Wednesday, July 26, 2023

You Can't Keep A Good Dragon Down

In the extremely unlikely event someone were to ask me if a particular new game from SquareEnix had been released yet, in theory I'd be able to tell them immediately, even though I haven't played an SE game in a long while. That's because Square delight in bombarding me with information about every last little thing they do. 

In practice, of course, I never read any of their press releases or bother to remember any of the names so I wouldn't be able to help anyone out on the latest Final Fantasy game or whatever it might be.  I have next to no interest in anything Square Enix is ever likely to produce.

I find it almost painfully ironic, then, that I didn't find out about the launch of a game I would have loved to have known about until I read about it at MassivelyOP almost a week after said game went live. I should make it clear, I'm not complaining about MOP's tardiness. At least they got around to covering the launch eventually. The other MMO-specific news site I follow, MMOBomb, still hasn't seen fit to mention the game at all.

The game in question, as you'll already have gathered from the picture at the top of the post, is Dragon Nest 2: Evolution. Anyone who's been around this blog for a while will have heard me mention Dragon Nest a number of times. It's one of my favorite MMORPG franchises and one I've been playing on and off - mostly off - for many years. 

The last time I posted about Dragon Nest was a couple of years ago, when I helpfully recapped my history with the game, saving me the trouble of having to do it again now. I will just re-iterate the surprising - even to me - fact that I've been playing various versions of Dragon Nest for longer than this blog has existed.

Next time I do a recap like that I'm going to have to add another chapter. Dragon Nest, despite having barely been mentioned by any MMO news outlet I've ever read, let alone by any other bloggers in this part of the blog forest, is a pretty big deal in some parts of the world. There have been many iterations of the IP on both PC and mobile. There are often multiple versions running simultaneously in different regions. Dragon Nest is very much A Thing.

The MOP news story reports that the newest addition to the stable collected more than three million pre-registrations of which I would have been one if I'd know there was anything to pre-register for. I'm aware these big numbers can sound specious but I did some research on the worldwide popularity of Dragon Nest a few years back and all the data I was able to find spoke to a global audience measured in millions. The current iteration is even tagged as a "Global" release so I find this new figure convincingly consistent.

Naturally, as soon as I found out what I was missing, I moved to remedy my loss. There's a satisfying degree of synchronicity here in that Dragon Nest 2: Evolution is a mobile-only title that my Kindle would probably burst into flames if it had to try to run so it's incredibly good timing that it happens to have launched just as I've been updating my Mobile-On-PC capabilities.

First, I had to choose a platform. I discounted Google Play Games immediately on the grounds I'd already checked to see if I could play any of the earlier Dragon Nests there and come up blank. I've just done a due dilligence check to see if DN2:E might have been added to the GPG roster in the last few days; it hasn't.

My next choice was Bluestacks 5, where I was delighted to find the game right away. Unfortunately, when I installed it and pressed "Play", I got the introductory movie followed by a swift return to the game selection screen. 

Rather than fiddle around with that, I tried Nox. The current version of Nox has a horrible search function that seems to do nothing more than open a web browser. When you search for a game, most of the top results are for third-party websites that offer to install the game for you. Yeah, right. Nope.

I found the genuine Google Play link and used that but all I got was the dreaded "This phone isn't compatible with this app." Fortunately, I still wasn't out of options. 

When I was tinkering with Bluestacks the other day, trying to get Sky: Children of Light to run (Still no joy there...) I set up a couple of variants, each of which appears to register as a different "phone". I tried another and this time... 

It still didn't work. But that turned out to be because I'd refused to allow the game access to my photographs. 

I know. Why? Apparently you have to, though, if you want to play. I did want to play that much so I started over. Fine, you can look through all my pictures of Beryl if you really feel you must. Then is everything cool?

It was. I was in.

Since I hadn't even discovered Dragon Nest 2 : Evolution existed until about five minutes before I was about to close down the PC for the night and since getting it up and running had taken me about half an hour, there wasn't really time for me to log in, make a character and take a look around. 

So I logged in, made a character and took a look around.

Of course I did. It's Dragon Nest!

