Jurassic Park defined a generation. The original movie left moviegoers in awe, amazed by the wonderful landscapes and blissful visual effects that brought the long-extinct magnificent creatures to life. Few games were able to faithfully translate the imposing might of dinosaurs, with Ark: Survival Evolved, Turok and Dino Crisis being a couple of them.
As unlikely as it may sound, it’s a mobile game that claims the right to proudly rub shoulders with those giants. What! Studio developed Durango: Wild Lands for Nexon and you would be hard pressed to find any annoying boundaries or blatant mistakes tied to this traditionally limited platform. As it turns out, most developers are only limited by their ambition and willfulness to monetize tired game templates instead of aiming for the skies.
Durango makes a perfect case for mobile devices as suitable gaming platforms. Here is a game of unrestrained ambition and clever design that isn’t trying to nickel and dime players, instead going for the far more difficult route of deserving your hard-earned microtransaction money.
Durango starts with a bang, or a supernatural event of cataclysmic proportions if you want to be more precise. This intro serves both as a clever character selection and tutorial, teaching you the basics of movement and combat in a few minutes before dropping you in a mysterious isle.
Things begin on an apparently ordinary train, with an eclectic cast of sixteen characters patiently waiting for your selection – well, patiently except for one overly excited office worker who just landed a big one and can’t wait to rub it in his boss’ face. Each candidate has a short backstory that works as a pretext for the train journey, but what you should really focus on is the starting skill bonus. Will you pick the character that is versed in cooking, gathering, defense, tailoring, construction, farming…?
Ultimately, your selection isn’t that substantial, so don’t bust your head over it – you will quickly learn that a good survivor is a well-adjusted survivor, with a balanced growth for every skill. As soon as you’re up on your feet, a trip to the dining car is interrupted by unexpected turbulence and some strange warping that is about to take the entire train, you included, to an uncharted island. A short but accomplished bout of character customization follows, once more highlighting the high polish that Durango has every step of the way. A cute dog and a mysterious biker girl called K serve as a welcoming committee that will show you the ropes in this baffling new world.
A brief tutorial will take you to your first tamed island, or domain as it is also called. Battling and taming your first dinosaur is a remarkable moment, as you finally get a loyal companion for this bumpy ride. Dinosaurs serve as mounts and help you during combat, but I’ll get into more detail about this soon.
Domains are your personal territory, safe islands where you can set up your base and expand it over time. Initially you won’t have much to build, but your options will steadily grow and soon you will be crafting tables, better tents, and even proper houses. You can open your island to friends if you so wish, and vice-versa. While you have all the peace and quiet that you need to scavenge for resources on your island, it isn’t advised to misuse this as materials are finite. That is why you must board your raft and sail to uncharted islands.
Your adventure will take you to several unstable islands in search of crafting materials and valuable resources. At the start you only have access to the most primitive of tools and commodities, such as a makeshift tent, basic weapons and clothing. Trying on that brand-new straw outfit will be a moment to remember, as every little step will translate into valuable progress in your stats and overall experience. Gathering stalk, pebbles, sticks, logs and more is a recurrent task that is made the more pleasant by the diversity of character animations and an unashamed feeling of possession. But don’t get too greedy or this will become a problem, as your inventory is limited, and you must find ways to circumvent this issue – such as moving some objects to your dinosaur’s inventory or placing them inside baskets or other containers on your domain.
It looks like no matter where you go, even when fancy warp holes are involved, there is always someone in need of an errand boy – video game logic, right? One of the best ways for you to earn experience and get some exciting rewards, including the basic in-game currency T-Stone, is by accepting quests from various organizations. The Communications Center is the place where you pick your missions, several at the same time if you so wish to make matters more convenient, although there is a cooldown time before you can select another mission from the same organization. Completing the missions will also improve your trust tier with an organization, increasing the quality of the support items that you may request.
While the missions tend to occasionally repeat themselves, there is a nice diversity that takes them beyond your usual fetch quest. You may be tasked with killing a dinosaur, crafting some sort of tool or collect a rare flower, with further tasks often requiring you to scavenge for resources before assembling the desired item. Most quests come with handy markers leading you to the target area, but other times you must use your brain cells to figure out where a specific item is to be found.
