Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Has Dragon+ gotten better?

Damn, is February over already?  Just when I thought I was getting a handle on the blog again, four weeks passes in the blink of an eye... but you didn't come here to read about my issues with erratic blogging...

Not particularly inspired by this cover...
but other issues have had reasonably good art.
Just shy of two years ago, Wizards of the Coast introduced Dragon+ to the gaming internet. For several issues, I reviewed the early efforts and found it wanting. It got to the point that I grew tired of putting up yet another, "Yeah, it basically still sucks" review and I let it fall off my social media radar. Every once in a while I'd check in on it, but nothing really got me that excited to write about it again.

My primary complaints were:
  1. As a new media technology, the app was buggy, crash prone and provided a fairly poor user experience in navigation.
  2. As a venue for D&D content, there was rarely anything worthwhile for the tabletop role player. The "magazine" promoted a lot of the video game content for the Neverwinter MMO and Sword Coast Legends, as well advertorials for whatever adventure path might be releasing soon... but almost nothing that you could actually use for your game.
So two years and 12 issues later... Has anything changed? Well... sort of. 

Technology


The app itself is improved, but still a little "meh". It's more stable on the iPhone 5 (although I have yet to try it on the iPad 2 again... I will update once I do), Navigating through the social media links using the embedded browser has gotten better, mostly because the Wizards.com site is now much more mobile friendly. It took them a while, but it works now. So, overall, while I'm still not won over by the user interface in the app, it has become more usable. They have also fixed the major browser compatibility issues in the web interface, so you can use Chrome (and likely Firefox) now, not just I.E. or Edge.


Content


But honestly, who gives a damn about the app? What everyone wants to know... Is the content any better? 

It varies.

I know that's kind of a crappy answer, but it's the best I can give. This month's issue (#12) is actually one of the better ones in recent months. For me, an issue qualifies as a "good month" is if I can get just two useful articles for my home game. To be honest, it doesn't happen often.

This month, however, has two free adventure downloads. I may not run either of them, but anytime an issue includes a free adventure, that qualifies as useful content in my book. In addition, there's an article by Mike Shea (who always has good advice for DM's) and lately they've highlighted miniature painting tutorials. While they are somewhat rudimentary, it shows a willingness to do more in the virtual magazine than just promote product. They have also recently resurrected a few "classic" articles from the print magazine.

One major disappointment: while they have been including downloadable digital maps from recent adventure paths (good!), most of them are posted at image resolutions that are not high enough for virtual table tops (bad!) or for printing for non-virtual game maps at miniature scale (also bad). Instead of providing a valuable web enhancement for those of us who have bought the books, they are protecting their Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds up-sales revenue... and that's a real shame.

Final Thoughts


So what's the verdict?  Well, they're getting a wee bit better, but very slowly. While there are still a lot of advertorials, there is also more short fiction, the occasional advice article, an adventure here or there and the focus is a bit less on video games and a bit more on the table top brand.

I'd prefer if the average useful article ratio climbed a bit higher, as other recent issues have been lacking. However, I am somewhat hopeful that their trend toward a variety of articles (other than advertorials) continues. 

Dragon+ will likely never be the kind of resource the Dragon and Dungeon magazines were back in their hey day, but if they continue to provide diverse content, it might qualify as a reasonably useful resource in the coming months.
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