Everything’s better with dragons.
That seems to be the philosophy in gaming these days, and Simutronic’s Dragons of Elanthia is looking to bring that mindset to their own brand of action-based PvP. The game is on Kickstarter right now, and it’s angling to secure enough funding to bring 3-D, flaming, flying action to PCs.
I had the chance to talk with Producer Chris Moore and Lead Designer Stephen Hmiel recently about the game, which Moore described as “more of a team-based shooter,” with a focus on the action and general mayhem of dragon-on-dragon combat, though he admits to certain MOBA-style elements, “in terms of our character selection.” Players will initially choose from six dragons and six riders – more are in the works, of course – mixing and matching men and beasts as they wish, to create the most effective combinations for battlefield domination. Both dragons and riders contribute hit points and abilities – two active and one passive each – to the overall fighting unit.
One example Hmiel gave of the synergy between dragon and rider was the combination of the Paladin, which excels at healing, and the Fire Drake, which has an endurance heal, making for a fine pairing for support-minded players. Speed junkies can match up the Shaman, with his speed-boosting ability, and the Lightning Drake, which is naturally quick as… well, lightning.
His personal favorite, though, is the Fire Drake/Pirate duo. The Fire Drake has a skill shot that does heavy damage, making him ideal for close-quarters fighting, while the Pirate has a shotgun, exploding mines, and a passive ability, Out With a Bang, has him blowing up to deal extra damage to foes when he’s defeated.
The first thing you might think when you hear that is, “Wow, cool!” And if you’re like me, the second thing you’ll think is, “How will they keep all that balanced?” The team is aware of the issues, and the work required, and realize there’s nothing for it but “lots of spreadsheets, lots of playtesting.” Excel-lent.
As for what you’ll be doing with all that power, Simutronics has several game modes already created or in development, from your basic deathmatch and control points to the unusual Siege Mode, which is described in detail on the website. Siege Mode is an attacker/defender map with a “King Kong vibe,” as Hmiel put it, with the gargantuan titan swatting away puny dragons like they were 1930s biplanes. “It’s like being hit by a bus. Not a bus in traffic, but if someone was swinging a bus at you.”
Gameplay videos look like a chaotic storm of activity, with a multitude of effects going off at a frenetic pace, while the addition of a third dimension adds to the potential for confusion. While it will be a challenge to get one’s bearings early on, the guys don’t see the game as being restricted to high-skill-only players. “We started off with a purely skill-shot kind of deal,” Moore explained, though it was comparable to “trying to fire a bow and arrow” at a jet while you’re on another jet.
The game now uses a kind of soft lock-on, where there is some aim assisting, but you’re not guaranteed a 100% chance of hitting someone when you’ve got them in your sights. Evasive maneuvers are definitely a thing. Your choice of dragon and rider will also play a part in how skilled you need to be, with some having more basic mechanics than others. “One guy at PAX got a quadra-kill after two minutes of flying,” Hmiel said. Good, there’s hope for me yet.
Progress takes the form of post-match experience for riders and dragons, similar to summoner levels in League of Legends, but there’s no in-match leveling. You’ll also be able to acquire artifacts that you can use to customize your build, with more slots for artifacts opening up as you gain levels.
Monetization will be implemented in the form of things like XP boosts, taunts, and skins, with the team adamantly refusing to go the “pay-to-win” route, or even to the point of being needlessly grindy. “We don’t want to make it require an overwhelming amount of time for those who choose not to play for the game,” Moore said.
So how close are we to actually seeing Dragons of Elanthia on our desktops? “What’s left to be done is more content, polishing up the content we have… and a customer-friendly way to access the game,” Moore said. The team’s working on a means to get more people into their alpha environment, perhaps as early as this week. As they put it, they have a technically playable game, but it’s not actually a game they’d want to release right now. That’s why they’ve gone to Kickstarter, to get that extra push to get it out the door.
Dragons of Elanthia puts a refreshing new spin on online PvP games, but halfway through its funding period with just over 10% of its goal met, it’s looking like it’ll be an uphill battle to get it funded before its Nov. 27 deadline. But when there’s a hill in your way, it’s nice to have dragons to get you over them.
By Jason Winter