Combat in Durango will take you places, and you’ll become dinosaur food unless you learn the basics. While it has a misleading automated feel to it, combat requires your involvement and accurate use of special skills. The success of your attacks deeply relies on the weapon that you are holding and your melee or ranged specialization – ranged weapons such as bows are unlocked further down the line, so you must get used to one or two-handed melee weapons as soon as possible. At a certain point in battle the taming option becomes available for some dinosaurs, but there is a chance that you won’t be able to pull it off. If you don’t, it’s a matter of trying again the next time.
You enter combat either by choosing to attack a creature or by zooming past a quick-tempered dinosaur who will give chase in a bid to bite you to pieces – if you don’t take any damage for a few seconds, the fight is off. It’s a nice touch to find dinosaurs having a go at each other without any sort of interference from you, further proof that this is a mobile survival game with great attention to detail.
Despite your best effort and accuracy using special attacks and dodges, you shouldn’t try to face dinosaurs that are way above your health level. Each move consumes stamina (fatigue is another aspect that you need to keep track of) and soon you’ll realize that your character is unable to attack at a decent pace. Weapons may also break during combat, so make sure to repair them whenever you can, or you’ll find yourself trying to punch dinosaurs in the nose.
Stay in your league and with the help of your trusty mount you may knock down that ferocious raptor or other fierce beast, but be careful as dying in Durango comes with a penalty. You may lose several of your items, but you can request rescue from other players in exchange for a reward – if you’re lucky, you’ll be back on your feet in no time. Or you may revive and try to return to the place where you died in the hope that your belongings are still there, waiting for you, and not being ransacked by another player. It’s better to choose your battles and live to fight another day.
Dino the Explorer
The exploration of unstable islands makes for the largest part of your adventure. It’s not just about collecting resources or completing quests; you have other goals to keep you entertained. Warp holes, for example, are spread across each island and are both crucial and a fraction of the total landmarks that you get to discover, ultimately rewarding you with currency.
Warp holes are used to travel between locations in exchange for a small amount of T-Stones – while it’s easy to ignore them in the first islands and travel on foot (or dinosaur), soon you will be thankful for their presence as the islands grow larger, more complex and filled with dangers. You can also warp back to your domain anytime but doing it often will surely take a toll on your amassed currency. You have a hand scanner to signal warp holes in the vicinity but use it wisely as it consumes some of your stamina.
Discovering new species of dinosaurs is another highlight of every new island. Each new creature is suitably branded on sight, crossing it off the shortlist of dinosaurs that you must find. As the islands become more imposing, so do the dinosaurs, with a few dozens waiting for you, but not all of them can be tamed. All your favorites show up in Durango: the treacherous Raptors, the gigantic Brachiosaurus, Triceratops and, of course, the mighty Tyrannosaurus.
It takes quite some time to fully explore each island in every detail. You must raise your experience level before you can access some of the larger islands, but you should have at least a couple of isles to explore at any given time. Contrary to what a small fraction of players may think, I felt engrossed by the thought of discovering uncharted territory, and by that I mean every inch, every rock, every beautiful shore. The way that the map slowly reveals itself as you move is addictive, almost like Pac-Man chewing up on those tiny dots. Gazing at a wholly revealed island map, all the landmarks and dinosaurs discovered is something that warms me up inside, an outlandish feeling of accomplishment.
By now it’s obvious that Durango features an in-depth crafting system that gets more complex as you are introduced to new materials and unlock new blueprints. But I can’t avoid mentioning how well thought-out the skill system is as well.
You have skills for twelve different aptitudes, including survival, construction, processing or butchering. Each one branches out into multiple skill trees – for example, construction is divided into living quarters, infrastructures, traps and more. Your skill level raises as you organically perform actions in the wild, such as butchering a dinosaur or cooking fish on a bonfire. When you climb a skill level – not your overall experience level – you gain a few points to spend on your preferred unlock. Choose wisely as this will make all the difference when it comes to building something that you need – larger storage options, for example – or becoming more proficient in combat.
