The Dark Eye: Drakensang Review (PC)

Games based off a pre-existing concept always have certain advantages over a brand new IP. The game world is already laid out for them, as are the characters, setting, inspiration... everything that a designer spends a lot of time on at the beginning of a game’s production cycle is mostly taken care of, and all they’ve got to do is make sure that it translates properly onto the small screen.

Enter Drakensang: The Dark Eye, the latest game from German based Radon Labs. Drakensang can be considered one of those fortunate games because it is based on an extremely popular German role-playing game in the mould of Dungeons and Dragons. Called the ‘Dark Eye’ universe, the pen and paper game is set on the fictional planet Ethra, on the continents of Aventuria, Myranor and Tharun. A rich vast world teeming with countless elements fitting to an RPG, and very successful on the German market.

The universe has actually already made its transition to videogames in the form of the Realms of Arkania (Aventuria) Trilogy back in the nineties. Those games were the classic point-and –click rpg’s, and whilst they were ok for their time, other similar games had already surpassed them in terms of technology and scope, and so they were nothing remarkable.

At a first glance, Drakensang seems to be a respectful nod to that classic genre. Whilst it is refreshing to see a purely single-player orientated RPG experience on the PC, one has to be careful that it keeps up with the times. There is a reason why many developers have favoured an online model these days.

Still, Drakensang does it best’s to deliver. The story was created by a group of writers who are well renowned for their work on the pen & paper version, and surprisingly it has translated pretty well into the English market. There is roughly around 80+ hours worth of content to sink your teeth into, with plenty of twists, turns and surprises along the way to keep you on your toes. The game world takes place in a small section of the Dark Eye universe, principally in Kosh, an area on the Aventurian continent.

Like many aspects of the game however, the story’s core is a little clichéd. You start off with your character on the way to meet a friend, and then all of a sudden you’re fulfilling one of those pesky destinies you’ve been trying so hard to avoid all your life. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Still, one could argue it’s a time-proven formula. Along the way you meet up with several NPC’s who can become ‘followers’ of yours, and who you can recruit up to 3 to form a party with you. These followers are a diverse range of races, skills and characteristics, in order to allow you to specialise your character more fully without worrying about the fact that you can’t use magic, or a bow. Most characters also have their own side story that surrounds them, and being the unfortunate soul who asked them to join you, you’ll most likely end up having to deal with their problems.

Like most RPG games, since your character is devoid of anything other then what you chose for him/her, these extra NPC’s that follow you around add some depth and personality to the game. They may seem utterly clichéd in the concepts, but they work well.

Graphically speaking, Radon labs have done a superb job. Considering the budget of the game was supposed to be only 2.5 million Euros, they’ve done well to create a game that not only is long, has an engaging storyline, but also has graphics that are nearly as good as Fable II or anything else on the market at the moment. Even character faces are done to a decent enough extent, although they tend to use hand movements to help convey emotions were their facial engine fails. Say what you want about the smaller developers, or even just German developers, they are starting to catch up to the current standard, and in many respects they produce higher quality games, if only for the fact that they are not bogged down with having to deal with a big-time publisher. (No offence, dtp.)

Even the little things, such as music, ambiance, world-behaviour, have all been taken care of as well. There are some instances where you think that they have taken harsh measures, for example not all speech with NPC’s and the like is voiced. Whilst in itself it’s completely trivial, you can’t help but think why they just didn’t go all the way. Those moments are few and far between however.

It’s a shame though, as even though the game, both the physical product and the universe it exists in borrow from a lot of sources (which can’t be helped these days), it doesn’t seem to borrow from arguably one of the greater RPG’s of the time, Fable II. Specifically, there’s no sense of morality in the game. Whilst you can’t hurt or kill anyone but designated enemies, you can pick-pocket and steal to your heart’s content. On the one hand, this is an easy and steady source of income (too easy, perhaps?), but on the other hand, it’s just so unreal. If Fable taught us anything, it’s that morality can be coded into a game, and coded in a way that adds a new and fulfilling layer to gameplay. Even if morality isn’t really your thing – Mass Effect and KOTOR have also shown us that simple choices can have a deep and lasting effect on gameplay, so in a way there’s no excuses for not having them.

The only other critique of this game is that it is a bit over complex. They’ve obviously taken a lot of the more technical elements of The Dark Eye and incorporated them into the game, especially in terms of levelling, skills, stats, weapons etc... This in itself is not a bad thing, but Drakensang’s particular model seems more complex than most, and the lack of a decent tutorial or any form of tool tips to help you along can sometimes make you feel lost. Still, you learn as you go along, and hardcore fans will feel right at home anyway.

If you were to summon Drakensang into one word, it would be ‘good’. Unfortunately, that’s all it is, whilst the story is well thought out and executed, there’s nothing new or exciting. Combat isn’t particularly ground-breaking either. All in all, it takes several hallmark traditions, makes it their own, and re-creates them well, but doesn’t do much that’s new. Hardcore fans of the series will enjoy this game, people who like the old school RPG’s will also enjoy this game. Heck, even people who just like a good story, or fancy some offline action for a change will find this game enjoyable. Just don’t expect it to do anything different.

Top Game Moment: The plot twists. Always did love a good plot twist...

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By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Mar 22, 2009
I'm very glad that after all this time game market still offers classy RPGs like this one and jRPGs like the Last Remnant for the good old PC, as those were my favourite genres back in the day, and now the last RPG I played and considered really good was (heavily modded) Oblivion. Even the overrated Mass Effect had way too old level designs (KOTOR style room-like maps in 2008?), intercharacter relations brought to its knees, and the setting like a royalty free Star Wars rip-off. The new NWN2 expansion came even worse, with tiny modules and totally stripped of character background (which I found really great in vanilla and MotB).
By slaythat (SI Veteran Member) on Mar 23, 2009
This epic role-playing game has great depth, but is hampered by a number of significant design flaws.

The Good:
Large, deep fantasy gameworld Great deal of character depth with abilities and skills Tremendous amount of gameplay for the ÂŁ30 price Sharp visuals packed with little details that bring the story to life.
The Bad:
Generic RPG story and setting, with recycled creatures, characters, and quests Character skills and stats are overly complicated Cringe-inducing voice acting Problematic camera.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Mar 24, 2009
Yeah it's a good enough game, and geared very much for the offline player, which is nice to see in an age where everyone is a bit online-crazy at the moment. Still, there was nothing 'spectacular' about it, you know? You could nearly call it a re-hash of past works, but it never felt like a re-hash. Just didn't feel special either.
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Apr 14, 2009
I'm happy that cRPG seems to be back. I'm a little concerned about the sys req of this one, but that's the way it goes, I fear.