Dragon flying in an augmented reality game

Twilight Pioneers: Dragon ARena Review

Twilight Pioneers: Dragon ARena (with a big R, emphasizing AR as for Augmented Reality), not to be confused with “Twilight Pioneers” the ARPG game from the same company, is an arena action game built using ARKit technology. Dragon ARena is based on the first mobile VR action adventure game that the company has previously released.

This AR game restores the sea and sky scene and the details of the swimming dragon from the base game.

How do you play Twilight Pioneers; Dragon Arena?

Twilight Pioneers; Dragon Arena is like anything I’ve previously played before, let alone in augmented reality. I do my best to try to describe it as accurately as possible.

The game takes place in an aquarium-like arena which is actually a sea field with small and large rocks, with a sea floor and orbs spread all around it, both in the air and underwater.

This is a 1-vs-1 game. You can play it against an AI against another online player or invite a friend and play against him.

Each player controls a dragon character. The dragon character can fly within the border set by the game. This includes a relatively large area above the sear and a small area around it. Unfortunately, you can’t see that area, but if you pass this area, the border will start flashing and then you will be able to see it. In each flash pulse you’ll lose a chunk of your health so you need to make sure to quickly go back to the play area. It’s like In Battlegrounds if you are outside the gameplay area you start losing health and if you health reaches zero you die and lose the match.

Twilight Pioneers:Dragon ARena game screenshot
Twilight Pioneers:Dragon ARena game screenshot..

You control the dragon using three different controls. You use the left virtual joystick control to control the direction in which the dragon’s head turns. There are two other buttons. You click the “follow up a dragon soul’ button (the one with the dragon icon) to auto-adjust direction to chase the enemy’s dragon soul for 3 seconds. You click the “follow up a dragon ball” button to auto-adjust direction to chase the closest dragon ball for 3 seconds.

The Souls balls are used to feel up your rage ability and the dragon balls are used to obtain weapons.

The goal of the game is to kill the other player’s dragon or make his health lower than yours before the time runs out.

Dragon out of bounds
My dragon just went out of bounds, see that glowing border, make sure your dragon stays inside.

You need to collect the orbs in order to obtain different abilities to be able to shoot at the other dragon. Those abilities are up for a limited of time, so you need to quickly search for the dragon and deal damage to it. Also once the “rage bar” (the one below your health bar) is billed, you can invoke an auto-attacking dragon soul to assist in attacking the other dragon.

So in short, what you’ll be doing is navigating through the level, collecting orbs, power up your abilities, search for the enemy’s dragon and shoot him.

Game Controls

The game controls are so unintuitive that it hurts.. I was so frustrated in the first 5 games that I thought about just quitting and not playing anymore.

In the first three games, I didn’t know why the dragon doesn’t follow the direction I was pointing him to. The problem is that it’s very confusing the control a character in a 3D dimensional space in third-person perspective, where the character doesn’t face the front direction all time.

Game controls, Twilight Pioneers:Dragon ARena
The three game controls are located on the bottom-left side of the screen.

The navigation controls work like this. The joystick is like the head of the dragon facing forward, you move it up the dragon moves up, you move it down the dragon moves down, etc. The thing is that it’s very simple if you played it in first person or third person perspective where the camera sits on the dragons head looking forward, but this is not the case. You can move around the arena and position yourself behind the dragon, but this is a very uncomfortable way to play the game.

So for example, if the dragon faces you and you want to move right, you need to move the joystick in the left direction, not right. It takes some time to get used to. I’m sure there will be many players that will just leave this game due to frustration because of that. I personally dislike games with steep learning curve related to the game’s controls but I definitely give myself the time to adapt them before making up my mind whether this game is for me or not.

After you get the hang of the controls, you can start enjoying the game. I recommend using the practice mode first and then going into the online mode.

TIP: There is also a tip that I can give you. The first time I’ve played it, I was always using the joystick to maneuver the dragon. The thing is that you need to frequently tap dragon buttons so they will automatically lock on the closest ball. Those buttons are on a short cooldown, but try to use them frequently as possible.

The dragons fly relatively slow, it’s not a fast-paced game. This gives you time to maneuver your dragon strategically so you can also attack the other dragon with your weapon as fast as possible before the weapon’s timer runs up. The battle looks more like a dance of two dragons, it’s really beautiful to look at.

If I had to choose a preferred control scheme, I would have used the option to just point the camera where I want the dragon to fly to and control the height using my body or just put a slider UI element to control it. Controlling the dragon with those controls is just shooting yourself in the leg. I am not saying that you can’t adjust to it, you can, but why not make something more user-friendly and more accessible, it’s such a waste.

