Drakensang: The Dark Eye
When you think of role-playing games, what’s the first franchise that springs to mind? Final Fantasy? Elder Scrolls? Or maybe, if you don’t have your videogame hat on for a moment, it’s Dungeons and Dragons; that leviathan of pen-and-paper RPGs that since 1974 has, despite its social stigma, been the granddaddy of all RPGs. In Germany, on the other hand, there’s a different franchise – The Dark Eye – that leads the pack. It’s never quite caught on here (even though the first book was published in 1984, it wasn’t until 2002 that we saw the first English publication), but that hasn’t stopped the release of a series of PC RPGs. Drakensang is the fourth title in the series, following on from 1996’s Shadows over Riva. If all these names are going over your head then don’t worry, we had pretty much the same reaction.
Radon Labs, developer of Drakensang, clearly takes its Dark Eye commitment seriously. For the game, four official Dark Eye authors have been drafted in to write the plot and back story, while the game mechanics remain utterly faithful to the pen and paper system, so we’re told. It’s hard to compare Drakensang’s number-crunching with that of its namesake having not experienced the tabletop phenomenon, but unless you’re a die-hard Dark Eye aficionado the system works so well that you won’t sit there wondering just how accurately the game recreates the ruleset.
As with most RPGs, you begin at a character creation screen. Unlike many recent entries into the genre, Drakensang doesn’t allow you to alter your appearance; rather you’re asked to pick between twenty different character classes (eighteen of which come in male or female varieties), each with a unique character model. The classes offer more of a variety than the average RPG, with something there for everyone. On top of that, the Advanced mode allows you to tailor your character’s stats to suit your playing style, which is a welcome, albeit initially overwhelming option.
Once the game begins, your newly-created character finds his- or herself in Avestrue on the way to visit an old friend. This tutorial area serves to ease you into the game with a few simple quests as well as introducing you to the various crafting, combat and stat-management options the game presents you with. By ‘ease you into the game’, we actually mean ‘hurl you in head first, then kick you in the face as you land’. Drakensang is not the most welcoming of games to a newcomer. The initial control setup feels somewhat wrong, but being fully customisable this isn’t an issue.
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