Thursday, August 10, 2023

Dawnlands: Valheim, But It's Anime!

Once again, I find myself at odds with the rest of the MMORPG collective. About this time last year I downloaded a new game called Noah's Heart. I played it, liked it and wrote about it with considerable enthusiasm. 

Off the back of my positivity, a few people around the blogosphere tried it, then politely suggested they'd like some of what I had obviously been smoking. Absolutely no-one saw any merit in the game and after a few weeks it vanished from the public consciousness as though it had never been.

Except here, where there are now fifty-six posts tagged "Noah's Heart" (Fifty seven if you count this one.). I've logged into the game every single day for over a year, making it one of my most consistently-played games of all time. I'm still playing, still enjoying it and have no plans to stop just yet, although yet another server merge yesterday suggests that decision might be taken out of my hands before too much longer.

Noah's Heart is just one in a fairly long line of MMORPGs in which I've found considerable merit, while the general opinion has been that they suck. Big time. I liked all the versions of Bless, for example, but particularly the one every hated the most, Bless: Unleashed. At least once or twice every month, I still think about going back and playing that one some more.

Even among the more respectable games, my experience seems to diverge markedly from the norm. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, very widely considered a complete shambles and a disaster, sits solidly in my top three MMORPGs of all time. Sometimes I think it might be my favorite of them all.

I say all this not to establish some kind of maverick, hipster cred (Although that does sound cool...) but as a warning. Sometimes I do attempt to be objective about these things but mostly this is a personal blog in which I gush about stuff I like and occasionally rant about things I don't. I never pretend I like things when I really don't but I do occasionally get carried away by my own enthusiasm. When that happens, I can feel a little guilty later for leading people astray. Just remember: even if I'm having a good time playing a game, it doesn't mean you will too.

If it wasn't for the big picture at the top of the post you might have guessed I was going to talk about Palia again. There, though, I'm not quite as off-message as usual. The consensus that's building seems to be that Palia lays a decent foundation for what might one day become a pretty good game but that as yet it's under-cooked and probably could have done with a while longer in the development oven.

I don't dispute that. The game as it stands is a very solid start but it does feel a little dry in places. It will almost certainly be a lot better after a few more updates. Then again, it is still in beta so that's only to be expected. 

Uh oh. I can hear the grumbling from here...

Okay, yes, we're past the days when a loud cry of "It's Beta!" could cover sloppy workmanship and I agree that once a developer lets everyone in they open themselves up to criticism that wouldn't be appropriate if they were still operating behind closed doors. Taking money means players are now customers not testers but even so, when all's said and done, it is beta. Calling it "Open Beta" or "Early Access" doesn't absolve a developer from all responsibility but equally neither is it some kind of invitation for a pile-on. 

MMORPGs are famously never finished. Back in the days when MMOs went from closed beta to fully live with nothing much inbetween, they still mostly launched broken, buggy and unfinished. They frequently lacked content and often the good version of the game didn't arrive until six months or a year later. The whole "They're taking money so it doesn't matter what they're calling it" charge doesn't really reflect a major change of practice. MMO developers have always taken money for an unfinished product. They've just changed what they're calling it.

Somewhere along the line, though, any of the patience and understanding gamers once had for MMORPGs (Something that, frankly, was always in extremely short supply.) has all but vanished. If games aren't pretty much perfect on first sight nowadays, they're going to get ripped to shreds. Ironically, even if they are generally reckoned to be tight, polished and professional, ninety per cent of players will still drop them after a few weeks anyway (cf New World; Lost Ark.) Developers just can't catch a break.

Please bear all that in mind, then, when you hear that I downloaded yet another new game yesterday and had a pretty good time playing it. As MassivelyOP reports, that wasn't everyone's impression, not by any means. I beg to differ. Again. 

I already had Dawnlands on my Steam wishlist so for once I didn't miss the announcement that it was available for play. As soon as I saw the email I downloaded it immediately, registered an account with the developer, Singapore's SeaSun Games, and logged in to make a character.

In the past I've written whole posts on character creation. I could certainly do that here. I'll try and keep it short. Dawnlands is a free-to-play title so if you really want to see what character creation is like, go check it out for yourself. I think you'll enjoy it.

I swing back and forth on character creation, as must be obvious by now. Sometimes I complain about all the sliders that let you change the inclination of your cheek-bones or the width of your calves; other times I moan about lack of choice and being forced into pre-sets. 

If I'm honest, it depends a lot on what kind of mood I'm in or how urgently I want to get into the game. Sometimes character creation can feel like a hobby all its own, other times it's just a barrier keeping me from the fun stuff.

The character creation options in Dawnlands land right in my sweet spot. There are lots of presets but after you make each pick you can customise it with sliders. Better yet, the sliders actually do stuff you can see! I'm very used to - and fed up with - sliders that make adjustments so small I can barely see the difference. In Dawnlands, when you move the slider you can see a different person up there on the screen right away and you don't even have to squint.

