companion, and other easy-to-suss tidbits. Though, before long, you’ll gain access to the hammer, and will then need to use this to smash giant blocks down specific routes, or even hammer-pound cracks on the floor to fall through to a new dungeon tier. The game has a tendency of throwing new mechanics your way, oftentimes tied to abilities.
Patch’s first power is the ability to breathe ice, which allows you to make frozen pathways on top of water beds. Eventually, he’ll gain access to lighting abilities, which comes in handy for activating magnetic switches and contraptions in following dungeons. This, for the most part, is how the game evolves and adapts. You’ll work through its levels, unlock new abilities, and then use your collective abilities to solve the puzzles that break up the pace of play. It’s well done. Throughout play, you’ll constantly acquire new resources from breaking boxes and jars.
These resources can then be exchanged for useful wares, such as health tonics, buffs, weapon upgrades and armor. There’s some additional content on this front that can only be obtained through exploring the game’s world, lending the game a degree of longevity as a result. The weapons that you start out with are robust enough to see you through, and upgrading these even just once will keep you on-par with even the more capable of enemies. Combat is fairly hit and miss, consisting of little more than some button mashing.
Some enemies have specific attack patterns that you’ll need to overcome before you can put in some damage, but I found that intelligent use of dodging and attacking, was more than enough to end most fights swiftly. The boss battles, on the other hand, are much more sophisticated. Once you hit the end of each dungeon, a boss will await you. These towering enemies have very unique behaviors, and are easily the most interesting encounters in the game. They’re not at all difficult, but one has to appreciate the design behind each of them.
Once you’ve defeated a boss, it will join your team. You’ll then be able to call upon them in battle via calling an air strike. During this phase, your selected air strike dragon will attack your foes for a short period of time, handing out mass damage per-strike. Unfortunately, there’s a bug in the game that sees Patch cowering permanently when used. This only happens infrequently, however, the only fix is to restart the game and load up your save. This occurred three times during my play-through, something I hope the developers can fix quite soon.
There’s another bug present too, one that’s arguably as irritating. Several times I had to endure a game over screen due to Scribbler falling through the map. This doesn’t appear to be isolated and occurs at random, more so when you’re on the edge of a map or going through an underpass. Not a deal breaker by any means, but these are unforgivable issues by today’s standards. Nevertheless, and despite its awkward combat, Dawn of New Riders certainly has a few qualities within, qualities that will undoubtedly excite its audience.
The controls are responsive and tight when flying, though, one does question why this portion of the game is merely travel-filler, rather than something more grand and fitting for its source material. It would have been nice to see the occasional mission structured around flight, but as it stands, you’ll use this simply to get from A to B. It does feel like a missed opportunity overall. There’s roughly three hours worth of play to be had here, with a bit more thrown in if you plan on seeing everything, opening every chest, and visiting side islands.
Touching up on the game’s visual and audio design, Dawn of New Riders is just about passable on both fronts. I’ve already commended the game for its diverse environments, but I cant quite overlook its lack of isolated variation. Each location, whilst visually different from the last, tends to recycle its assets too much. This only makes for a very samey-samey adventure, one that, with more time and effort, could have been much better. I can say as much about its audio design too, putting forward a score and cues that are generic, at best.
The bottom line in all of this is that Dawn of New Riders is another sub-par movie tie in. It may indeed be one of the better games of the series, but then, that was hardly a tough accolade to achieve now, was it? If you’ve got a younger sibling, or children that love the franchise, this is probably going to do them well. Just don’t expect fireworks. The game’s few aforementioned qualities are often bogged down by its glaring issues and drawbacks. This only results in an adventure that showcases a lot of squandered opportunities, despite its few highs.
Dawn of New Riders will likely please its young target audience, and to its credit, it just about manages to capture the fantastical vibe of its source material. It’s a shame then, that outside of its well designed puzzles and its distinct locations, there’s little else to praise. Whilst its technical issues hinder the experience, it’s the game’s lack of depth, its weak gameplay variation, and its poor overall quality, that greatly holds it back.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.