The Dark Eye: Drakensang Review

8.3 Overall Score
Graphics: 8/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Sound: 8/10

Classic old school appeal | Interesting world and creatures | Diversity in class choices

Unique skill system may put off some AD&D faithful | Gameplay is somewhat linear, which may disappoint open world RPG crowd.

Back in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s you could bring up a discussion on good RPG’s and a couple of things would predictably happen. First, you could either be alluding to the console style of Japanese RPG’s and the bounty of quality titles from Squaresoft alone in that period, or you could be thinking of the more Western PC style of the CRPG and the Black Isle era. The former being geared to appeal to the average teenager and his limited attention span and the latter generally a much more indepth and cerebral affair. The PC discussion would undoubtly encompass masterpieces such as the legendary Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, and Wizardry, and as they were tossed about much debate would arise in regard to which offered the most engrossing and realistically crafted experience.

These were personal journeys, with the majority of the golden age of RPG’s being single player and focusing on you as the center of the story and your actions changing the path of vast kingdoms and the destiny of entire civilizations. Sadly, as the average consumer began to become involved with gaming, it brought a double edged sword to the industry. Of course the added market meant more lucrative spoils to the developers who toiled away producing these titles, but it also meant that games began to drift much more toward the casual gamer, the type of person who only had an hour or so every so often to invest in gaming and who didn’t want to be bothered with an abundance of stat tracking or a complex and detailed interface. Games even on the so called hardcore platform, the PC, began to become more console in simplicity and limited in their scope. Massively multiplayer titles then took the forefront and developers cashed in on the genres casual friendly combination of RPG lite and Facebook with their appeal to people who wouldn’t otherwise know a hit point if it snuck up and bit them on their backside. This supposed evolution was anything but to the loyal PC gamer, who was feeling a bit put out that the development houses had forgotten who had brought them to the dance in the first place. Sure, no one would fault them for wanting to get their share of the money tree, but would anyone still be there to throw a bone to the true base of the PC RPG market, those who weren’t punch drunk on the MMO koolaid?

Enter a small German developer by the name of Radon Labs and their creation Drakensang: The Dark Eye. Originally developed for the German market and winning their RPG of the Year award, Drakensang has now been skillfully translated for those of us who are somewhat challenged in our comprehension of the German language. This game is based on the pen and paper RPG that has drawn parallels with the more traditional Dungeons and Dragons of years gone by. The game makes no qualms about what it is, a single player experience that offers layers of complexity and a detailed story driven romp through a medieval playground that inspire the warm memories of past epics from the fallen great, Black Isle.

The initial worry that accompanies many games that originated from a market different from your own is the translation quality. Titles that otherwise were solid efforts have been damaged by everything from ridiculous voice acting to stories that were butchered or altered in a way that lost the focus that the developers originally intended. This is happily not the case and Drakensang retains a beautifully written and descriptive story that has excellent voice acting where it is implemented and volumes of text to absorb elsewhere. It isn’t perfect by any means, but the degree of polish is extraordinary and more so when considering that it wasn’t developed by or for native English speakers.

Graphically, Drakensang can be compared to a title like Neverwinter Nights 2, with the difference being that Drakensang feels like the developers really labored here and the level of detail is far superior to that found in Biowares franchise. The English release includes the option to install the ultra texture pack, which takes an additional 4GB of space, but is well worth it. The game really exudes a true medieval feel, from the details found on NPC’s to the architectural style of buildings, to the first bridge you cross as you enter town as you embark on your initial adventure. Animations are very good and character and monster models are believably rendered. Even just walking through the warm glow of the sun gazing down upon a grassy field and looking around at the water running nearby is rewarding in its own way.

Gameplay is an interesting topic in regard to Drakensang. It is a party based RPG, where you create your main character from a myriad of classes and then select whether you prefer a female or male version. That is it as far as your customization, unless you consider the naming feature an option. The rest of your party is formed throughout the game as you travel and put together whatever combination of companions that you choose. From Battlemage to Pirate and everything between, there are no shortage of focuses for your party members to have. Combat is what I can best describe as a hybrid of real time and turn based styles, with some customization to that available in the menu. The tactical advantage of the pause is obvious, but at times it can be a bit of a mood breaker as the rest of the games inate fluidity is jarred when you hit a system generated pause. This is something that may be a plus or minus depending on your play style but isn’t a game winner nor a deal breaker regardless of your inclination. There are some things here that take some getting used to for those of us who expect the familiar layout of the AD&D titles, but I feel these were well outweighed by the delivery of a game that appeals to RPG traditionalist. If there was one nitpick, it would be that the game is so linear, which isn’t what I consider unexpected in a game that reeks of old school, but some gamers may find times where they wished there was less funneling from one quest to the next.

The sounds present in Drakensang are all what I would consider to be fitting and add to the games overall presentation. From the ambient noises to the thud of combat, the tonal weight you would expect is present. The games musical component takes that to the next level, as it stands out with how superbly well done it is. There have been no parts of the soundtrack that I would find to be anything less than good and parts that really are inspiring in their feel and implementation. As mentioned before, the voice acting is fitting, from the intro video onward and though it is only used in limited doses, it is effectively done.

Drakensang sadly is a true rarity anymore, a game that hearkens back to a time where RPG developers were more akin to proud craftsmen than to number crunching salesmen. It is a throwback to a bygone era that probably will stand the test of time as the golden age of the role playing game and though it may not be duplicated in grandeur, games like Drakensang offer glimpses of what made it legendary in retrospect. Drakensang is far from perfect, it has a number of small things that detract from the overall experience, but yet it still delivers just that, an experience. I found it to be very enjoyable from start to finish and it left me in good spirits. Perhaps the best news that comes with the release of Drakensang is the announcement by its developers that a sequel “The River of Time” is already underway. That in itself should be reassuring to the hardcore gamer, the knowledge that not all developers have forsaken us, that they are weaving an upcoming gaming experience which will hopefully have the feel that it has been tailored for you and you alone, and by doing so are keeping our imaginations collective creative flame burning.


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One Comment on "The Dark Eye: Drakensang Review"

  1. Venger February 17, 2013 at 2:32 PM - Reply

    If you enjoyed Drakensang: The Dark Eye, be sure to also check out the sequel, The River of Time. As the second title, both it and Phileasson’s Secret (the expansion to the second game) offer more of the unique world that the original Drakensang introduced to many of us.

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