Radon Labs and DTP Entertainment AG have done a sparkling job of adapting Germany's premier pen-and-paper Role Playing Game for the computer. While all those tedious dice rolls and calculations are still there, keeping outcomes honest, the computer takes care of all the number-crunching drudgery and we see the instant gratification of the results. And we see it in soft-focus teutonic pastorale, grim medieval gothic, or dank trogolodyte subterranean. The graphics are a delight to the eye and create a most immersive atmosphere, which is aided by a very professional soundtrack reminiscent of the "Titanic": from light, lilting and agrarian in the village of Avestrue, to heavy, echoing and intimidating in the "Dungeon" of the abandoned mine and the tunnels and caverns beneath the city of Ferdok. Speech-acting is a little less well done, major characters offer an opening sentence or two, but then revert to text. Not a game-breaker, but I would have enjoyed the full Monty.
To start your adventure, you create a character in the time honoured Dungeon &Dragon manner which will be familiar to anyone who has played Role Playing Games or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games like Everquest, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars Galaxies or Guildwars. Drakensang's skills and attributes are a little more comprehensive, however. But a few minutes with the mouse-over cursor or....heaven forbid....with the manual soon clarifies what all the various traits influence. As you progress through the game things like lock-picking and trap-disarming start to become more important......and, fortunately, you start to meet people possessing these skills who are just dying to join your happy band. Looting, smashing barrels and dismembering corpses for the useful drippy bits can get a little tedious, but, hey, a crew's got to earn a crust......and a pint of creamy Ferdok pale ale.
To start with movement was a little "interesting". You can click on a location and Chummy will walk, run or sneak there, but I soon settled on the time-honoured "W" key with right-clicked mouse to steer. The rest of the interface was fairly intuitive in a MMORPG fashion with hot buttons to equip items or pull combat moves and cast spells. After the first hour or so I became very comfortable with it. Combat is a little different from what I was expecting. Like MMORPG's you can "Queue" weapon switches and moves. But unlike anything I have seen recently, the combats are old-school turn-based. Action freezes when the fight is initiated, you get all the time you need to figure out tactics and equip your agricultural implements of choice. Once all is to your liking, hit the hourglass and watch the action play out. At any time you can freeze it and redirect your 'toon and any henchmen or guests who are travelling with your group. All in all, much more controllable and satisfying than the so-called 'real-time' fights which just spew out strings of numbers as you frantically mash buttons. Although, really both methods are the old turn-based system with one running turns together until someone gets to take the dirt bath, the Drakensang approach grows on you after the strangeness of the freeze frame wears off.
Once I came to grips with the interface and mechanics mentioned above this game really grabbed me.....Just one more quest before bedtime...Oh! God, is that the sun coming up? You can run several quests concurrently and they are compulsive and varied, from harvesting natures bounty, culling creatures and bad-guys, solving problems and crimes to persuading folks to see and do it your way. The only beef I had was that when you move on from one "chapter" to the next (e.g.. Avestrue to Ferdok) you better have all your quests finished as there is no going back! I was stuck with one to finish and couldn't get this sour old hag of a farmer's wife to help me out....mostly because my colleague the rogue tried hitting on her (well, he had a high "seduce" level) and got rebuffed. Frustration City. Nothing I said or did after that was getting us anywhere until I ran across an "outside the box" solution on one of the forums. Thereafter it was all plain sailing.
I liked the very well thought out story line and quest progression which suited the skills and abilities of my group well. (It should really come as no surprise since this "World" has been in existence and developing in forums and basements throughout Germany for over ten years now, and is now as well documented as Tolkien's "Middle Earth".) I liked the graphics and soundtracks, I got used to the interface and combat system, and now I am hell-bent on finishing this epic quest. Which promises to be a ways in the future. After perhaps 25 hours I'm still only scratching the surface from what I read in the forums....Soooo there is much adventuring left to do. Time to put down the pen and take up the sword.
I don't know if Radon or DTP have the resources of Sony or Turbine who produced the Everquest and LOTRO MMORPG's. But it occurs to me that in the Drakensang storyline, the well-crafted world and quests that they have created, and the huge fanbase that they have built, that they have the makings of a superb MMORPG. Which if combined with a decent real-time combat engine such as the one used by "Mount and Blade" would certainly pry the monthly tithe from my moth-infested wallet and those of many other gamers like me throughout the world.