The Dark Eye: Drakensang PC Review
I am writing to inform you of a matter of great urgency, and you are the only one who can help. I need you to pay full price for a game. Not just any game – a done-to-death, clichéd and downright boring format of orcs, goblins, elves and dwarves. The road will be long and treacherous, and more than likely full of one-dimensional forgettable characters, and the type of gameplay that makes you remember why you haven’t bought a game for your PC in over a year. I wish you the best of luck on your travels, and for god’s sake, don’t forget to save around every corner.
Your old friend, Dead Bastard.
The game opens with a letter, from an old acquaintance, who is in trouble. If only you had the skills and potential to go out into the world, follow this call for help to its conclusion, and find hijinks and adventure along the way. Oh good, it’s a computer game; Let’s Do A Fun!!!
Forgive my callous, mocking tone, but Drakensang is mediocre rubbish, and deserves to be addressed as such. For instance, let’s start with the thing that I and many other players value from an RPG – your character. This is the instrument with which you enter the world, your link into this new and interesting environment, your only way to interact, the main pulling factor behind your desire to gain knowledge, learn spells, better your skills, and generally want to play the game. And we are left with preset character classes, with very little to change in the way of appearance, or starting skills, in fact there is no way to change either of those fields. This in itself is not a crime, many RPGs have implemented similar systems, and have not only told an interesting story, but have become classics in the eyes of many. But when choosing a character to use, I like a hint to how they’re going to play beforehand, be it via a brief tutorial showing me how spells work, or the melee system reacts, or if ranged attacks are at all useful. Drakensang requires that you guess at which character class you will prefer to play as, doesn’t teach you how to make good use of their unique abilities, and then makes you run around a town for 20 minutes until you even realise your sword isn’t equipped for an important fight.
I’m as forgiving as it gets with this type of game; I die through my own careless nature, by running into an area I wasn’t supposed to yet, and I say to myself “It’s okay, that’s realistic, it’s not the developers’ fault for letting me run there unprepared. Just like in real life, there are consequences for stupid actions. The game is just teaching me slowly, it’s okay.” And I carry on as best I can, learning what the game feels I need to learn, when it deems I need to learn it. Some games take a turn, where you start making the right decisions unknowingly, or you become more adept at reading combat situations, and you end up learning more the hard way, becoming a better player. Drakensang only taught me one thing, though; that I should never underestimate the multitude of horrific ways there are for a thief to die.
I even switched around the classes, trying to find a character I could relate to, or at least could survive a fight with (keeping in mind each of these character tests required me to repeat the first 20 minutes of game, word for word, move for move. Just so I could see how their abilities fared in combat). I eventually settled on an elf that can summon animals to help him fight. What I am admitting there is that summoning a rat to fight for me was my best plan for survival. I am sure you are as excited by that news as I was.
You see, the game runs on a Dungeon & Dragons-esque dice-roll combat system, or at least its German counterpart, where apparently low rolls are better than high rolls, which has no significance to anything other than it is happening behind the scenes with every strike, and that it decides whether you win or lose. I wish I could say that this system worked well, or that I can understand how it made it to video game format, or that I am totally glad of its arrival. But with situations where a creature randomly goes on a critical streak for no reason, and wipes out your entire team, or your characters suddenly have a complete inability to hit, when in all previous fights against the same creatures they have won effortlessly, resulting in another total wipe. I can’t help but think that the combat system would have been best left in the realm of pen and paper, where an overseeing game master can have the final say on whether the game was fun enough to end yet.
That being said, if the game consisted of nothing but combat, with some freak accidents or bad decisions leading to my death, I could plough through with ease. As is the way with RPGs, the promise of stronger attacks, or better abilities can be enough incentive to make you push through any mound of entertainment sludge. But what we have to offset the main course of unpredictably enjoyable action, is a side dish of long contact quests running from person to person, ending in you finding a piece of information that is neither interesting, nor relevant, which sends you on another string of boring contact quests.
I understand that the developers have created a detailed world, bustling towns, decrepit bars and mystical locations, but does anyone really have the time to be spending 80+ hours playing a game where most of the time is spent running between locations, only to have to sit through loading screens that take slightly too long, especially after an unprecedented defeat? The simple answer is yes – me, when I was 14. There would have been a point in my life where 80+ hours of gameplay would have been a major incentive for me to buy it, and I think I should take it as a positive development that I am unwilling, at my age, to use a game as anything other than a form of decent, focused entertainment; not to use it as an excuse for a large chunk of my life to disappear on something mediocre… like Heather Mills did on Paul McCartney (her leg fell off).
Overall the game looks impressive; detailed character models, impressive green vistas, well done animations (although a bit long for some skills/spells), and generally compelling to watch humanoid to humanoid fighting. The game comes into its own with character skills; in some ways it makes sense that initial customisation of your character is absent, as you can essentially change any character to be any other class on the fly if you put in enough time, money and training points, although obviously the beginning stats will limit your potential maximum effectiveness. This may be an issue with fellow number crunchers like myself, but to the average Joe there is almost a game within a game for the amount of combat, passive and situation-specific skill choices for your character to take (although while controlling a party of 4, it is obviously better to diversify).
I won’t say that this game is a no-go area, because I suspect people of a Neverwinter Nights temperament will adore it, and there’s certainly enough here to keep you entertained or masochistically frustrated until the ice-caps melt, in fact I suspect I will see you floating on a life raft with a mobile power generator and your laptop screaming at the top of your lungs “Just a few more minutes, this dwarf wants me to fetch him some ale, BEST GAME EVER!!”.
However I will say that I have spent enough time on this game to encompass my two playthroughs of Mass Effect, or both of the Knights of the Old Republic titles. And I can honestly say that, in comparison, I didn’t enjoy one minute of it.