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Drakensang Review - Corwin's View

by Corwin, 2009-06-08

[Read Gorath's full review here]

One of my all time favourite clichés has always been ‘that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Never has this been truer than with Drakensang. This gem of a game does nothing brilliantly, many things well and a few things poorly, but at the end of the day you’re left with a really fun game. Could a gamer really ask for more? Well, I suppose so, but there’s not too many games even offering that much these days, let’s enjoy the experience before us.

As usual, my first gripe is with the poorly implemented manual. I understand that pages were cut from the original German manual for the English version...stupid, stupid, stupid. Here we have a game using system most of us are not very familiar with (TDE) and we discover that crucial items like spell lists have been cut. Where clear and detailed explanations were often sorely needed, we find vague generalities at best - and more frequently than not, virtually nothing. Obviously, the people responsible for the manual are either not gamers, or they are so familiar with the rules system that it never occurred to them that the average ‘English Language’ gamer needed far more initial guidance than was available without visiting specialist forums.

For many people, character creation is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the RPG experience. In Drakensang, this has, for the most part, been severely curtailed, but in this instance, that is not really a negative. Instead of a blank slate, we are offered a large number of prototype, or template characters which we can then either accept, or customise more to our liking. This actually works quite well since few are familiar with all the possibilities and the advanced option does allow you to tweak a character considerably. There are both male and female avatars available for each character and most of the standard character types are available. If your preference is for a fighter, a mage, a thief or an archer you will be well served and there are few restrictions concerning what skills your character may eventually learn. As this is also a party game where you can campaign with up to three extra NPC’s then there is plenty of scope to specialise to your heart’s content. While meeting all of the available party NPC’s takes you well into the game, the final selection available is both large and varied. However, I doubt many past the initial few you meet will be used the first time through the game. Most will be tried in a second or third play through.

Once an NPC becomes available to join your party you can exercise complete control over their development and deployment. Character development was, for me, one of the highlights of the game.  In most rpg’s I’ve played over a great many years, a key aim was to reach a new level through the garnering of experience so your character could improve their skills and/or attributes. In the TDE system, you can upgrade or learn new skills, spells, whatever, at any time if you have sufficient experience points available. Need to boost your sword skill, or increase your strength, or agility? You can do it on the fly with each and every character as a need arises. It’s a marvellously flexible system and I loved it.

The possible skills available are massive. These even include assorted crafting skills where you can make your own weapons, bows, arrows, and potions. There are several different types of spells your characters can learn to complement their other skills. Trainers are easily found and most skills are not overly expensive. Money was rarely an issue in the game. In general, this entire area of the game is very well done and it operates almost seamlessly through fairly straightforward menus. There is the added bonus that a Right mouse click on any item or skill will usually present you with a full explanation.

Items you and your party collect are stored in a normally adequate inventory and they can be easily swapped between party members. Key plot or quest items are stored separately and can’t be dropped or sold accidentally. Many items can be stacked to save room, but not all. Most vendors will buy your extra supplies and there are plenty of storekeepers in most areas. However, many areas of the game become locked once you finish a quest there, so be careful not to miss out on any area specific items you might wish to acquire. Be sure to check that all area side quests have been completed before leaving also, as there is no way to return once an area has been locked. Fortunately the game does issue a warning before you leave.

Drakensang is replete with quests both for the main story line (which is fairly mediocre standard fare) and for additional experience and character building. These optional side quests are many and varied. Some are fairly rpg traditional, while others are much more complex and interesting. There are murder mysteries to solve, irate ghosts to placate, damsels to rescue, a lynching to stop, puzzles to solve and heaps of important items to find. At one stage, you even get the chance to win a court case. Much of the fun of the game comes from these quests and some stretch over several ‘chapters’. As mentioned, there are puzzles and mysteries to solve and even a few which are primarily just for a good laugh. Humour is woven skilfully throughout much of the game.

The setting, in the land of Aventuria, is bright and colourful. The graphics are good, without being exceptional and the animations are generally not jarring. Voice acting is limited normally to just the first line of a conversation, except in the cut scenes. It does seem strange though that the conversation animations continue with no sounds issuing forth, but it works for the most part unless you’re a big fan of voice acting, which I’m not. It’s usually possible to explore most of the dialogue options without any penalty and the translation from the original German is definitely adequate, if not sparkling. At least I rarely grimaced in pain over terrible translation issues. With a good cross section of villages, cities, forests, mountains and underground areas, there was plenty to see and appreciate.

The ability to use tactics, rather than just mashing the left mouse button, was what made the combat reasonably enjoyable - most of the time. By careful positioning, you could send a stream of arrows, knives and/or an area effect spell towards a group of enemies before they got close enough to melee. Then, by changing a character’s aggression, you could send some fighters in to close combat while others stayed behind. Using skill attacks in the right place, perhaps aided by a debuff spell from a caster would further reduce the effectiveness of the enemies often overwhelming numbers.

