Drakensang: The Dark Eye Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:THQ
Developer:Radon Labs
Release Date:2009-02-23
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Radon Labs recently released a German demo of their DSA pen and paper-based game Drakensang: the Dark Eye to give the public a taste of the game. Despite my imperfect grasp of German, I couldn't resist sitting down to give the demo a try. It contains the first area of the game, with a few elements of the game (such as trainers and certain classes) being locked off. Because of this and the language barrier, I can't offer much in the way of impressions on story and dialogue, but there's still plenty to talk about in the way of the game's look and feel.

Look

The first thing that will strike the player is that Drakensang is going against the dark 'n gritty grain, opting instead for a world where the grass is green and the sky is blue. This wasn't so much a choice of the developers as a result of the license they're working with, as the DSA world Aventuria has always been lighter in nature than settings from other pen and paper games.

The upside of this is that Drakensang offers a fresh game in a time when (brown is real) is all the rage. It's been a while since I've seen grass that's actually green in games, let alone with butterflies flying about. Radon Labs did a really good job designing the world and it looks very well-made despite some graphical limitations, with detailed and careful placement of plants and animals making for a convincing game world.

The downside of this is unsurprisingly bloom, bloom, bloom. While Drakensang never takes it to the Oblivion shining-face extreme, I would still say they simply use too much bloom, perhaps to cover up some of the game's graphical shortcomings. It fails to do that, and instead I found that it just hurt my eyes.

Likewise, the look and animations of character models in-game may not be cutting edge, but they're pretty solid nonetheless. Movement is fluid and convincing. The only negative footnote for characters shows up during dialogue; where the camera is freely movable for most of the game, it will zoom in to face the person you're talking to directly. Voice-over work is limited to cut-scenes, party banter, and the first lines of dialogue, which seems a bit jarring when the rest is unvoiced. The real shame here is that Radon Labs has really overdone it with body language. While other RPGs have NPCs standing relatively still and facing you, Radon Labs swings to the other extreme with NPCs flailing their arms around during dialogue. The golden middle ground depicted in Vampire: Bloodlines is nowhere in sight.

Speaking of character design, the demo alone contains two vaguely unnecessary cleavage-shots. But despite that RPG staple, Radon Labs is to be commended on the design of the amazon Rhulana. While her armor doesn't look very practical, this may be the first time I've seen a female warrior that actually has the arms and shoulders of someone who swings a sword for a living.

Feel

The game's interface is exceedingly well designed. It is rare to see so much time spent on a polished and intuitive interface tailored to user-friendliness. The inventory, character screen, and combat interface are all very easy to learn and usable without any instructions, yet the system they support is not overly simplified.

With that praise out of the way, there is one point of contention: the camera. For movement, the game utilizes both WASD and point-and-click controls, while clicking and holding the right mouse button adapts your view and the scroll wheel zooms in and out. This works well if you rarely have to adapt the camera's viewpoint, but that depends on excellent level design that isn't present in the demo. In the demo, you have to constantly swing the camera around to get a proper view, especially inside caves. It is possible to get used to it after a while, but that doesn't mean it is ideal, especially with the large amount of walking you have to do.