Drakensang Demo: Ich Bin Stumped

By Jim Rossignol on August 18th, 2008 at 4:02 pm.


In my enfeebled state this morning I set the Drakensang demo downloading. I’d been looking up developers Radon Labs, and the reason for that was my uncovering their 2002 game Project Nomads in a great heap of rubbish in my office. Nomads was a stark-raving mad quasi-strategic action game, in which you traveled about on a flying island, and I’ll write a retro piece about it next week. Anyway, I wanted to see what those imaginative developers were doing now – having been surprised they still existed at all. It seems they’ve learned their lesson, because they’re developing the generic fantasy of Drakensang. There’s a demo! What I somehow failed to realise until I came to install it, was that the demo was in German. Undaunted, I set out on a quest. Impressions follow.

Things start out well. I make a dwarf. It’s dwarves, ladies, or men as the options for characters in the demo. Larger men aren’t available in the demo, it seems. I’ve probably missed out on something utterly vital at this stage, like skills, professions, or magic shoes, but no matter. We’re just going to take a look around.

Immediately things come to a halt. Not a language problem this, but an invisible wall problem. You can (not) see that invisible wall above. Having run in the direction I was facing, I find myself stuck. The road to nowhere lies ahead. I turn around and run towards busier scenery. It’s the right direction, thankfully, and a soldier tells me something in German. I also notice that the camera makes a kind of spy-hole effect in scenery that you clip through, as you can see below. I quite like that.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to muddle through a game in a foreign language, I’ll admit. I played Flashback from beginning to end in French (dictionary at the ready) and I suspect I might have passed a couple of French exams as a result.

Playing a text-heavy RPG, however, is rather different. The logic and mechanics of an RPG as generic as this are not hard to master, but knowing what else you’re supposed to be doing, or how to do it, is rather impossible. I talk to people, guess which of the three dialogue options accepts the quests (it’s the top one, natch) and then off I go. I’ve talked to a jester and a sexy lady, and they told me to go do something, probably. They’d previously they’d had an argument with a soldier, but I have no idea what it is about. (Obviously.)

So anyway, I run off to do the thing-that-I-don’t-know-what-it-is, stopping briefly to fiddle with my inventory screen, and to look at the wares of the shopkeeper. I have no idea what I’m doing, of course, and the impenetrability of tutorial boxes mean I have little notion of how to highlight a quest on my map. Figuring this out will take some time. It seems that you do actually need to be able to read to play an RPG, even a fantasy action one. Tsk.

Refusing to give up without at least some small modicum of action, I charge off into nearby woodland. Rivers prove impassable, and I have to look for a bridge. A soldier talks to me at a log bridge, and might be warning me about something. I suspect what he is warning me of is “Random Encounters Ahead!” but I might be wrong.

Time for random encounters!

Interestingly, my first encounter proves obscure, as dramatic music occurs and the action freezes. I spend some time deciphering the tutorial box that has popped up. It seems that combat is turn-based? No. I spin the camera around, but can’t see anything to fight amid the paused trees. Nor can I figure out how to disengage the freeze… Eventually I realise that hitting space sends me back into real-time. There is squealing, and I beat some pigs to death with a hammer. Next: vicious wasps! They’ve gone and killed a man. Exploring as revealed a quest… possibly? Argh. Wasps are easily slain.

And so on.

In conclusion: I need to learn other languages. Drakensang has some minor defects – invisible walls, horrid generic fantasy setting – but nevertheless looks like it might be a fun time, and I probably would play an English version… until I got bored. It doesn’t look like the game has an English-region publishing deal at the moment, which is something of a shame. Get a move on, publisher types! If you’re in Germany, I think you can play Drakensang right now. But I might have muddled that up in translation.

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60 Comments »

  1. Ian says:

    That jester is such a letch.

    Just look at him!

  2. Björn says:

    I love how he’s just blatantly staring at the girls boobs.

  3. Okami says:

    Umm.. The jester is the girl’s brother…

  4. Dexton says:

    Can you blame him?

  5. Janto says:

    Dirty, dirty carnies…

  6. Tanner says:

    Even better!

  7. Sahagin says:

    I got to the fourth screenshot, and that’s when I decided to download this game.

  8. Sax says:

    I’m quiet sure that the invisible wall is there because its the demo.

