Drakensang – NOT a Verdict

Drakensang – NOT a Verdict

First things first. This is not a review/verdict or anything similar. I set out with the intention of giving Drakensang a fair, long and ultimately helpful review, but I can’t. I just can’t get far enough into the game to give it a proper review, so this is an impressions piece.

That said, what this piece will also attempt to illustrate is the need for the first chapter of a game to be engaging and, above all, entertaining.

It’s not that Drakensang is a bad game, but it certainly doesn’t have the most exciting opening scene. RPGs often fall into this trap, especially fantasy ones. The game begins with you being sent to a town for some reason that wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember, when, surprise surprise, there’s a quarantine on. Stuck outside the city, a guard helpfully informs you that he might let you in if you get some references from citizens who happen to be outside the city. Off you toddle to go and grab them.

drakensang1

Almost every fantasy RPG I’ve played has something like this in, and it is always annoying. I’m going to use the Witcher for this example, entirely because Chris is playing it while I write this. The exact same situation happens in the Witcher, but is mitigated by not being the very first thing that happens. The Witcher introduces you to its world by having you fight a giant insect beast in a decrepit castle before bonking a witch, then sends you off to Quarantine City, Fantasyland. You get a taste of what the rest of the game will be in that first half hour, manic combat against big opponents, boobs, and the occasional smarmy dialogue line.

You don’t get that impression with Drakensang’s opening. It may be somewhat childish of me, but in RPGs I tend to start judging the quality of something by ranking the awesomeness of the basic spells. When given a choice, I am always some form of wizard; I blame this on the romantic notion of strolling around hurling fireballs at people I don’t like. When playing a magical class, that’s what I want – fiery death. What I don’t want, as became quite quickly apparent in Neverwinter Nights 2 for instance, are spells that look pathetic. I don’t want to bring Warcraft into this, but I feel that I must. The spells in Warcraft look powerful. Yes, they do start to get repetitive, and a great deal of it is just levelling up the same spell to make it’s animation bigger, but they are still impressive. Not so in Drakensang.

I understand that starting spells are supposed to be a bit crap, being, as they are, training spells and all, but they can still look impressive. The fantasy equivalent of a card trick, they should have an effect. My experience of the early spells in Drakensang was very much one of disappointment, my bland looking spell glancing off a generic wolf with nary a scratch. It made me sad.

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Also, I hate the camera. Seriously, I really hate it. There’s a strange voyeurism about it that makes the game a little disjointed. It’s not tied to the movements of your character in the same way as other RPGs, instead it clumsily follows you as you run away, like an overweight documentary crew, consistently requiring you pause the game and forcibly move them into a better position just so you can see what you are doing. It’s annoying and was possibly the main reason I lost interest in the game.

It is important that you understand, however, that I’m not saying Drakensang is a bad game. I am in no way entitled to make such a judgement with what I’ve played. You’ll notice I’ve not touched on the plot, or characterisation or any of that business, and that’s because I couldn’t get far enough to get my teeth in.

People will probably say “give it a chance, it gets better once you sink a few hours in” and that may be true. I myself have said that about a number of games in the past. But Drakensang has caused me to rethink this position somewhat. When considering the whole nature of the medium, the vast catalogue of video games currently and soon-to-be available, it is important a game grab you from the outset. Games are all about living a dream of some description, and you need to be sure that the dream the game is going to provide is the one you want. Good games use the first level as a sort of taster of the sort of thing you will reach at the end; they’ll show you a powerful wizard decimating foes, give you a brief play as an ultimate bad ass character, boobs, whatever, then stick you back in noobsville with the knowledge that you will, eventually, become that good again. Sticking you in tedium and saying “the game will get better eventually” without any proof doesn’t provide the necessary hook to draw you in.

Sometimes, I’m glad I don’t get paid for reviewing games. If I was being paid I would have had to have played through Drakensang in its entirety, and I really don’t want to. I have other, more exciting games to play with my time. But still, this is an important point that I think all developers need to understand, from consumer to developer, the first scene of you game must categorically be engaging and interesting, otherwise how do you expect people to stay around until the end?