Combat did tend to become tedious, especially towards the end of the game and most noticeably during a particular ‘kill the rat’ campaign. Buffing spells were normally helpful but decent attack spells often took far too long to cast -  a good summons was usually of more benefit. Special attacks and spells could easily be launched from a toolbar and the pause feature allowed you to do anything other than changing armour in the middle of a fight; this facilitated the use of party tactics as you could pause and issue individual queued commands to each party member.

Pity the enemies in any particular area weren’t more varied. Each dungeon, for example, usually held only one or two different types of monsters. After you’ve killed your first hundred, the rest are simply tedium. Fewer and more varied opponents would certainly have been an improvement. I won’t dwell on the additional annoyance of respawning.

What’s left? The music was pleasant and appropriate, the gameplay fairly standard with nothing really revolutionary, the NPC’s entertaining for the most part and annoying on occasion. The story was quite linear, but with sufficient side quests and opportunities to explore that it really wasn’t a major issue and finally, the whole package was simply a ton of fun. I really enjoyed the game, which, while not groundbreaking or earth shattering, was a most enjoyable escape from the mundane cares of the world. Try the demo - though the rest of the game is definitely better - to see if it’s to your taste and see if like myself you find yourself saying, ‘just another five minutes to complete this section’. The hours will fly speedily past.

Box Art

Information about

Drakensang: The Dark Eye

Developer: Radon Labs

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Action-RPG
Combat: Pausable Real-time
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
Germany
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2008-08-01
· Publisher: dtp

North America
· Drakensang: The Dark Eye
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2009-02-01
· Publisher: THQ

Europe
· Drakensang: The Dark Eye
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2009-03-26
· Publisher: Eidos Interactive

More information


Other articles

Summary

Pros

  • A lot of FUN to play
  • Character development was innovative and refreshing
  • Combat could be tactical
  • Large and useful number of skills available
  • Many interesting and creative side quests

Cons

  • Combat could become tedious, especially late in game
  • Little variety of monsters in any particular area or dungeon
  • Inadequate manual for those unfamiliar with the TDE setting
  • Couldn't revisit earlier areas

Rating

Review version

English release

Opinions from other editors

Dhruin

I enjoyed my time with Drakensang but a handful of persistent design issues bring it down a notch, for me. We knew from the development cost that Radon Labs would need to keep tight rein over the feature set, so it's no surprise the game is very linear – but to their credit, it's also quite polished and offers a much better interface and better performance than, say, Neverwinter Nights 2. So, given the restraints and the linearity, it's disappointing the main story is a dull, generic affair with every cliché in the book – dragons, prophecies, a chosen champion – you get the idea. Some of the side-quests are much better – I found the introductory murder mystery quite entertaining, for example.

The Dark Eye character development is great fun and a welcome change from the likes of D&D. It also offers a nice range of tactical options in combat but, unfortunately, this is often undermined by the pathfinding, with characters milling around and breaking your careful battle placement. All in all, I found it a little long for the content but it's a nice adventure and I really look forward to seeing what they can do in the second outing.

txa1265

I very much agree with what Corwin had to say - in general I really loved Drakensang. When I look back at the experience, it is with fully positive thoughts: I enjoyed the story, the characters, the setting, the choices, the look and feel of the environment, the character development system, and of course the combat. Sure there are the complaints, which Corwin nicely details but for me largely come down to the manual and lack of detailed guidance in the level-up system particularly for spellcasters, and of course the slow travel. I really wasn't concerned about linearity or mowing through hordes of same-type monsters very much, although the completist in me was annoyed at having to make the choice of proceeding or making sure I had completely finished an area.

Often when playing one game I am reminded of some other game I have played. This isn't unusual in itself, but often my musings drift across platforms and genres and game styles and seem completely disconnected. This came up in a previous review where I invoked Cooking Mama to the bemusement of my colleagues. Now as I was playing Drakensang at a certain moment my mind wandered back to 2005 and the DS game Lunar: Dragon Song. In my original Whole Game In My Hand and my GamerDad review I pounded the game pretty hard, but it came down to a single thing: how am I supposed to feel about a game that respects me so little that it punishes me for wanting to move quickly around the world and not have to retrace my steps constantly? In the case of Lunar DS you actually lost health quickly by running, forcing you to trudge around ... in Drakensang it is a matter of having to traverse the same area again and again at a slow pace in order to get quests accomplished. I don't always have a ton of time for a gaming session, so if I feel like I spent most of my time watching load screens or walking around over the same place multiple times, I'll end up feeling annoyed - especially in a game as large as this.

But that didn't deter me - it was a minor annoyance in what is one of the better games I have played in the last couple of years, and one of the few games I am leaving installed and looking forward to another replay soon. The combination of the familiar yet different setting and systems of The Dark Eye, combined with a story and characters that kept me engaged, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time playing a game that represents a style of game that has become entirely too rare.