Yesterday I saddled up with the Dino Storm closed beta. Remember that you can still get my single extra key by emailing me (email@example.com) a cool picture of your Dinosaur Cowboys tabletop game or related artwork. Anyways enough shilling.
Everything in my mini-review below is slightly colored by the fact that I am on crappy slow internet and a crappy slow laptop at the moment. I’m on a business trip so I’m basically stuck with 40mbps wireless hotel internet. Because of that I’ll hold off making any judgements on laggyness until I can get home.
Anyways Dino Storm is written in Java, so my browser plugin took a bit to download all the necessary files, then I was good to go. I was first presented with the simple character creation screen, wherein I could choose my name, various colored shirts and hats and so on. No stat choices to be made at the moment, so everyone plays pretty much the same at this point.
After getting into the game I could up the graphics to my native resolution which helped improve the look of the game. I scaled down all the screenshots here though, but originally they were at 1680×1050.
Anyways the music was starting to repeat at this point, so I was looking forward to hitting the open plains. The desert/plains look very immersive with cacti and struggling shrubbery everywhere. Plenty of old buildings too. Following your current quest is simple since you can highlight the path in blue dino footprints.
As for controls, they were actually my favorite part of the game. In a sense they were “sluggish”, but that was intentional to give you a feel of actually steering a mount. Your dinosaur doesn’t turn on a dime, and hitting the left arrow key will have a slight delay before the dinosaur responds. Think of it like driving a big boat or slow city bus. I found making minor adjustments to my heading were easier if I rotated the camera since that seemed to shift where my rider was going.
Anyways I wandered after the blue footprints, which was pretty obvious since the map was tunneling my forward (at least at this point). Eventually they lead to Sue Hunt, riding a Ducky and eager for me to kill 10 Entelodons. In other words, prehistoric boars. There they were, majestically grazing in the field in a giant pack.
Before I go further keep in mind I haven’t played many 3D browser games. My MMO experience is limited to heavy Guild Wars for a few years (still some of the best party based fantasy PVP). And also keep in mind that I want to like Dino Storm. But seriously, BOARS? The joke of “Kill 10 Boars” has been an MMO staple since even before the Southpark World of Warcraft episode. And this is the devs best chance to grab the players and show them how cool and innovative the game can be. And yet there I was in 2012 killing 10 Entelodon’s in a field.
As for combat, well, you can see I have a little quickbar at the bottom of the screen. The first two abilities drain my blue bar (stamina?) a tiny bit and seem to do a tiny bit of extra damage. Combat is initiated by left clicking on the target, the clicking on “Attack” from the single option menu. Yep. Your cowboy will start shooting his gun, which unfortunately sounds and looks like some kind of gunpowder based weapon instead of the promised lasers. Maybe that’s an upgrade later. Anyways I’m not sure what the underlying mechanics or math are like, or whether moving helps make you harder to hit, or anything like that. But it basically seemed like the enemies health bar went down and eventually they died.
At first I tried strafing and sprinting in circles, until I realized I was still taking the same amount of damage but my dinosaur wasn’t able to attack since he was on the move. So after the first boar my strategy became “left click and wait for the boar to die”. I’d stay in place and once an enemy was close enough the dino would automatically bite attack, which helped add damage.
Certainly not the most compelling approach, but honestly mounted anything is super hard to do well. A similar problem happened in the game Auto Assault, which had cars with guns. Either you have turrets that auto aim, in which case moving can help a bit, or you make the player manually move. Dino Storm went for auto aim, so your cowboy swivels in his saddle to keep shooting, and you basically don’t have to do anything. Maybe they’ll add some abilities later so that I can at least mash 1-2-3 on my keyboard.
After decimating some boars I eventually got a level up. Hooray me! You have to painstakingly click to pick up the experience, which shows as floating sheriff badges. I’m not sure what the idea was with making experience a physical item, or taking 2-3 seconds to pick it up (there is a progress bar), but it gets annoying quickly.