14 thoughts on “Drakensang – NOT a Verdict

  1. I think the opening hour or so to any RPG is essential to get right. Unlike some an RTS/FPS an RPG generally is a much larger time-sink, and if you aren’t able to get into it from the start then you are unlikely to want to push on an progress. With an RTS/FPS (for the most part) you are more willing to set aside the initial impressions as you won’t be investing quite so much time into it.

    As you said Steve, that is where The Witcher works well, it starts off full of action, it just grabs you by the balls and says ‘this is what the game is all about, it may be tedious for the next couple of hours but move on and this is what it is all about’ and it works. From the sounds of it Drakensang fails to do that, and really it is failing to do what it has to do to make you feel like your purchase was worthwhile.

    TLDR: RPG games need the opening sequences to get your attention otherwise you won’t want to invest the time in them.

  2. What can I say…
    Taking Charlatan (bard like class) and complaining about power of spells. Then playing game less then 2 hours and dropping it. Essentially, not even finishing the demo of the game. Yes, it definitely is not review. But I guess if someone bought the game, he would probably try more to enjoy his purchase instead of tossing the DVD.

    To me, it was enough to have choice of classes and complex skill mechanic to dig into this game, and spend few hours just trying different classes. Quite refreshing compared to old those simplified new age RPGs. Haven’t had anything similar since NWN franchise.

    As for camera, I hated it at first. But now, when I return to NWN2 I can’t get hang of old camera. I completely got used to Drakensang camera. Reading your review I got impression you haven’t even realised how camera controls work, You are not suppoed to do point and click for regular moving, that’s more useful in battle when you do not want to move camera with character (sort of tactical moving, when having a party in battle). Use W for moving, and left mouse button for direction (or Q/E).

    As for spells, my Elementalist was very effective in early game with his fire spell, plus fire summon.

  3. I think this a bit of a cop out, to be honest, and I’m sorry if that offends you. Despite your disclaimer, you are reviewing this game; when you say that you “aren’t” reviewing it, you might mean something like you don’t “feel like” reviewing it; you can’t be bothered to dig into it and see if there’s any merit. What if Gillen had scoffed at the graphics and weird first level of Deus Ex?

    I think it’s very useful for a game designer to think long and hard about the first impression the game makes. I think that, to attract a hardcore FPS player like me, it’d need to make a pretty good first impression, like FFXII did with the epic intro and dramatic tutorial (god i still have nightmares about the hours i lost to that game).

    Only this is a genre that takes some time to play; it’s not a scrolling shooter you can judge within moments. A lot of the fun of these games comes from the way you invest in the character and see them grow; the developers aren’t necessarily pandering to a crowd that’s out for a quick fix.

    I think that, ultimately, as someone attempting to spread the word on a new game, someone who takes the medium seriously (and wants to be taken seriously), you need to think about the big picture. You need to at least act like a serious rpg fan, who maybe set aside five hours for a first play session, before deciding that it’s a disappointing game. When I last reviewed an rpg on the PC, I didn’t think I’d even got the jist of how it played until I was 15 power-leveled hours into it, and it took me another fifteen to throw it in the ‘meh’ tray.

    Besides, some of the cheapest, dirtiest thrills of this industry revolve around reviewing shit games. How could you pass up the chance to give it an utter rodgering? Reading this, I don’t feel discouraged, if that’s what you intended; I don’t feel anything. It’s almost like you feel the game isn’t worthy of your reviewing it.

    Incidentally, this response is based only on the first paragraph of your article.

  4. Considering I didn’t intend to discourage people then it’s fine that I didn’t. The entire purpose of the article was to explain how a poor start can discourage some people from playing the rest of the game, not a review of the mechanics or anything of that sort. The game failed to hook me in the first hour, and I felt it was important to address that issue.