As I've said many times and as I'm coming to believe is even more crucial than I previously believed, the key to whether I'm going to find myself pulled inside a game or bouncing off it lies in how comfortable I am with the character I've been able to create. And by that I mostly mean what that character looks like. 

Sometimes I think judging these things by appearances is a shallow approach but at other times it seems almost ineffably deep. There's a lot of talk nowadays about options for having characters meet the expectations of the audience. Gender-locking is right out in the West, not that it was ever popular here, but far beyond that it's increasingly expected that you'll be able to make a character that represents either the way the world sees you or the way you see yourself, which can, of course, often be two very different things.

There's a whole different post to be written on that, one I'm quite keen to write some day but also pretty nervous. A lot's going on when we make our characters; it's only fairly recently started to become clear just how much. 

For now, all I want to say is that I just loved what I was able to do with the character creator in Dawnlands. It's so good it makes me want to go back and just make more characters for the sheer fun of it. If you want to play a big, beefy middle-aged guy with a full beard, though (Hi, Bel!) your mileage may most definitely vary. 

Also, it'll be nice when I get some clothes to wear. Just sayin'. One day at a time, eh?

Having a character I feel comfortable playing goes a long way towards making me feel favorably disposed towards a game but stepping into a world that just looks absolutely gorgeous goes even further. I just love what Dawnlands looks like.

I've seen the look described as anime and a lot of reviews on Steam, both positive and negative, compare the aesthetic to Genshin Impact but my immediate impression was of waking up inside the Saturday Morning Cartoon spin-off of a 1970s comic book, maybe Anthro or Rima the Jungle Girl. To me, Dawnlands looks like something one of the Silver Age greats like Nick Cardy, Nester Redondo or even Alex Toth might have done guideline character sketches and storyboards for, before full animation was handled by a studio somewhere in the Phillipines. 

I get that not everyone is going to have these specific reference points. Probably the artists who worked on the game didn't. I don't care. Those are the synapses it snaps for me and it feels good.

I'm not going to turn this into a full-blown a First Impressions post for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I've only played for about an hour and a half so far and I'd like to get a bit further before committing myself. Secondly and more importantly, there's just one heck of a lot going on right now, what with Blaugust and everything. I wasn't planning on shoe-horning another series of posts into the schedule but I guess I'm going to have to find a way.

What I will say up front is that so far I'm really enjoying Dawntide. It's a toss-up at the moment whether I'll log into Dawntide or Palia after I finish this post but it's sure to be one or the other. It's quite exciting, having two new games competing for my attention. Certainly gives me plenty to write about, anyway.

I almost wrote "two new MMORPGs" in that last paragraph but Dawntide isn't exactly an MMORPG. It's what the developers call an "Open-World Survival Crafting cross-platform game" and MOP calls an "MMO-lite". As well as being available on both mobile and PC, it also offers three settings: Single Player, Multiplayer and Sandbox

I thought about it for a while but in the end I plumped for Single Player. I have a post already completed about how I keep thinking I'm playing a single-player game when I'm playing Palia and it feels to me like maybe these kinds of survival games work better for me when I have the world all to myself. 

That was certainly the case in Valheim, the game which, as you probably guessed from the title of the post, it reminded me of the most. Although I very much enjoyed reading other people's accounts of their shared adventures there, I never once felt like I wanted to share my viking afterlife with anyone else other than in the posts I was writing about it. Since Dawnlands feel really quite significantly similar, it makes sense to carry on in that tradition.

Whether Dawnlands will have anything like the staying power of Valheim it's far, far too early to say. I kind of doubt it but obviously I very much hope to be proved wrong. If so, it'll be yet another game that I'm playing and writing about when almost no-one else is. 

But then, I'm used to that.


  1. Not familiar with the game but as soon as I saw the first image on the page I started thinking about The Herculoids or something along those lines. So it definitely is not just you that is getting those Saturday Morning Cartoon vibes!

    1. The Herculoids is an Alex Toth show. I've never seen it but I really should make the effort. He was behind a lot of the Hanna Barbera look of the late sixties-early seventies with all the flat surfaces and ultra-clean lines. I'm a sucker for things that look that way, so Dawnlands is already primed for me to like it.

    2. The real reason I remember The Herculoids is that it got it's legs cut out from under it here in the USA when some politician decided that Saturday morning cartoons had too much violence and a whole bunch of stuff got cancelled and replaced by junk like The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Maybe that's when they started running H.R. Puffenstuff, too which... I still don't know how someone's acid dream made it to a kid's show!

      Disclaimer: This is how I remember things going down, my memory is a tricky thing!

  2. Something about the look of that character makes me think of the old Snow White Disney movie.

  3. Frankly I´m getting breath of the wild vibes for some reason


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