How the hell is the survival game genre still thriving? Ever since Minecraft blew the minds of gamers and developers alike we’ve been inundated with a constant barrage of survival-based games. Ever depleting hunger bars and durability stats are becoming inescapable headaches that, according to the ever blossoming Early Access Survival genre, gamers just can seem to get enough of.
While we still can’t get a full-fledged Monster Hunter title in NA, Nexon has chosen to bring Ark: Survival Evolved to mobile devices. Nope, not beating around the Mesozoic Era bush with this one. Durango is pretty much the mobile equivalent of Ark, seeking to capitalize on the latest popularity trends that include dinosaurs and survival games.
Nexon is hardly the only company to follow trends and pump out safe bets. What sets the publisher apart from other MMO conglomerates like Webzen, Aeria and OGPlanet is the quality of their library. That isn’t to say the aforementioned companies don’t publish fun and interesting titles, but Nexon has consistently been a cut above the rest for years.
Durango is no exception. Despite the obvious placation towards the massive crowd of gamers garnered by titles like Ark: Survival Evolved, What! Studio is creating one of the most addictive and high quality MMO experiences on Android.
There’s a Story?!
You start the game on a train and are instantly asked to pick your class by choosing one of the numerous people lounging around. As immersive as the character selection screen is, it’s also full of lies.
What the game fails to tell you is that your choice doesn’t really matter. Whoever you choose only decides which skill you get to start with at level 10, which is altogether pointless by the time you reach level 10 anyway.
Character creation is also a lot more customizable than this initial introduction lets on. At first all you can do is randomize your character’s color scheme with the press of a button. Once you’re off the train an impressive number of options are made available to you. But, for the purposes of the train intro, you’re largely stuck with whatever poor soul you choose to inhabit.
Durango drip feeds you story and tutorials from that point on. From the train through two unstable islands you’re taught the basics of the game while introduced to various characters and factions. How this story plays out will remain to be seen, but it’s a hopeful start that’s already more than most survival games offer.
Haven & Hearth Homesteading
Anyone who’s played Haven & Hearth or Wild Terra – there are a few other games that utilize the same system but those are respectively the oldest and newest that come to mind – will be familiar with the land ownership and development system incorporated in Durango. You set down a marker to lay claim to a patch of dirt and no one can touch anything within the confines of your land without permission.
The game lets you stake a claim immediately and build your own personal tent and bonfire. While it’s enticing to snag up as many resources as you can, you out-level the stable settlement islands in a flash. This means any fishing node you lay claim to after being irritated by not being able to fish in a node someone else has becomes more of a liability than the eternal boon you first suspect. Luckily moving is quite easily accomplished. You can pack up your settlement, destroy your magical land claiming pole and rebuild anew somewhere else with ease – and you don’t have to worry about losing anything in the process.
It’s clear the game expects you to move around throughout the duration of your stay along the demented dino archipelago. The Durango devs have clearly played other games in the same vein and sought to solve the migraine-inducing issues that real-time land ownership and claiming tend to create.
The initial plot you’re given access to is a nice size for a starting player, but when you start thinking about taming and sheltering animals it’s clear that it won’t be enough space after a while. It’s unclear whether or not the game gives you access to larger plots of land as you level up. They could easily force people to join clans by only making larger plots available to groups, but it’d be surprising if there weren’t a few more sizes and higher level stable islands to settle later. Although these additions may not be made available during the current beta.
Speaking of clans, the game makes it clear early on that clan-held islands are available but only at later levels. It serves as a tease, something else to work towards in addition to the Career Guide goals and general exploration, but is easily overlooked and forgotten about this early in the beta’s lifecycle.
Skills and SP
As good as the game is at showing new players the reed-crafted ropes, it fails miserably at teaching them how to acquire the ability to craft new items. New craft recipes and abilities are accessed via a skill tree system. As your primary character level increases you’re given SP to spend on skill tree nodes in each of Durango’s skill categories.
Most of the skills level independently depending on your actions. Every time you build a bonfire you’ll receive a point towards your ‘Building’ skill level. At various intervals, generally every five to ten skill levels, you’ll unlock new crafts and boons that are purchasable with SP.
The main idea is that you can’t afford to specialize in everything. You don’t get enough SP to unlock every node in every skill, meaning you’re going to have to specialize and theoretically rely on other people who choose different specializations later on.
However, it’s currently unknown whether or not there’s a max-level. At the moment it looks like the max is 30 according to the end of the skill trees, at least for the beta’s sake, but you may be able to surpass that without getting anymore skill upgrades. (Please say something in the comments below if you know better.) Right now there’s no telling if you can or can’t eventually have everything maxed out.
Mesozoic Cyber Insects and Low FPS
The game is in ‘Limited Beta’, meaning bugs are to be expected and Durango certainly has its fair share. However, they’re mild in comparison to most other Alpha and Beta launches. You can ignore most of them and any freeze-inducing bugs can be thawed with a simple restart.
The frames-per-second, aka fps, are a bit of different story. The game runs smoothly when you’re on your own in a barren remote part of the island, but once you’re in a more populated area or thick foliage the fps starts to tank. Of course this experience will depend on most people’s devices but it begs the question as to how accessible the game will be at launch.
What! Studio, the Korean developers behind Durango, still have a ways to go before the game’s official release though. It’d be strange if the game didn’t run smoother as time went on and it became more optimized, even though it already feels very polished. Will it really get much better? Or will people just have to upgrade their devices to the latest and greatest currently available in order to get a smoother experience?
Making Your Dino-Bucks
As with just about all free-to-play mobile MMOs, there’s a free-to-play and premium currency system. The free-to-play currency can be used to purchase goods from other players via trading posts. It’s also used as a fee when packing up and moving as previously stated, but for the most part it can be ignored. Everything seems obtainable over time with a little bit of effort and grinding, making the free currency pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.
The premium currency is a bit concerning. Right now it’s only used to speed up the construction of large land items, like workbenches and tents. If that’s how it remains then it’ll be fine, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nexon sell premium resources and items when the game is released presumably sometime in 2017.
Overall First Impressions
Even in the bug-riddled, poorly optimized state of the current ‘Limited Beta’, Durango is one of the best mobile survival games I’ve ever seen. The graphics are great, the game runs pretty well and it has all the base-building systems I look for in a survival title and more. The fact that it’s also an MMO is just a bonus.
That being said, I think I’d prefer it if the game were on PC instead. When am I going to play Durango on the go? It drains my battery and burns through my mobile plan’s internet usage almost in a matter of minutes! The only way to sit down and give the game the attention it asks for is to have it plugged into a charger and connected to Wi-Fi. You’ll have a better overall experience playing on something like Bluestacks instead. Making a game this good solely for mobile devices feels like a waste.
That wouldn’t stop me from playing it on my phone if need be though. I’d highly recommend Durango to fans of Minecraft, Ark: Survival Evolved and survival titles in general – and anyone just looking for a fun mobile experience to be honest. That’s saying a lot for a game so early in its development cycle.
Have you played Durango? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments below.