I shall sing you the song of my people.
You know, I… don’t hate it. But I don’t really love it, either.
[image1]For those of you unfamiliar with Drakensang, it’s based upon a tabletop RPG popular in Germany and eastern Europe that has some aspects very reminiscent of both White Wolf’s systems and 1st Edition D&D. It’s very, well, old-school, and coincidentally has plenty of layers to it. As with every highly complex RPG system, there are exploits galore if you’re paying close attention, but there are also tons of potential inventive solutions to problems, and lots of ways to sidestep issues.
As a video game, Drakensang feels like the bastard child of The Witcher and some aging titan of PC RPGs, like, say, Baldur’s Gate. It doesn’t really play like either of those, yet it has much the same approximate look and feel moment to moment and bears a lot of the same marks, though frequently without as much forced lewdness as The Witcher or aimless melodrama as Baldur’s Gate. Instead, everything feels sort of… well, approximate. Drakensang is approximately a PC RPG.
The game looks very good, assuming you install the high-res texture pack that comes with the game. Lush forests, grasses waving in the wind, expertly rendered village hovels leaning over hillocks – it looks quite picturesque fantasy. Shame there’s only a couple combat animations, and the entire world is static. If you’re not chopping it open or talking to it, it’s just sort of standing still, waiting for the player to click.
[image2]The game is likewise bland in terms of sound and music. Characters grunt in fairly typical fashions while swinging their swords, and there’s the usual *splack* noises when you finally connect, but most of the sounds are sort of floaty and seem ill-timed. You don’t hear birds twitter as you wander through forests, you don’t hear the leaves crackling beneath your characters’ footsteps, you don’t hear much going on in the background. It only makes the game feel more like an abstract that hasn’t been completely fleshed out.
When you get over the game’s somewhat lackluster aesthetics, you’ll probably notice that the gameplay itself is pretty deep and involved. Drakensang is backed by a pretty solid game system, and there’s a lot to fiddle with. There’s a slew of skills to choose from - magic, thievery, crafting - all you expect to see in a pen and paper game, really.
Drakensang’s system comes with a few interesting conceits, specifically parrying and wounds. In combat, after rolling a hit on an opponent, you get a chance to parry the attack. Further, armor isn’t used to determine how likely you are to avoid damage, but rather, it serves as a reduction to damage, so you want to parry all the more. When you are struck for an amount greater than your constitution score, you take a wound, which lowers your stats until you’ve had a chance to patch yourself up. These two aspects make for a very different, more dangerous, more intense moment-to-moment combat game than your typical round of D&D.
[image3]Where Drakensang really shines is the variety of options it provides for problem solving. The boys at Radon Labs clearly learned the right lessons from playing through other classic PC RPGs, as they generally offer several solutions to every problem and give you plenty of freedom to experiment. As a result, there's lots of replayability and plenty of interesting choices to make as you work through the huge amount of content.
It's worth mentioning that Drakensang is an incredibly sturdy game. I didn’t experience a single crash, never lost a save, or ran into any notable graphical or gameplay glitches, which is surprising for a title that doesn't seem to be a high-profile title. There probably are some, somewhere, ‘cause the game’s huge - but after two weeks of play, I didn’t find any. Way to write software, boys!
Overall, Drakensang is a perfectly solid title. I think it could use some more polish before being given a particularly exemplary grade - especially in the sound department - but there’s a lot of meat to the game, and plenty to see and do. While I won’t try and tell you this game serves as a replacement for Mass Effect or Fallout 3, it is pretty well done on the whole. I hope this means Radon Labs will be working on further RPGs, as Drakensang is a series with great potential.