As for monetization, Durango has a wealth of items to tempt your wallet. From peculiar objects such as rocking horses or trampolines to houses, silly anachronistic costumes or mounts – the African Elephant is lovely –, it doesn’t feel like you truly need any of these to progress. You can fork out some cash for one of the booster packages that provide you with extra experience gain, additional warp gems and T-Stones. However, in no way did I spot an item that blatantly puts you at an advantage against your fellow players, something that would become a problem when it comes to the inevitable clan wars.
If you don’t feel tempted by the prospect of taming dinosaurs and riding them, then you need to reassess your life goals. This is survival at its finest, highly intuitive and yet complex and deeply rewarding. Each new island is a breathtaking achievement, each new dinosaur a feat to feel proud of.
Although some of the tasks may feel repetitive and the long walks may eventually tire you, these are aspects that are intrinsically tied to the survival genre itself. But there is a rewarding feel to every new experience level, every new creature that comes your way. While combat feels a bit raw and largely reliant on your character’s abilities and gear instead of your pure player skills, you’ll get used to it and have fun with kicks, barges and shooting arrows.
Obviously, you can create a party with other survivors and tackle missions together. Attacking some of the fiercest dinosaurs is a task that is recommended for a group, so don’t overlook the advantages of having a few friends by your side.
Survival games are as ancient as the prehistoric setting of Durango itself, but here is a game that defies conventions. Let’s not forget that we are talking about a mobile game, where technological restrictions are more evident – and close-minded studios are more prone for shameless cash-grabs.
This is not the case here. Durango is designed without any visible constraints, going the extra mile to offer players a fully-fledged survival experience that we are only used to play on PC or consoles. Games such as Last Day on Earth: Survival may thread the same path, but Durango is by far the better game.
Besides, it has dinosaurs on it. That certainly seals the deal.
Learning Curve: 7/10
Durango has a competent tutorial to guide your first steps, as well as additional tips when a new feature is unlocked. It may seem like a lot of information to learn and too many menus to delve into, but soon you’ll get the hang of it. A handy magnifying glass will help you spot the different kinds of resources by showing their names, saving you the trouble of second-guessing what this plant or that tree might exactly be.
Graphics / Sound: 9/10
Durango looks stunning and brings an array of awe-inspiring moments. Witnessing those Brachiosaurus slowly moving around, minding their own business is a sight to behold, but even the smaller creatures are endowed with visual details and animations that bring them (back) to life. Dinosaurs rolling around in the dirt like cats? Check!
Your survivor also deserved quite some attention from the dev team. You get to see smooth animations for dozens of actions that you weren’t counting on, from sipping water to washing yourself in the river, flattening the ground prior to building a structure or lighting a bonfire, with visible tiny sparks. It’s a beautiful package that is made the more mesmerizing thanks to a day and night cycle that has actual interference on the gameplay – you’ll see many a dinosaur taking a nap during your travels.
Birds chirping and dinosaurs roaring and stomping are music to my ears, as the islands come alive with the sound of these creatures. Nature will provide its own set of sound effects as waves ripple along pristine sandy beaches in one moment, and rain pours down in the next.
The soundtrack is suitably epic and worthy of featuring in a blockbuster movie such as… Jurassic Park, let’s say? I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the voice acting but a letdown was looming around the corner – the characters become awfully silent as soon as the tutorial ends. It’s a shame, as I was getting used to hearing these mysterious persons chatting.
Value for Money: 9/10
No survival fan will ever regret buying… I mean, downloading Durango. With an insane amount of content to plow through and balanced mechanics, you won’t be rushing to the cash shop unless you want to support the game. Dozens of hours of gathering, crafting and riding dinosaurs await you.
Durango: Wild Lands is the pinnacle of survival games on mobile. It’s a fantastic game with tons of content, great graphics and impressive sound. It will require your time and effort, but the rewards are worth it. It’s peculiar when after all these words I still get the feeling that I barely scratched the surface of Durango – that should tell you a lot about the qualities of this game.
• In-depth sandbox survival experience… with dinosaurs
• Highly polished graphics and animations
• Epic soundtrack and plenty of roaring effects
• Enjoyable skill system that lends itself to experimentation
• Huge lifespan… unlike dinosaurs
• Intriguing real-time combat system…
• … But it is more reliant on character attributes than player skill
• Colossal time sink, but that isn’t necessarily a shortcoming
• Where did that voice acting go?