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Old 11-03-2009, 05:47 AM   #1
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Default Drakensang - sweet RPG

Germans will have heard of this game over half a year ago but for the rest of the world, we had to wait for an English version to appear and it finally did! Having been a massive hit in Germany, I was curious as to how it would stand up in other countries. Germany has a unique taste for certain genres including adventure games, strategy games and RPGs and while I tend to love the same games, they don't mind games being hard as nails.

I found only one place already selling it online and that's Gamersgate. Using a proxy trick, I got it for $30 instead of 30 (a 30% reduction in price ) which seemed a good deal for an RPG that is rumoured to take 150 hours to complete.

Let me first sketch the game for you: it's a hard-core RPG similar to Baldur's Gate. You can manage your own party, the game revolves around you as central character (and not the entire party like in Icewind Dale), the game's core is based on strict pen & paper rules, combat is turnbased yet in real time (again, like in Baldur's Gate), etc. The main difference is that you can move your team like in Baldur's Gate but also like in Gothic/most MMOs: with the keyboard you can walk & strafe which is slightly less tiring than constantly having to click ahead.

I didn't have terribly high hopes for this game, considering the mediocre review scores I had seen on Metacritic and experience has taught me that low expectations are key to loving a game. Nothing tastes more sweet than the element of surprise - the good kind of surprise anyway. And Drakensang does lean towards that kind of surprise!

There's plenty of great things about the game. For starters, The Dark Eye rule set feels fresh and different after dozens of D&D games. They can be confusing at first and you'd do good to find the Base Rules guide (I downloaded a PDF myself) because the game's manual is woefully inadequate.

I suspect this is "thanks" to Activision who insisted on releasing Darkensang as part of their ValueSoft brand. Anyone familiar with that brand knows that 99% of its games are a load of crap. Soldiers of Fortune III was originally released as Valuesoft as well but got promoted which seems like a dubious decision since SoFIII was a big pile of steaming **** while Drakensang actually WOULD have been worth a bigger budget and a fancier release. The sad price is a small manual (to limit production costs) and a limited amount of speech (95% of all text is not accompanied by speech).

Anyway, as long as you take the effort to get to know the rules, the game is very welcoming. The interface is clean and easy to use. The HUD is sparce and doesn't cover every inch unlike some other games. The result is that the game feels deceptively easy despite the depth behind the facade.

Combat is real time yet turnbased plus you'd do well to pause the combat every few seconds to guide your party. There's no Party AI here so you have to manually tell every party member which spell to use, which power to use, etc. Some may find this a negative aspect but to me, it's a big positive. Poor party AI is enough to wreck a game and nothing is worse than an AI member of your party attracting more monsters because he decides to attack 20 grey rats on his own. The combo of special actions, spells, potions, skills, etc. makes combat fun and fresh.

The graphics are spot on as well and they can easily rival those of Neverwinter Nights 2. The textures are even better and more detailed. For a low budget game, this was a huge surprise. It shows what can be done with limited funds: developers, learn a lesson from this!!! The atmosphere is welll made as well. Butterflies, leaves blowing in the wind, the rippling of the water, seeds from flowers floating in the air. The music can be a bit generic at times but it fits the atmosphere well and some of the songs are quite enjoyable. It's no competition for Morrowind or Fallout when it comes to its music, but it's no better or worse than most other RPGs.

There's also an aspect to this game that I miss in most RPGs: crafting. I simply LOVE making my own crap. I loved making potions in Witcher and I was a crafting ***** in Ultima Online. I was delighted to learn that you could use your loot from fallen monsters to make arrows, bows, potions, armour, clothes, weapons, balms, drinks, etc. etc. Since these self-made weapons are not readily available in stores, it's a big bonus! It also gives reason for the crap that drops on monsters. Generic loot is something many RPGs suffer from but when every item you pick up can be used towards a new outfit or weapon, it gives extra depth to the game.

Still, the game is not perfect. The developers have stated that Drakensang was a "test" to see if the Dark Eye rules could be properly turned into a game. I have to say it definitely can be! But you can feel that there's some rough spots in the game as a result, no doubt, of the lack of experience in the team. For example, while the story is entertaining, the game lacks finesse. There's less scripted cut scenes than I would have liked. Most dialogues are rather static as a result and while Baldur's Gate or Fallout were no different, times have moved on. For example, one of your party gets arrested for jumping over the city walls but why didn't they SHOW us? A lot of the events are recounted to us by NPCs instead of through nice cut scenes. Another result of the low budget?

A more serious problem is the repetitive nature of the monsters. This is without doubt the biggest flaw in Drakensang. At the start of the game, you encounter rats, pigs (I forgot the right name), wolves and that's it. Then in the next city, you encounter nothing but rats in most dungeons and sewers. There's not enough variation really. One dungeon usually only has one type of monster instead of containing a mix. This may improve later on (I only played for some 20 hours) but so far, this irks me the most.

