by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
CUT TO THE CHASE
Fight the Dragon is a hack 'n' slash dungeon crawler, accurately summed up by developer 3 Sprockets as 'Diablo meets Little Big Planet.' With the focus squarely on 1-4 player online co-op, this RPG-lite aims to create a fast, accessible multiplayer experience, in which players make their way through self-contained adventures, levelling up their gear, and ultimately fighting a bloody great dragon.
Getting into Fight the Dragon as a new player is not the convoluted rigmarole we've come to expect from RPGs. 3 Sprockets have torn up the rule-book – or, at least, ignored most of the pages – by offering you a simple choice of four classes, plus selecting a gender and slapping on a name-tag. That's genuinely it, as far as getting started goes. There's no initial equipment selection, no sub-classes, and no slider-filled face sculpting interface (although you can customise your appearance, to some extent, from a location in the hub world). You don't even get to choose a skills path – each class has four skills, which unlock linearly as you level up.
This sounds like a recipe for disaster, with player choice effectively thrown out of the window and every character set in stone, playing as their class dictates. The result, however, is some very tight gameplay, and genuine drop-in accessibility. A brand new player can pick up the game and immediately get stuck into some quests with higher-level friends, and doesn't have to feel like a useless tag-along.
In-game, you can't help but get swept up in the fun. The odd dud aside, quests are short and sweet, with plenty of combat and the occasional platforming section. Best played with a gamepad, the controls are tight and responsive, so it won't take long before you're slicing, dodging, and rolling with the best of them.
My only complaint is that the classes could really do with some more variety between them – the fire and ice mages, in particular, unlock nearly identical abilities (one gets ice rain, the other gets fire storm, etc.) and end up feeling like two sides of the same coin. The differences between characters only really become apparent once players have spent a little time customising their adventurer – choosing weapons and armour that fits their playing style.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
Where Fight the Dragon really shines, though, is the included Adventure Construction Kit. A tile-based level editor, the ACK is what feeds the game with a theoretically limitless number of quests. It's a remarkably easy tool to use, and it won't take long before you're able to piece together your own masterpieces. At the time of writing, there are already thousands of community-created levels, and a robust system for rating and tagging levels as you play them.
Once you've created a character, you're given access to the adventure map. A little less grandiose than it sounds, this is just a grid of empty squares. Selecting any empty space on the map allows you to fill it with a new quest from the online repositories – either at random, or through an easy-to-use filter interface if you're looking for something more specific. This modular approach means you can choose to have a quick one-level blast, or string several together into a longer session.
The downside is that the isolated, self-contained nature of the levels means there's no storyline to speak of. Anyone looking for a satisfying fantasy plot – or, indeed, any plot at all – will be sorely disappointed. The ACK does allow you to string several levels together into a campaign, but there are very few of these on offer at the moment, and certainly nothing approaching an official canon.
WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN
The ultimate aim of the game is – as the title suggests – to fight a dragon. This acts like a persistent boss-fight, which you're able to drop into any time you're not on a regular quest. Damage to the dragon (who puts up one heck of a fight) is permanent, so you can return at intervals and pick up where you left off. You get rewards for reaching certain damage milestones and, with the beast rocking a million hit-points, you certainly aren't expected to do this in one sitting.
What strikes me as strange, given the multiplayer focus of the game, is that you can only fight the dragon in single-player. You can't even fight individual dragons simultaneously – you actually have to disconnect from any active multiplayer game before you can even access the thing.
It's not the only bit of multiplayer weirdness, either. Players collide with each other, rather than passing straight through. It might sound minor, but it means you will spend plenty of time stuck in corridors because the asshole behind you won't move out of the way. Even worse, you can shove other players off cliffs, or block their jumps. It's funny the first couple of times, but it really shouldn't be so easy.
By far my biggest grievance, though, is with the in-game GUI. 3 Sprockets have made a number of inexplicable decisions, and things that should be simple end up being chores. Most notably, for a game with a strong focus on looting equipment, the inventory is absolutely appalling to navigate. Information is hidden away unless selected, and you can't compare items unless you have one of them equipped, so it takes an absolute age just to sort out your inventory.
It's a situation where lots of small problems add up to one big frustration; like how the Loot Shrine (which lets you dispose of unwanted items in exchange for random rewards) doesn't let you equip items. To do that, you have to go to the inventory instead... except you can't access the inventory screen from that area – you have to use a rucksack object located in a different part of the level. It boggles the mind that someone designed this and thought it was fine.
DRAGON HOUR, NOT DRAGON AGE
For all its flaws, though, I can't help but love Fight the Dragon. It's Diablo without the hassle. It's a game with core mechanics so simple you can understand them within minutes. It's you and some friends wading through a challenging adventure which likely none of you have seen before.
If I wanted a deep fantasy RPG with strong characters and a thick plot, I'd go and play Dragon Age. What we have here is something very different – a game that you can pick up and play without all of that traditional RPG baggage. Grab a few friends, hit 'random level', and give it a go. I challenge you not to have fun.
Solid gameplay. Brilliant fun in short blasts or longer sessions. Excellent level editor.
Could do with more class variety. Inventory management is a pain. Can't fight the dragon with friends.