Drakensang: Phileasson's Secret Review

17 Dec 2011

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:dtp Entertainment
Developer:Radon Labs
Release Date:2011-05-13
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Phileasson's Secret is the lone expansion pack to Radon Labs' easy-to-miss gem Drakensang: The River of Time. Like the main game, it took a full year to be released in English, and saw a quiet, clumsy release. Where The River of Time did get a retail release but only in parts of Western Europe, Phileasson's Secret is a digital-only release available exclusively in North America, and works only with digital versions of the game, so too bad if you received the retail by way of import. As with The River of Time, I'm baffled by the treatment of this product, but is this a title you shouldn't miss out on like the main game was?

Phileasson's Secret isn't one big chunk of late-game content - instead, it offers two new quests that are split into three parts, which unlock as the player reaches new areas during the main storyline. One is the big, main quest that tells the story of Phileasson, and the other is a smaller, tangentially related sub-quest. If you have a final save game, you can just pick up and play both with a high-level character, but it seems to have been designed and balanced to be played as additional content for a new character as it unlocks new stages. I jumped in with a level six character and that worked pretty well.

The smaller of the two quests is a treasure hunt that leads you to a pair of caves. It's a cute little side distraction that has a few small surprises in store for you, but it doesn't do anything interesting with its decent premise, and despite the "treasure hunt" story it doesn't really let you figure out puzzles or maps as much as you'd hope, other than once providing a set of instructions guiding you to a cave entrance. The caves are short with easy and quick fights. It's a nice little extra, but it's not what you're paying for when you buy this add-on.

Essentially, you are paying for the main quest, which explores a lot of things that earlier Drakensang titles didn't have a chance to highlight yet. It opens up with Thorwalians (vikings) sailing in on their Ottajaskos (longships), and introduces captain Asleif "Foggwulf" Phileasson, a legendary character that has featured in the lore of the pen and paper The Dark Eye for more than a decade. Phileasson takes off before the player reaches the ships, and following him you find yourself in a very unusual setting indeed: an ancient "elemental city" named Tie'Shianna, one of the legendary realms of the high elves in the world of the Dark Eye. The player also gets to meet a Moha, one of a tribal forest-dwelling society.

This setting and added flavor is the add-on's main strength. The city is set in the desert area of Khom, and with this high elven culture being as yet unexplored in video games Radon Labs did a good job giving it a real feel of an ancient, magical desert civilization. The actual playing area inside the city isn't that big, and the party comes back to the same area several times. But the areas are visually quite open, and you can see the other, non-available parts of the town in the background, which helps make it feel less constrained but also serves as a reminder of how much better it would be if this was a large, fully fleshed-out town. 

The Dark Eye pen and paper players will probably get more out of the setting because they come in with the right questions, such as “how can this town even exist at this time?”, whereas new players don't automatically get the same sense, and the add-on doesn't do a great job setting up the location and its importance, or the importance of what the player is doing. Gradually it becomes clear that you have a part to play in the struggle against the Nameless One, but at the same time not everything is what it seems, both in people's allegiances, motivations and the nature of the setting. The problem is that while the plot is interesting, it seems somewhat incidental, largely delivered in dialog chunks at the start and end of each trip back to Tie'Shianna. This is less than ideal to keep the player's attention, and doesn't feel particularly rewarding or interactive, which ruins what could potentially have been a pretty good story.