Review: Dragon Front30 Nov 2017 0
Review: Dragon Front
Released 16 Nov 2016
Just like how a difficult game is automatically branded a 'Souls-like', just about and CCG title immediately draws comparison to Blizzard's Hearthstone. Read any article about Dragon Front, Oculus/Facebook's VR semi-exclusive CCG, and you'll hear the same comparison. While this one certainly employs a similar ruleset and familiar UI, it throws in extra tactical nuggets by having cards played appear along a 4x4 grid. It won't take those familiar with the modern CCG setup long to come to terms with this shift, but it makes the game feel far too claustrophobic and somewhat one-sided more often than you may care for.
Handed to Oculus Rift owners for free, it's hard to say whether this really is a good deal or not. Just like any other CCG game on the market right now, Dragon Front is littered with optional micro-transactions by way of booster packs to beef up your decks, single-player 'Conquest' chapters, new Factions and their characters and a few other bits and pieces found through the in-game shop. You start off with 4 Factions unlocked with 4 more available at the cost of your hard-earned cash. Individual hero characters - which boil down to a powerful back-up unit used once per match - pad out the game's factions with more being added every week or so. Some can be used with two factions and their respective cards while others are stuck to a single side.
Again, this isn't anything new for the genre. My problem here might be with Oculus rather than the Dragon Front game itself, but when mulling over whether to buy an Oculus Rift or not, you're teased into thinking the free games they throw at you are bonuses for being an early adopter into the very expensive platform well and truly in its infancy While most - like Robo Recall - are absolutely stunning freebies, finding out that one of them is essentially F2P leaves a bad taste and certainly cheapens the overall feel of the title itself.
Sure, you get a fairly lengthy set of 'conquest' missions, 4 factions and can earn booster packs and in-game currency by simply playing the game, but it limits the value of the single-player experience and basically slaps a premium onto the multiplayer/competitive element by locking rare and powerful cards behind micro-transaction RNG-based booster packs or a sluggish progression system. Even a fair amount of exposure and experience in the CCG genre won't necessarily get you far in Dragon Front. The tutorial only lasts through a single guided battle with the three battles taking place right after merely giving you a chance to try out the other factions unlocked from the start. I'm no Hearthstone expert myself, but having played games like Fable Fortunes and Shadowverse before, I still had trouble clearing some of these missions on my first (or even third) try.
The initial tutorial only explains the bare minimum when it comes to mana management, movement across the battlefield and card stats like Power and Life. When it comes to individual card powers, it's basically down to trial and error or your own deduction to figure out what they mean. I still don't know what the Union cards do differently, what exactly 'Flight' entails or what the seemingly random amount of purple icons mean under a card's effect information. Rush works as veterans would expect, but unit range isn't clear at all. Dragon Front feels unapologetically tough right off the bat with the single-player Conquest missions putting unique gimmicks into play that feel inherently unfair when you're just getting started. They're not impossible to clear, but any notion of a difficulty curve seems to have gone out the window here. There's every chance my strategy just wasn't on board at the time, but a mixture of unknown mechanics, lack of information and some harsh unique enemy moves early on didn't bring much joy.
Just as you'd expect from a CCG-type these days, Dragon Front is a mission of mana management and foward-thinking, but there are some twists throw in to keep things somewhat fresh. As ever, you're able to summon cards and issue commands in whichever order you like so long as you have enough mana to pay for it. Rather than naturally regenerating more each turn, it's how you've placed units around the 4x4 battlefield that dictates how much mana siphons back into your reserves at the start of each turn. You summon creatures to the 'Spawn Row' closest to your home turf. With 4 rows total on the battlefield, you or own opponent only needs to step into the other player's half to launch an attack on their base, shaving off Life from the Stronghold which, in turn, lowers the mana cost needed to summon a single-use 'Hero' unit. Units can only move and attack down the lane they're placed on, and excess mana can be kept for your next turn or funnelled into your hero unit to summon them early. Stat-increasing structures and defensive walls add a little extra tactical flavouring, but ultimately only help to create lengthy stalemate situations and reduce the flow of a round to a crawl.
The core mechanics aren't too difficult to pick up, but don't expect much help when it comes to learning what each individual unit is capable of. Each race certainly has its strengths and weaknesses with each player encouraged to take the time to find one that resonates with their playstyle; but that's not where my major gripe is with Dragon Front. As a VR exclusive it's difficult to really understand why this is a VR game at all. With a minimalist control scheme in place that means even the single-hand Oculus Touch or Oculus Remote is a viable controller of choice, you're required to move your head and neck for just about anything. The cursor is fixed to the centre of your view with selection handled by hovering the reticule over whatever you want to examine or select. Vital information is often locked behind a glance and button press combo, leading to plenty of reasons to constantly turn your head in every direction.
Don't expect to get comfy and let your eyes do the work here. Being in a fixed position in the game world and mixing that with a constant need to move your own body doesn't translate into a worthwhile VR experience. There's absolutely no reason why this game wouldn't work on conventional 2D monitors and buying into an expensive VR setup offers next to nothing of benefit here. You don't get to see the action up close or fire off spells with your hands. Instead, you're just required to give your neck muscles a work out they probably don't want after a long day doing whatever it is you do.
When Oculus first announced the Rift headset, people hailed it as a way for Konami to finally deliver that Yu-Gi-Oh AR/VR experience they grew up wanting from the anime. Dragon Front was teased to be Oculus' answer to it, but in (virtual) reality, it's far off the mark. Tactical decisions are needed every step of the way here and the system itself is pretty solid, but the freemium feel is rather unwelcome and it all does next to nothing to highlight the unique experiences VR allows as a platform – confirmed through its recent transition to desktop on the Facebook Gameroom platform. It's a decent strategy game all things considered, but certainly not a high point of VR.