I'll most likely do a proper First Impressions piece at some point but for now I'll just bang out a few bullet points:

  • Classes: There are only four: Warrior, Archer, Sorceror and Cleric. I picked Archer because for some reason I almost always pick someone with a bow and then almost always wish I hadn't. And yet I never learn.
  • Character Creation: Isn't bad, especially for a mobile game. There are a reasonable number of choices in hairstyle and eye-makeup and you can make your character's face look round or pointy. So long as you want your character to look like a seven-year-old playing dress-up you'll be very comfortable with the results - and if you don't, remind me why you're playing a Dragon Nest game again?
  • Controls: The screen is covered with dots which is weird. There's one for every location where there's some kind of command or trigger. I'm guessing on a touch screen that's where you'd tap and you can indeed click the icons there with your mouse pointer when they appear. They also tell you which keyboard shortcut you can use. All of which is fine except why they need to be permanently visible beats me. If there's a way to turn them off I haven't found it yet but since my brain was already refusing to notice them after half an hour I imagine I'll just forget they're there altogether in a while. * See comments below - this is actually a Bluestacks option that can be changed or removed, not a feature of DN2:E.
  • Aesthetics: Those dots are going to be the least of your problems when it comes to screen clutter. What is it about mobile games that makes designers want to cover every inch of the screen with pop-ups and windows and notices? How does anyone play these games on a five inch screen? Can you even see your character on a phone? That said, Dragon Nest 2: Evolution is better in that respect than Dragon Nest M was and it's almost minimalist by comparison with something like Black Desert Mobile, which I found totally overwhelming.
  • Translation: The big surprise to me is the translation. It's good! I'm so used to having to pick my way through the quaint, charming, fractured English in search of anything approximating a meaning in all the other Dragon Nests I've played, it's almost shocking to be able to understand everything completely, first time. Better still, all the English text I've seen in the game isn't just technically correct - it's idiomatic and characterful too. It's a miracle!
  • Voice Acting: Maybe the reason the translation is so much better than usual is that they were able to hire a genuine English speaker with the money they saved on not hiring any English-speaking voice actors. The game seems to be fully-voiced - at least the tutorial is, which is as far as I've got - but all of the actors are speaking Korean (I think... could be something else... I'm not entirely clear on who made the game, which is published by Tencent subsidiary, Level Infinite.) It's a compromise that works quite nicely for me. I've always been fine with subtitles.
  • Selfies: There's one of those in-game photo features that I like so much. I took some great shots of my character. At least I think I did. Unfortunately, the game doesn't tell you what directory it's using and I haven't been able to find them. I looked in all the usual places but nothing so far. All the shots in this post were taken using Windows own screenshot function.
  • Authenticity: The game really looks and feels like Dragon Nest. The character design is the same as always, the NPCs are all familiar names and the tutorial opens in Carderock. I recognised the starting town immediately. It looks much the same as it did in all the other Dragon Nests. 

I'd have looked around town and taken some selfies but before I could orient myself the tutorial shunted me off into an instance and then another and then I died so I thought it was probably time for bed.

DN2:E has a lowish rating on Google Play (2.6 out of 5 from more than half a million downlaods as I write this, up from 2.5 last night.) following a rocky start when some things kept falling over or didn't work at all. It looks like most of that's been fixed since and some of it seems to have been no more than the usual mmorpg launch issue of everyone trying to log in at the same time, anyway. It ran smoothly for me is all I can say. 

Reddit is even less happy, though, and for reasons that have nothing to do with launch day blues. The general consensus there seems to be that the whole thing's just a blatant cash grab based on re-using existing assets to exploit any remaining pockets of nostalgia that aren't already tapped out from all the other Dragon Nest cash-grabs there've been.

I can't say I disagree. I am absolutely not going to recommend DN2:E to anyone who hasn't already played other games in the series and even then only if, like me, it feels like it still hasn't been enough. If it wasn't for the nostalgia factor I wouldn't be bothering with it myself and even with those warm fuzzies, it's pretty unlikely I'll play this iteration for more than a few sessions. 

Like all the later versions, it's like a photocopy of a photocopy of the original, just enough fidelity left that you can picture what it's supposed to be if you squint hard enough. I'm happy they keep making new Dragon Nests because I always enjoy trying them out but the best one was the first one. That's the game I really miss. It's been a slow roll downhill ever since.

I'm just a Dragon Nest tourist at this point and happy to be one. Or I will be, when I can find my holiday snaps...


  1. I'm fairly sure that it's Bluestacks, not the game itself, where all those dots come from. They're there to emulate the screen-tapping you would be doing on a touch screen via keyboard commands.

    I'm not actually sure whether they can be set to invisible, but I would assume so. But, again, that option would have to be found in the Bluestacks setup.

    1. Ah! Thanks for that! It's exactly right. There's a setting for it on the main screen. You can switch the dots off altogether or change the opacity with a slider. This being the first game I've played using Bluestacks, I just assumed it was the game doing it! Im going to clarify that in the post and add a link to a nice, clear explanation of how to set things up how you prefer.

    2. You‘re welcome. I had to acquaint myself with this kind of emulator at first too when I picked up Arknights two years back.


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