Drakensang: The Dark Eye

Released in Germany last year to a warm reception, Das Schwarze Auge: Drakensang (that’s Drakensang: The Dark Eye to you and I) has arrived for English-speaking audiences, ready to serve RPG fans with some classic single-player fun. Much in the same way that PC staples of the genre like Neverwinter Nights and Planescape Torment are based on the Dungeons & Dragons rule-set, Drakensang is based on “The Dark Eye”, Germany’s local flavour of pen and paper. Although unique in its semantics, it shares many similarites with D&D, which means you can expect much of the same fantastical action.

Your legendary tale starts off rather modestly. After naming your character and picking a main class (from a robust selection including warriors, battle-mages and even a pirate), the prologue informs you that you must journey to the nearby city of Ferdok to meet with a dear friend. Naturally, you get stopped along the way by citizens in need, and before you know it you’re entangled in a complex plot to stop an ancient, forgotten evil. It’s all very cliché, but it’s well-executed and ultimately serves the gameplay.

Speaking of the gameplay, you’ll likely be familiar with the quest system used for the majority of Drakensang if you’ve played any recent MMORPG of note. You’ll spend a lot of time doing fetch-quests for lazy peasants, or killing X number of Y enemy for the local guard. However, story-quests end up far more interesting, usually requiring you to hunt down challenging bosses. A handy logbook keeps track of quests, which dynamically updates according to your progress; this allows you to spend more time actually playing the game, rather than worrying about names and places. Although the turn-based combat in the game will come as no surprise to fans of western-RPGs, it is nevertheless enjoyable. There’s something very satisfying about watching your party parry and dodge enemy attacks, and battles become quite tactical once you start specialising your party member roles.

Questing and monster-slaying will invariably lead to levelling up your characters, and this is where Drakensang becomes a little unforgiving for the average player. The game sticks strongly to its tabletop roots, which means keeping track of a character sheet of complex statistics and skill-trees for each member of your party. Although the built-in online-help does an admirable job of trying to explain everything, the somewhat clunky user interface can get in the way. For the brave – perhaps those enthusiasts already familiar with The Dark Eye rule-set – there’s even an expert view of character sheets, allowing players to tweak the party that little bit further. It’s never necessary, but understanding the calculation which determines your main character’s endurance, for example, can give you a real edge in battle. Thankfully, the game includes a meaty 70-page manual, the kind common to big-box PC releases from the 1990s. Like the game itself, it’s well-translated, and the advice within has helped me get through more than one boss encounter intact.

There’s a lot to be said for the graphics of Drakensang. Even though there’s nothing about the realistic art-style which is outstanding by itself, the level of detail evident is. The game world is filled with rolling green hills, towering medieval buildings, dreary woodland areas and dank dungeons, all containing fluidly animated and expressive character models. Audio-wise, the game is a mixed bag. While the music is of a high quality – with a good range of orchestral melodies which accurately reflect the mood of each area – the voice acting is somewhere between atrocious and hilarious; voices almost never suit the character speaking, and this brings down player immersion. However, in contrast, written player and NPC dialogue is sharp and witty, displaying a humorous awareness towards the fantasy environment of the game.

Inarguably, the game is good value for money. Better players will sink at least 50 hours into the main quest, and there’s a long line of monsters to slay, bounties to earn and noblemen to please outside of that. Although replay value is somewhat lessened by the linear nature of the game, as well as the fact that most dialogue choices (sometimes awkwardly) lead to the same conclusion, experimenting with the many character classes will keep players occupied for hours. Additionally, there are a number of optional party members to recruit, which can be dismissed as required to balance the needs of your team.


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2 responses to “Drakensang: The Dark Eye”

  1. Stacy avatar

    I remember reviewing this for a magazine…I said “You are faced with a changeable choice of randomly generated namesakes. This is a Godsend, particularly when you are lumbered with Yppolita Ropeslugger, a name I found impossible to pronounce without violently choking.” Randomly generating different names alone ate up fifteen minutes of my time. And an (optional) installation of 4,500 extra textures takes up 4GB HDD space too. Wow. Good game though with a fascinating take on D&D. Great review too, makes me want to dig out my copy again 🙂

  2. Scott avatar
    Scott

    Thanks for the comment, Stacy! 🙂 I hope you get some enjoyment out of replaying it. Haha, I understand what your point with regards to the name generator; you can’t really make it out from the screenshot above, but my default character was stuck with the name “Dhana of Btani”.

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