Since the release of DreamWork’s critically acclaimed, and frankly wonderful, How to Train Your Dragon back in 2010, the ‘Dragons’ franchise has found success outside of the big screen. As the trilogy is finally brought to a close this year with the release of Hidden World, DreamWorks brings us something a little different: Dawn of New Riders, available on Switch, Xbox, and PS4.
I’ll readily admit that when it comes to movie tie-in games I like to keep my distance, no more so than when it’s tied to a film series as close to my heart as ‘Dragons’ is. But there is a lot to be enjoyed in Dawn of New Riders for both the casual and die-hard fan of the franchise. Instead of risking playing around with the beloved heroes of the series, Hiccup and Toothless, the game introduces an original character, Scribbler, with his own never-before-seen dragon to boot, Patch, to carry the narrative of the game. Though the game isn’t plot-heavy and doesn’t ask you to become too attached to these new faces, the duo has a lot of heart between them and their interactions with recognisable characters from the films are great to watch – even if the dialogue scenes take a good while to load.
Aimed at a younger audience, 5-12 years to be precise, it’s no surprise that Dawn of New Riders doesn’t try anything especially new. Simply put, the game is a top-down puzzle solving dungeon crawl with some smooth dragon-riding and island exploration in between. But it is the simplicity of the gameplay that makes the game work so well; it doesn’t take long to learn how the game is going to handle the exploration, combat, and puzzles which allows for the freedom to quickly get stuck in. Each aspect of the game has a decent range in difficulty. Some of the boss fights are surprisingly difficult, you really have to take note of how to best use Scribbler’s weapons rather than just button-mashing.
Something especially enjoyable is the way the game promotes switching between Scribbles and Patch to explore further on different islands, complete puzzles, and vanquish enemies in combat. The unique abilities of each playable character complement each other in a way that’s reminiscent of the co-op feature in the Lego games – which makes the lack of co-op play somewhat surprising. This partnered with the weapon and armour upgrades offered by the fan-favourite Gobber, as well as Patch’s gradual acquisition of elemental powers, helps the sense of progression within Dawn of New Riders that is somewhat scarce in terms of the narrative. Which isn’t exactly an issue when you take into consideration its short run-time, but that’s another thing altogether.
In spite of the few issues posed by the game, Dawn of New Riders has a charm to it that will delight players and especially those who love the ‘Dragons’ series. While the gameplay and story revel in simplicity, the graphics and music excel in detail. Not including the odd looking character avatars that pop up with dialogue boxes, the game looks fantastic making it all the more fun exploring the Viking dungeons and islands of various climates. And although John Powell was presumably busy with the score of Hidden World, the OST really makes the game, adding a cinematic edge to the game.
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