Anyways most of the text wasn’t internationalized yet so I just got placeholders like “$profile.district”, which made learning anything about my character or dinosaur a bit hard.
They also have some achievements, but again the text was missing so I couldn’t figure out most of them, besides the one that wanted me to kill 999 Entelodons.
Anyways after leveling up I noticed the “Gold Coins” approach Dino Storm is going to do to make money. Keep in mind all these games need to support the devs and servers somehow, and in this case it looks like real world money can be translated into Gold Coins, which can then be translated into really awesome in game stuff. My test character started with 120 Gold Coins, which seemed like quite a few. Of course they still have non-real world related money in the game (called Dino Dollars) that is used for purchasing some items.
But Gold Coins can get you terrifically overpowered features like a whole new level up (which I did to get from level 2 to 3). You can also speed up research (more on that in a second) and buy some more elite items. I imagine the fancier dinosaurs will cost Gold Coins. I also imagine a person could just grind for all this stuff and never actually buy Gold Coins, but maybe I’m mistaken.
Another option to get Gold Coins is to complete surveys, which I would imagine give the devs some kind of kickback. For example completing a “US Auto Insurance survey” (pictured in the screenshot) would net you 397 Gold.
Anyways this whole approach left a sour taste in my mouth, so I wandered off to find another task in the game to keep me interested. Karl Nelson wanted to talk to me, so I asked him what was up. Deliver 5 fish. I think I took six quests during my first day of playing and every single one had a 0/X item count, be it killing things or delivering things. So yeah, Point A to Point B “Fedex” style quests, something I mistakenly thought the world had left behind with Baldur’s Gate 1.
After a while I got a chance to do a few upgrades. The approach to this is interesting and reminds me of Eve Online. You basically “start” the upgrade and it takes a preset amount of time (which can be sped up using Gold Coins). For example to upgrade my Kinetic Enhancer (which helped boost my damage a bit) it took around 5 minutes.
Another upgrade was “evolving” my dinosaur. This made him slightly bigger and gave him spikes along his head, and I assume better stats in the game. I think the idea is to have four or five of these evolution stages to each dinosaur, and goodness knows how many ridable dinosaurs in the final game.
Now so far it might seem like I’m being a bit negative of the game. Unfortunately I think I just had too high of expectations and was out of touch with what are (probably?) pretty standard features/limitations of browser based games. Dino Storm does have a neat feel to it, and the cowboys riding dinosaurs really do look cool. But it doesn’t excite a person or make them want to come back for more. Normally a look at the world map will spark my interest, but even that seemed kind of…lacking? Back to Auto Assault, I remember opening THAT world map and being excited to explore and drive around. And unfortunately Dino Storm just didn’t grab me.
I did have a few fun moments. When I fought some of the larger beasts and was forcing my mount to sprint away it did a good job of capturing what I think this type of genre would feel like. Exciting chase scenes! Daring shoot outs! And so on.
Of course this is just a closed beta, and as you can see from some of the screenshots the game is still in a very early stage (it felt late alpha to me). I’m going to keep abreast of the developments in Dino Storm, but the bar has certainly been lowered and I don’t expect to play it much even when the final game comes out. And yes it is “just” a browser game, but so is Spiral Knights and they did a terrific job of grabbing a player and throwing them into interesting combat right off the bat, plus a playable/workable money model.
Anyways I hope that gave you an idea of how the game looks and feels at the moment. I expect lots of cleanup and improvements to happen rapidly as user feedback comes in, but for the day after the closed beta servers opened it’s a pretty good idea of how Dino Storm is. Anyways, time to hit the dusty trail for now.
And if you need more of cowboys with laser guns riding dinosaurs, why not check out my tabletop game on this very website. First take a look at how it plays and then grab the free PDF rulebook. You’ll be fighting your toy dinosaurs against miniatures in no time!