    I don’t have the time to give every game a proper review, to play it to completion. I’m not a professional, I don’t get paid, so a game has to justify itself to warrant a full review, especially one that’s massive like most RPGs. If it doesn’t hook me (either for it’s hilarious shitness or brilliance) then I can’t afford to give it too much time.

    Ultimately, I’m looking at Drakensang from a marketing viewpoint. If you don’t differentiate yourself from the rest of the market within the first hour you’ll fall into the meh category and be classed as “just another genre game” regardless of whether it’s true. I still maintain that this is the problem with Drakensang, and that’s the focus of the article. If the Witcher can give you an explosive prelude and then tone it down for the main game, why can’t other RPGs?

    As for the Gillen comment, he’s a professional reviewer and he was paid to review the entire game. As I mentioned above, I’m not a professional, if I can’t justify the timesink for whatever reason, especially one as substantive as an RPG, I can’t do it. I’m sure this will earn me cries of being unprofessional and whatnot, but that’s the facts of the situation.

  5. No offense – but I learned how to use the camera in less time than it took you to write this non-review review – and I have no problem manipulating it in several different ways, for it to do exactly what I want it to..
    Also – I found the start of the game to be immersive, and charming, and enjoyed the tutorial aspects of what is clearly a slower paced, atmospheric game. It was also obvious that the intro was setting the player up for the “meat” of the game, and gave a sense of anticipation for entering the city.
    Hopefully, Drakensang is a signal that the days of instant (and ultimately hollow) gratification, are coming to an end.

  6. You’re right, I think you should give it more time. The start was a tad slow for me too, but when I finally got to that wolf mini boss I knew I was gonna be in the game for the long haul. This is the best game I’ve played since Pool of Radiance (gold box)

  7. Have you played The Witcher Utmost? If so, how does Drak compare to that? I am playing The Wticher a lot at the moment and am really enjoying it, think it is a great game and I was drawn into it right from the start.

  8. I did. Whicher is different breed or RPG. Deep storyline with action paced combat and focus on single, yet well developer character.

    Drakensang, on the other hand, is closer to NWN or BG series. Complex ruleset, lots of classes, companion based, tactical, combat by “dice”.

    I like both. Drakensang is more traditional type of RPG, while Whicher is one of the better “next genre” RPGs.

  9. Yes I played The Witcher. I think when all the cards are down, the best part about both The Witcher and Drakensang is that a team of dev’s put together a game and story that they wanted us to partake in and reflect on the experience rather than thrust some open ended, redundant piece of shit that requires us to develop our own story. (Oblivion)

  10. @Utmost – Yeah the less said about Oblivion the better in my opinion, I don’t mind open world and everything, but Oblivion was just not up to scratch and doesn’t compare to The Witcher, which is a flawed masterpiece in its own right. I never played The Witcher before the Enhanced Edition unfortunately, would have been interesting to have played that.

    @peter – hmm not too sure about the complex ruleset and variety of classes personally, though I would be interested in checking out Drak and seeing what it is like. Important question though, does it pose the same moral ambiguity as The Witcher does? What I like about The Witcher is that there is no set right or wrong, good or evil. It is all shades of grey.

  11. @Ambiguity:
    NO, absolutely not!
    Drakensang has a very, very traditional Fantasy setting. There are the bad guys and you’re the chosen good one. Also, it’s a very “light” game, there are very few dirty, dark and/or creepy areas.

  12. I ‘m afriad that Drakensang is starting to sound less and less like my cup of tea, to use a cheesy phrase. I think that RPGs need to have grey areas, I don’t like the idea of being forced into being a good guy, I should be able to switch between good and bad and follow my own path. However I may still check out Drakensang, purely because of the debate it has caused here!

  13. I have tried to play this game, but I think I am missing something. Combat seems entirely abstract. I try to fight the mercenaries at the start in what seems like a training fight, but most of the time my character just misses when he strikes and ends up being told to go get healed. I can’t make sense of what is going on with it. I will try to persevere with it, but this just doesn’t entice me at all at the moment.

    More thoughts as and when they come.

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