Still, despite this I still love the game. You're even given your own house to store all your loot! And a big house it is. You can even add furniture, grow plants, etc. A solid 8/10 I'd give it. There's several weak spots but for a first attempt I can't help but be positive and support the developer. They're already working on a prequel - a proper game with a bigger budget - so I feel we should support them and show them there's a market for games like that out there.
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Old 11-03-2009, 12:45 PM   #2
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You got my attention... it looks fairly decent, Euros at least can capture the medieval look&feel in their productions (in contrast with the plastic fantasy often found in US-designed games).

But one screenshot is worth a 1000 words - you could point us to some
http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/drakensang
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Old 11-03-2009, 01:21 PM   #3
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Europe is definitely starting to catch up with the US and they're making better stuff on lower budgets. Especially Eastern Europe is doing very well. Witcher was my fav RPG of the last few years and STALKER my favorite FPS.

The problem is the plastic as you call it. The stuff coming out of the US is incredibly cheesy, looks and feels fake and lacks character. But if you take a look at the darker games or those with character, they're nearly always European or from another non-US country. Mass Effect, for example, is a typical US product. It's shiny, flashy, yet the atmosphere never really pulled me in. It's all too shiny, too slick.
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Old 11-03-2009, 01:26 PM   #4
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I honestly think you're forgeting about TES.
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Old 11-03-2009, 03:30 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TotalAnarchy View Post
I honestly think you're forgeting about TES.
TES has still suffered by the "American way" which is simplifying stuff to appeal to the masses. They insist on dropping complexity in favour of a console release. The world is good but it's still pretty bright and colourful and it's really an action RPG. Not that I don't like these games but I don't want JUST games like that. Look at what happened to JRPGs: boring identikit games that show little originality. The American RPG market is moving that way as well: a mix or 3rd person shooter with some RPG aspects. Mass Effect anyone?
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Old 16-03-2009, 12:20 AM   #6
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Quote:
I honestly think you're forgeting about TES.
I honestly think you're forgetting about Oblivion. :bleh:

Drakensang has been sitting on my shelf for over a week due to a lack of time. I really hope I can jump in soon. Still, I've played the demo and ithe game didn't seem particularly dark, gritty or realistic. It actually seemed extremely bright, not just in colours.
I hope I was wrong. I don't mind colour, but many western fantasy settings edge towards "Disney does Renaissance fair" rather then the medieval Europe people say they emulate
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Old 17-03-2009, 01:53 AM   #7
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Maybe it's because of that "bloom" effect or whaddayacallit (light surfaces glow and dark ones "glow with the blackness") that gives weird unrealistic effect in all current games. I absolutely hate it! It would be great as special spell effect or alien vision mode, but not something that is present throught the whole game... Medieval 2 Total War, latest Medal of Honor, you-name-it. Every game must use this shader...
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Old 18-03-2009, 10:52 PM   #8
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Maybe it's because of that "bloom" effect or whaddayacallit (light surfaces glow and dark ones "glow with the blackness") that gives weird unrealistic effect in all current games.
You're talking about Bloom and badly implemented HDR.
Drakensang does have copious ammounts of Bloom, but it just accents a general... colourfulness :bleh: - it's in the colours and it's in the backgrounds. It's found in the props, the characters, the dialogue...
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Old 14-07-2009, 03:06 PM   #9
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It's the latest installment of the "Das Schwarze Auge" series of videogames, based on the most successful german P&P RPG books. And I think the original german release wasn't considered budget, it came with the 4th Edition Rulebook in paper format. So it's just every other country getting screwed by the publishers. My first impression was that character generation got a LOT easier (Shadows over Riva anyone?) and you only generate one character. But it was still engaging, and i tampered around for quite a while. The game itself runs very poorly on my stone-age computer, but it runs! So a plus in itself, for getting it work on a Radeon 9600XT
I gotta get a new computer sometime, and play through this sucker. The only thing i was wondering why they changed the english title from 'Realms of Arkania' to 'The Dark Eye'. It is more accurate, I know, but from the old title most people would have known it is akin with Riva and Star Trail.
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Old 22-07-2010, 12:12 AM   #10
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That's really a nice review

But to add one thing, it is to say that you will have a party later in the game but actual you start alone and can only add NPCs you meet during your quest. That is not so bad for the gameplay though it was a real surprise for me as I expected it from the sequels were you can choose your whole party from the beginning. I loved the crafting-aspect too like in The Summoning or in early Ultimas but the small manual is a joke!

But I can (and I have to) strongly recommend this game to all RPG-Fans in the World. The Developers did for my interest a very good job here. And the fact that they were forced into bankruptcy because it was a PC-only title is really sad. Germany does not have a lack of good game designers but a huge lack of social and political acceptance to games as other countries have.

Furthermore, if someone likes old Western-RPGs as Wizardry or Eye of the Beholder you have to play the Prequels. Well, the first one is really hard and had kind of ugly graphics but the second and the third one are just great. And all three have one of the best Fantasy-Roleplaying-Soundtracks you'll ever listen to. Trust me

But whatever; Drakensang is a jewel!
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