School of Dragons: How to Train Your Dragon is a free to play, third person massive multiplayer online game based on the animated movie up the same name. There is a lot to do here, plenty of fetch quests and mini games that center around flying a dragon through checkpoints. Other than that, you can tend to your farm, planting crops, watering them and harvesting all in real time. There is even a button mashing fishing mini game to get fish to feed your dragon. The glaring issue that I have with flying through the rings are the controls. These controls are meant for a touch screen. You have a speed up, slow down and fire button all on your screen. There are no hot keys or controls when flying. This is great if your entire screen is a controller, but if its not you need to mouse click each button. The speed up isn’t like a throttle, you need to keep pushing the speed button to keep a higher pace. That would be an okay way to do things if there was controller or hot keys. Yet there is a shooting gallery mini game that uses the space bar. There are a few hot keys in the world map.
The game makes great use of its movie license and has clips from the movie with the ability to skip them. Skip is good, but each clip gets followed by a question about what you just watched. The graphics in game are bright, bold and colorful, but I can’t call them good or bad. Its somewhere between and they can’t get adjusted. Its good for computers with lesser graphics cards. This is a game for kids given the license and the easy difficulty. Does that make it bad? By no means. Its still the controls without a touch screen that make it bad. There are a few voice overs and a few things are fully voiced, but for the most part its one line of voice with an entire paragraph in text. The music is good, but there’s not much variety. The same songs loop over and over again. By the time I was done with a one minute race, I had heard the same loop a noticeable amount of times.
When you start the game, you create your character, male or female with a few frills. You can setup an account or play as a guest. Then you get dropped into the world after a lengthily update that could have been downloading as I was making my character. After that, you get to pilot the dragon Toothless from the movie through an easy course to get the hang of the controls. Then you get to hatch your own baby dragon after you answer a few questions. You get to color your dragon, but you can’t chose the style or anything.
Since its a baby dragon, the game needs you to grow the dragon over time by participating in chores that I wouldn’t call fun. You’ll need to feed your dragon fish by doing the fishing mini game. First buy bait then it is just a simple button mashing or mouse clicking I should say. Easy stuff. Then if you want to keep your dragon happy and level up, you’ll grow plants on your farm over real life time and be there to harvest them or they die. You’ll spend gold on the seeds or just buy the plant itself from the guy standing next to your farm. It incorporates the addictive bring you back chore work of Farmville with the thrill of flying through rings like Superman 64! Feeding your dragon might be one of the joys a child gets from this game. Want to feed your dragon the crops you just grew? Well you can’t do it in the farm even if the dragon is sitting right there. You need to exit the farm back into the main world to click on it to bring up a first person view that lets you feed and play with it. You are playing fetch with your own dragon! Having an enslaved beast bring you back a ball for your amusement might be fun to apartment dwellers who are allergic to reptiles. Not just that, but you can shine a torch light like a laser pointer that gets your dragon to chase after it.
When its time to play the game and not just do chores in it, you’ll visit the flight club where you get an adult dragon to pilot. Just fly through the checkpoints or touch flags and then make it to the end. That’s it. I feel like there is an issue with hit detection, like I couldn’t touch a flag around a rock wall between my dragon and the flag and it still counted. I guess that is a testament of how easy the game is. If you miss a checkpoint or a flag, it doesn’t matter that much, because you get a grade for each course. Getting a B+ or higher grade unlocks the next course in the circuit. You can’t just go to the next course, you need to get out, then select the next course. It seems like wasted time. Not just that, but there is only one circuit unlocked for free players. Then you get to use new abilities like fire to blast down targets that lock on instantly so you can’t miss. Some dragons have special powers that let you charge your fireball to destroy obstacles. When you complete each course, you are given gold to buy things. You will need to buy gems to unlock the rest.
With this being a free to play game, it has micro transactions. They are everywhere. Premium items. Premium circuits to fly in. Don’t want to wait to grow your dragon or wait for a plant to mature? You bet that you can pay gems to have it done instantly. You spend real world money to get gems. Not just that, but there is a membership system for $10 a month up to $85 for 12 months. Members get in game discounts and the game tells you. 10 gold for seeds, but the membership price is 8 gold. You’re missing out on 2 gold savings. You can also get gems by inviting your friends and having them register. Do it. Invite them. Make them register. Get the gems. Use the gems. Just invite your friends. Get them hooked. Do it.
Since this is a MMO, there are updates in game. These updates feel longer than they need to be. Sometimes it tells me that my Internet lost connection, but it didn’t. This left me stuck in a loading screen. After five minutes, I had to Alt + F4 to exit the game, because there was no sort of menu during the loading screen to get out of it. The game has also crashed a few times for random reasons. Crashed in game and then during a movie clip. Then your instructor gives you a one question quiz about what you had just seen. Even though I was wrong, the game let it slide.
It plays like other third person MMOs, you run from person to person that gives you a quest. There is no death or combat. What I didn’t like is I’d be talking to a quest giver and then they’d say come see me again and they’d disappear and teleport elsewhere for me to run to. It would have been different if I had done something between, but it felt like just a way for me to walk from one side of the snowy village to the other. For what? So he could quiz me about the clip he just showed me.
There are other small issues I had with the game, like I was running through an area and suddenly it told me my viking is now idle. Click the check mark to reconnect and it never did. It begs the question though, why was I moving and yet still considered idle. There is no Escape menu in this scene and again I had to Alt + F4 out of the game. I couldn’t name myself my member name. It said there were numbers in there. I couldn’t name my Dragon “Gertrude”, because the game said there were numbers. So I just named it “Dragon” and that worked. The tutorial quests really emphasis scientific studies, yet the game doesn’t make use of it. I could be finding or crafting new things, but no everything is right there to pay for in gems.
Another issue are the dragons themselves are everywhere, big things that obstruct view. Its cool seeing the beasts, but when the game already has enough players to choke a doorway at a shopping mall, then adding giraffe sized monsters into the mix, you’ve got a lot going on.
In all, there are some entertaining mini games, but jogging from one area to the next on fetch quests with zero challenge just isn’t for me. There are better games out there. Kids might enjoy it and its a good chance to teach them responsibility by managing a farm and growing a dragon.