Tuesday, April 21

Game Review: Drakensang: The Dark Eye

Today I bring you a game I've been playing while Phè was off in the Dutch Mountains and will be playing while she's off to the Down Under:
Drakensang, the Dark Eye. Or Das Schwarze Auge as it's called in the original German. Das Schwarze Auge is the most famous German P&P RPG and Drakensang is the first Computer Game adaptation of it in over ten years. It's a Single Player four man Party real-time-tactics-with-space-to-pause RPG by German Studio Radon labs and it plays the nostalgia card in a big, big way. It was released in Germany last August and a de-localized version has recently been released to the wider public and is currently available on Steam.

Back in the days of Dungeons & Dragons glory, the Germans were anxiously looking for a German RPG. Mostly because D&D didn't come in german for a long time. Das Schwarze Auge was the answer. While not known in the US (D&D) or the UK (Warhammer) it did spread to a Dutch version (Oog des Meesters) for a while but that never took off as the Dutch are perfectly happy mangling and mispronouncing the English language in the name of having fun. While the world 'Aventuria' is a Generic Fantasy Setting from a Mass production Plant, this makes it readily accessible even though Drakensang is not a Dungeons & Dragons RPG but uses a very different system. Which is its first selling point if you ask me.

In the Party real-time-tactics-with-space-to-pause RPG genre, D&D has been setting the tone ever since the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series by Bioware and Black Isle (later Obsidian) studios. Of course there was the Dungeon Quest line, but that really was Party Diablo and in a league of its own. The main benefit to this is that unlike with a 6 man D&D group, you don't immediately know what makes a good group makeup. With a D&D game you'd set up your perfect/preferred group by rote almost, even with superficial changes to the system and/or computer adaptations over the years. With Drakensang, you get a fresh new start

Look and feel and play:
Drakensang puts it all out, all the classic quests and gameplay elements of the good old days of party-based RPG's with current day graphics and audio. It's obvious that the folks at Radon labs really, really love the genre. The game is a treat for any fan of those games I mentioned. Even if that was before your time, but you do know Nevewinter Nights (Bioware) and Neverwinter Nights 2 (Obsidian, formerly Black Isle) or even the more SciFi Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (Bioware) and KotOR II (Obsidian) you will enjoy this game. Assuming you're familiar with the genre, Drakensang plays just differently enough from the D&D classics to be refreshing and challenging.

The Graphics engine and overall art look are pretty close to Fable II in look and feel, though a little less cartoony on the whole, It uses a lot of soft and bright colors that'll make you think of the first two Shrek movies, while Fable II would be more, ehm, name a Disney movie? Over all the game screams Xbox 360 at me. Oddly enough it is only available on PC for now. Bu this may change in the future.
Anyway, you should be clicking on some of the liberally included images for a good representative look of the game.

The differences between Drakensang's 4 man party system and classic D&D 4 man party games has caused me to restart the game twice already. Once because I'd mucked up my team's stats due to my unfamiliarity with the system and once because I realized that the game was going out of its way to provide your Fighter Type 'main hero' with a supporting cast. Something that made my Rogue player character fit in the team like a square in a round hole. So The second time I rerolled I abandonded my charming, haggling sweet- & fast-talking Rogue in favor of an Elven Fighter, who uses light armor, a spear and casts a bit of magic. Kinda like the D&D Paladin, except completely different in every way except the basic group-role.

The Story:
The story isn't all that great. essentially you're going to singlehandedly, with three stalward companions, save the world from Evil Cultists who killed your friend and are trying to destroy the Dragons who left the world ages ago. THey've got some bad youth trauma's to deal with obviously. And obviously the Dragons aren't as gone as first assumed...
It's certainly not Bioware grade for sure. Though I must admit that it comes close to Bioware's Neverwinter which was more about setting up and showcasing the Aurora Engine for subsequent player-made content than it was to tell a great story, which Bioware subsequently set about doing through the follow up Premium Content packs. (Which did well in contrast to most of Betheasda's attemtps along the same lines, mainly because Bioware gives value for money each time and Behtesda about once in four packs)
In scope it's close to Neverwinter's main story arc but misses some of the in depth side-quests and NPC dialogue. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had and I didn't mind replaying the content through the two restarts. I managed to pick up on quests I missed and or failed (you can fail quests) the first time round. Besides, Cliche and classic are two sides of the same coin really.

I did notice a few glitches in the English translation which, given the Quest Journal's rather terse style, can cause problems if one doesn't know for instance that Elric and Eelco are pretty much different language versions of the same name. English Voice Acting is mediocre with compulsory fake Scotch accents for the dwarfs but mercifully brief and mostly limited to the NPCs' first address. Some core Quest stuff has more than basic voice over, and those actors tend to be of higher quality. I suspect the German version's probably better in this regard.

Gameplay: 8/10: Because it's refreshingly not D&D and focuses more on taking down tough monsters than mowing through countless hordes of enemies.
Graphics: 8/10: While the particle effects could be better *cough* fireball *cough* overall it looks pretty good and the art style is consistent. Just when I thought I'd be getting tired of the same dungeon / sewer tileset, they sprung a different one at me.
Story: 7/10: You can't do much spectacular with this background, the story keeps you going and paces the game nicely so far. I could rank this a 6, but somehow I don't want to.
Localization: 7/10: I feel this could have been handled better and the glitches / idiosyncracities are surmountable. It's probably due to everyone being used to do this the other way round, English to German rather than German to English.
Replay Value: 7/10 I restarted twice without it becoming a real problem. You may have noticed though that I mentioned the game and especially your party members are rather Player-playes-a-Warrior centric. This may stiffle true replay value. Then again you're probably more adept at setting up your party after having played through the whole game, which i haven't yet.
Overall: 7.5/10 as the localization really isn't that big of a deal. Triple A straight-to-English games have had more Quest Journal bugs than this game.


  1. Even the websites localisation leaves a little to be desired but you've wet my appetite and the fact that there is a demo leaves me no excuse to not give this one a spin :)

  2. Ha ha, I didn't really check out the official site much I must admit. But you're right. Still, the site's way better than Frogster/Yusho who want to be the Big Bad European Localization, SUpport & Publishing house, so it's all good.

    Having broken into yet a new chapter I have to say the game's really slanted towards a Swords&Shield or Two-handed Sword swining main protagonist. Also, I forgot to mention that most of the time there's two ways of doing things. Often it's the choice between blunt and subtle, which after a long while turns into fight or sneak on occasion. Sadly Sneak is such an unneeded ability at first.
    I've also started to accept the fact it's technically better to go with new NPC party members over your old ones. Regardless I'm sticking with some of my original ones.
    One nice thing about this game is that the three crafting Talents give your party members who you're not actively using a purpose. THey still get XP when you're not using them and you can pick three of them to become master Herbalist, Bowyer and Blacksmith.