Graphics and AR Experience

Twilight Pioneers:Dragon ARena has beautiful graphics and amazing atmospheric effects. The level itself looks like a cube of water just sits there inside your living room. It’s like somebody cut a slice of the ocean and put it right inside your home.

The level is very detailed, with grassy rocks growing from the ocean floor, fish swimming in the water, a sunk ship at the ocean floor, etc. The game also has some of the most stunning atmospheric effects I’ve seen in an augmented reality game. I’m talking about the thunder storm clouds that float above the sea and the whole thunder storm weather atmosphere.

Thunder storm in the AR game Twilight Pioneers:Dragon ARena
It’s amazing watching that thunder storm and and rain happening right inside your living room. They should an augmented reality weather app like that!

I really enjoy the physical movement that sometimes requires when playing AR games, but this game makes it even more fun than ever before. You can literally dive down into the ocean. Once you do it you hear the sound of the water splashing like in real life. Once in the water, the sound changes to reflect the underwater surroundings. Once you get out of the water, the screen fills with water that runs down the lens downward like a camera that was pulled out of the water.

Here is a video that I shot just to demonstrate the underwater part and the atmospheric weather effects.

Now a few words about the AR experience. I didn’t have any problems finding a surface to play the game. It took a few tries but overall tt worked well. There wasn’t an option to control the size of the level, just rotate it. I think it could be amazing being to play the game on a large scale and just go inside and out of the water while I control the dragon. Unintentionally you can’t, you can only rotate it.

I really liked that the game first lets you choose a surface and then choose a game mode. It would be really awkward if you choose to play against another online player and both of you had to start locating a surface and waiting for each other. I don’t think there is any better way to do it. If you restart a game, you will need to recalibrate the game’s placement all over again, but that’s nothing new and all the ARKit games that I’ve played do the same.

Top down view, Twilight Pioneers:Dragon ARena screenshot
Top down view of the level. Look how beautiful the water renders, gorgeous!

I also would have liked to have an option to move the game. I’ve scanned the environment, but unlike other games that I”ve played this week, it was more restrictive and it only spawned on specific areas. I think the reason is due to the large size of the game area. I recommend playing it in a room with enough space, it didn’t work for me well in a tight area. It’s not just in this game, but I still haven’t figured out why developers don’t let you scale down the game. I can understand putting a limit on the size, but I don’t see any reason why not being able to play it on a small scale?

Oh, by the way, you can play it both horizontally or vertically, the game adjusts to each one perfectly.

Game Modes and Other Features

There aren’t a lot of things to talk about here, to be honest, You can play alone against an AI, against an online player or against a friend. You can obtain score by beating opponents but there is no progression, no dragon skins, no achievements, global leaderboard, trophies, nada. I wish that AR game will not be treated like prototypes or demos. I mean, how difficult is to ad those features anyway. a few settings in the database, a few icons for the achievements and a query to display the leading players. It’s behind me to be honest, or maybe I was missing something, did I?

The game also requires you to have an Internet connection while playing and yes I checked it out. I start playing a practice single-player game and in the middle of the game I disconnected the Wi-Fi, After a few seconds I got a message and the game went back to the home screen. This is really a bad practice, and I have no reason why the developer would make such a thing. I want to be able to play a single-player mode without being be connected to the Internet, that’s one of the best things about single-player games, that we can play them offline. Anyways, moving on.

Conclusion

Twilight Pioneers: Dragon ARena started amazingly well, I was hooked the moment I saw the level spawning in my living room. The animation of the water, the light effects on the water, the lightning storm, the whole presentation was very original, immensely captivating and immersive. The music perfectly matches the rhythm of the game—it’s  very rhythmic and really helps get you into the game.

Things starting to fall down from that point on. The tutorial isn’t explained very well, the game controls are the most uncomfortable I’ve played to date (although you can get used to it after some time), there is no progression or a ranking system to keep you want to invest in this game. I can understand that for very casual games like ‘Exploding Kittens’ but not in a game like this.

Once you get the hang of it, it does start to feel better and the game is much more fluid. The game does get easier once I start using the auto-aiming buttons so I spent less time worrying about moving the dragon with the movement control. Once that happened I got a time window finally see and understand the beauty and creativity behind the design of gameplay mechanics.

It’s an original ARKit title with a fabulous presentation and graphics quality but I couldn’t ignore the overall awkward and stiff control system and the lack of replayability features that just prevent this game from taking off.

As you can see, this game was definitely a mixed-bag experience. My recommendation that if you encounter the same confusion with the controls, just give it like 5 games, don’t give up, you might really enjoy the game after you get use to it.

This ARKit augmented reality game is free-to-play on the App Store, so just download it and see if it works for you better than it worked for me.

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