Fight the Dragon Steam Early Access Impressions

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When I first saw Fight the Dragon described as “Diablo meets LittleBigPlanet” on the game’s Steam page I thought that sounds too good to be true. But after spending a good chunk of time playing the in-progress Early Access build, I can agree wholeheartedly that this game really is Diablo mixed with LittleBigPlanet. It has the traditional action-RPG mechanics of the former and the community-based level creation of the latter. And the combination works incredibly well.

Like any action-RPG, the game begins with choosing a class–the current options are Fighter, Fire Lord, Ice Wizard, and Black Rogue. Each class has different base stats for attack, special, health, stamina and speed as well as a unique set of class specific weapons and abilities. From there, you embark on individual dungeon crawls, killing standard fantasy beasts (rats, skeletons, trolls, orcs, golems, etc.), gaining experience points, leveling up, opening treasure chests, collecting red and blue health/energy potions and looting sweet new gear to outfit your hero with.

The RPG mechanics aren’t super in-depth as this game is aimed at being approachable for all players and easy to pick up and play for bite-sized chunks of time. Playing as the Fighter, the hotkey menu shows a total of four special attacks to unlock, and so far, currently up to level 7, I have learned two of the abilities. Don’t expect intricate skill trees or anything like that. Character customization, however, is well developed. Individual pieces of gear change the character’s visual appearance when equipped/unequipped, with options also available to change a hero’s physical characteristics underneath their armor such as different hairstyle and facial templates.

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The LittleBigPlanet side of the game comes into play when choosing adventures, which are created entirely by other players. While developer 3 Sprockets has provided a small selection of tutorial stages to get started on, the game does not have a typical story campaign or even a unified series of missions. Presented as a grid, the Adventure Map allows you to select any empty square and then open the online search interface to find user-created maps. When a stage is selected, you are taken directly into the action after a quick download. Then, once the stage has been completed, it appears on the Adventure Map and expands the grid with adjacent squares to open new levels in, creating sort of a homemade overworld as you play through new dungeons.

Finding new maps to try is quick and easy. From the Adventure Map you can move to an open square and hit a button to have a level randomly selected for you, or you can open the online menu and search the community library using filters which sort levels by difficulty, most liked, featured, those made by friends and so on. Additionally, the game offers a rating system very much like the one used in Sackboy’s PlayStation platforming adventures. Once a stage has been finished, you get to vote on its quality with a thumb’s up, down or neutral, with the extra option to choose up to three keyword descriptor tags to let other players know if the map is long or short, involves puzzles, is heavy on combat or exploration, or contains a story.

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I’m personally not big on creating content in games like these, so I have spent the majority of my time hacking and slashing through a couple dozen stages made by others. However, I did pop into the Adventure Construction Kit (watch the overview video on YouTube to learn more), which is quickly available via a sign post from the opening hub world, to try my hand at the design tools. Even for someone like me who has limited experience with modding and absolutely no talent in game design, the Construction Kit is remarkably intuitive and doesn’t have much of a learning curve to suffer through in order to begin laying down tile sets, props, enemy spawns, weather effects, NPCs and triggers with ease. Map size and makeup is only limited by a starting allotment of Building Points, with each placed object using up a certain number of points. The only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is what determines a map’s difficulty setting, as I have played numerous levels labeled as Easy that were actually quite challenging, and many others labeled as Hard that were very easy.

Fight the Dragon is single player by default, but also offers couch and online co-op. Setting up an online game couldn’t be simpler. Unless you want to search for another game to join, you can host your own online game merely by clicking a tab to make your session open to other players. From there, other adventurers can seamlessly drop in and out of your game. Loot drops appear to be specific to each player’s game, which is nice. By that I mean when a pile of gold coins or a piece of gear hits the dungeon floor, everyone gets to loot the item on their end, so there is no fighting over who gets to the treasure chest first. The only truly annoying thing I’ve noticed with online play is how ending a stage requires all players to be together at the exit. In one stage I was waiting at the exit with two other party members while the fourth player was off roaming around the map somewhere, preventing us from finishing and going on to choose another level. Even as the host, I couldn’t end my own game. Maybe there’s an option to boot other players, but I couldn’t find one. It would be great to see this addressed in a future update. The game should allow each individual player to exit at their own pace or make it so the host player can end the stage for the whole team when he or she is ready. If I’m the main player and other folks are dropping in to come along for the ride, they shouldn’t be able to hold me back.

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Of course, I have gone all this way without mentioning exactly where Fight the Dragon gets its name. The whole endgame behind playing user created dungeons is to earn special tickets which grant access to the dragon arena. This arena is sort of like a metagame experience, as the dragon has 1 million HP when the adventure begins and you steadily chip away at its health bar over the course of many battles during your dungeon crawling career. In the meantime, a reward system provides special loot drops that are unique to the arena based on intervals of damage inflicted upon the dragon. One ticket is earned by completing a stage, and each ticket provides three lives in your persistent fight to slay the mighty dragon.

Another unique element to the game, is the Loot Shrine. Rather than visiting shopkeepers to unload unwanted loot, the main hub environment offers a shrine where loot can be donated in return for other rewards. Donated loot fills up a bar which is marked off by bronze, silver, gold and platinum tiers. Once you have donated enough loot to reach any of these tiers, you can pray at the shrine and choose one of three randomly generated “Gifts from the Gods.” Saving up enough donations to reach the higher tiers before praying increases the quality of the gifts, so instead of a rare piece of gear you might receive a legendary piece, or you might be able to permanently increase a specific attribute or expand your loot inventory by a slot.

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In terms of its core design, Fight the Dragon feels pretty much feature complete if you ask me. However, the game is in Early Access, and therefore expectations still must be managed accordingly. While the game is good, old-fashioned hack and slash fun in its current state, the controls do lack refinement. Hit detection is occasionally off, and the whole automated jumping and climbing mechanic (there is no manual jump button) causes a lot of issues when trying to navigate and kill enemies on uneven terrain. Hell, since maps don’t always have borders, it’s too easy to accidentally leap out of bounds into a bottomless pit of darkness. Little details like not being able to interrupt an attack animation to switch into a block stance as well as weird bumper cars collision problems between player characters and enemies (or other player characters during co-op) add a touch of clunk to the combat experience that could use some smoothing out. There are some significant bugs that need to be fixed as well. I’m mainly referring to how frequently characters get stuck in walls and on terrain with changes in elevation. I’ve had to waste lives on self destructing to reset to the nearest checkpoint at least five times within only a few hours of play, and in co-op I have witnessed other players get hit by the same glitch quite a few times.

Beyond that, an increased variety in enemy types and environment tile sets as well additional Construction Kit tools like scripting and the ability to link maps together to create multi-level campaigns, are the only things this game still needs to maximize its potential. The game currently doesn’t have a huge player base, but with more than a couple thousand user-created adventures built there is enough of a dedicated community to keep fresh content rolling in–especially for those of us lacking the time and talent to create our own worlds. Fortunately, the developers are breaking the Early Access stigma by keeping updates flowing on a regular basis. So you can feel confident that a purchase now will provide immediate enjoyment today as well as the ultimate payoff of a polished final game in the future. Act fast and you can snag the game for under ten bucks as part of the current Daily Deal on Steam.

Even though there is plenty of room for growth and improvement, Fight the Dragon already is the “Play, Create, Share” action-RPG you’ve been waiting for. And it’s only going to get better and better from here.

Disclosure: A free Steam key for Fight the Dragon was provided to VGBlogger.com for preview.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!