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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I originally heard in mid-2006 that someone was working on another cRPG in the world of the German pen and paper RPG Das Schwarze Auge (originally known as Realms of Arkania in the US, now re-released under the moniker of The Dark Eye, but referred to DSA in this preview). The last time this happened was with the Northland Trilogy of games, Blade of Destiny (1992), Star Trail (1994), Shadows over Riva (1996). This trilogy of cRPGs is remembered as one of the best of the 90s, including in this reporter's eyes as Star Trail stands as one of the best games I've ever played.

So small wonder that I and many other RPG veterans were very excited to hear the license had been picked up again to be developed into a brand new RPG. Good news increased as it became clear the people that picked up the license are big fans of the pen and paper games and have been after this license for years. Even more, four DSA authors wrote the story and dialogue of this game, providing the developers with thousands of pages of script to work into their game.

Excitement was kind of dampened for some when it became clear that the approach is very different from the originals and instead largely inspired by Baldur's Gate. The developers themselves have in fact claimed they're trying to make a (Baldur's Gate in 3D), which could be deemed to be closer to Action RPGs than the originals were. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the developers decide to slice up and shorten most dialogue in favour of a faster pace, with the apparent reasoning that the average RPG player doesn't like to read much.

So I ended up entering their booth at the GC in Leipzig with some mixed feelings. I knew I probably wouldn't see anything that'd change my view of the game either way, but at least I left with a clearer grasp of the way the game looks to play and feel.

Some facts

Drakensang is a 3rd-person party-based cRPG. It utilizes a moveable bird's eye view camera which mostly follows your selected character. Combat is RTwP and you can select special moves like spells or talents while in paused mode. The DSA setting is mostly standard fare high fantasy, though this decades-old pen and paper setting has grown very expansive and does offer its own unique bits on top of the standard clichés. The games are unrelated to the original RoA trilogy, both in plot and gameplay.

The plot is a mystery right now, but it is clear that you create one character and pick up more along the way. There's one main quest (probably involving dragons somehow) with a lot of extra quests available, with a normal run-through giving 40 hours of playing time. Most of the action will take place in the central province of the game's world, which is mostly standard western European medieval fare, and will have you fighting other humans, orcs and goblins as well as some more unique DSA creatures (living trees, the Tatzelwurm (a lower kind of dragon)). Orcs, for instance, aren't your standard green-skinned fare, but instead are slightly ape-like creatures covered in thick black fur.

The character system is based on the 4th edition of DSA. Your basic characters are defined by a selection of positive (courage, wisdom, charisma, agility, strength dexterity and intuition) and negative (superstition, acrophobia, claustrophobia, avarice, necrophobia, curiosity and violent temper) attributes. Health, stamina and magic points depend on what kind of character you play. The DSA game is most well-known for its very expansive skill system, which is not transported one-on-one to this game but utilized fairly well, offering a wide range of choices from alchemy to reading to metalworks. Magic is available to elves and mages (priests are not available), and while cut-down it will still offer a lot of the traditional combat and non-combat spells (e.g. fireball, blind, healing, befriend animals, petrify, summoning).

While the basic DSA 4th edition offers more freeform character creation, Radon Labs decided to base the character creation process more on the archetype-system, mostly to allow non-DSA specialists to start right off the bat while still allowing people familiar with the system the option to modify the archetype as they see fit.

Quite a lot of attention is being paid to the equipment system, which contains an expansive system of slots to allow you to equip the character however you see fit. The micro-management known from the originals is optional, which means heroes dying from an illness they picked up when travelling or walking their boots to a thread and being damaged by travelling on barefoot are pretty much out.