  9. michael says:

    Germany here,

    Drakensang is not a perfect game. But’s the best german games since … hmm … since Far Cry and Crysis. It’s a little bit to tactical, the game mechanics are for beginners often to complex and the graphics need a bit polishing.

    But all in all: It’s a nice game for people who love pen&paper and deep RPGs.

  10. mechanoid says:

    The game is a sequel from the (at least in germany) famous “Das schwarze Auge” series, which originally is a pen and paper role playing game. There were also some popular PC games in the 90s.

    Drakenssang got pretty nice reviews and is a well done fantasy epic with well round based fights (similar to Neverwinter Nights). It is criticized for it’s traditional setting and lack of innovations but praised for it’s nice atmosphere and the absence of bugs.

    I’ve been playing it for some weeks now and like it very much, although I have to admit that speaking german helps a lot. But why not judge a book by looking at it’s cover?

  11. Jim Rossignol says:

    Sax: you’re probably right, but then it’s still not a great advert for the game, is it?

    mechanoid: Clearly I wrote that for laughs, I do think it looks pretty good for what it is, and say as much.

  12. Muzman says:

    Reads like Nondrick’s non adventure.
    Should get the full game in German as well and play it like this and call it… I dunno… Bruno’s multicultural bildungsroman or something.

  13. Subject 706 says:

    Last time I checked there actually was an english publishing deal for Drakensang. Q1 2009, methinks.

  14. andy says:

    I’ll take “generic fantasy setting” over most of the crap I see coming out.

  15. Jim Rossignol says:

    There’s a release date of Q1 2009 for “international”, but I can’t find evidence of an actual UK/US distributor or anything.

  16. marxeil says:

    I learned English as teen by reading fantasy books (first one was sword of Shanara) with a dictionary at hand.
    This makes me think that playing games can be a great way to learn a new language.

  17. Okami says:

    The invisiwall is there in the full game as well. It’s the direction your character is coming from and you can’t go back. But this is the only invisible wall in the whole game.

  18. Noc says:

    There should be a way around that. Like having your character start off in . . . in prison, or something. I wonder why no one’s done that.

  19. Okami says:

    Well.. Beeing in prison wouldn’t really fit the game’s mood and backstory. But yeahhh… like many elements in Drakensang, the final solution and implementation is somewhat half assed and not properly thought through..

  20. wiki says:

    Well, Drakensang’s fantasy setting is no more generic than D&D would be considered “generic”. It’s part of “Das Schwarze Auge”, which is the biggest German-language fantasy P&P RPG (and by extension the biggest franchise). DSA has been around since 1984 and has a very well developed world (even bigger than, let’s say, the Forgotten Realms) with a lot of peculiarities, which is what makes this game interesting to those who know the setting (In fact Drakensang is just the PC game component of a much larger pen&paper campaign). But yeah, in the end it’s the setting that makes up for a lot of the minor annoyances within the game, so it’s probably no fun at all if you can’t even read the text. At least for me, the story and the DSA universe is what kept me playing.

  21. Dorsch says:

    German gaming journalists tend to overrate anything from their own country (Did anyone play that Dinosaur RTS for more than a month?), so I’m still not sure about this game. Drakengard seems to be the best german RPG since Gothic II. Not that hard to do, but let’s see… I’m optimistically waiting for international impressions.

  22. ulix says:

    In the full game you can also leave the area your in “through” this invisible wall (resulting in an overworld map).
    The gameworld is (consciesly) not built in “one piece” (like Oblivion) but in many small parts connected by an overworld map.
    Combat IS turn-based. First its your party’s turn, when all your party members have attacked its the enemies’ turn, and so on. Combat just isn’t paused automatically after every turn (although this is also an option, if you like to play like that).
    The setting of Drakensang may seem generic at first (its Aventuria, come on, and not only that, but also only a very very small region of Aventuria – they could have made a game with a much more exotic setting within Aventuria). But it is very, very deep and detailed (there is tons of source material for the German Pen & Paper).

    Which brings me to an important point: This is based on a (the) German Pen & Paper game, “Das Schwarze Auge” (The Dark Eye). Combat and dice rolls are basically the same as in the P&P game, with some exceptions and omissions of course. It is quite complex, you can have a party of up to four people which you can control directly (plus one “guest” plus one summoned thing). You can have up to 10 companions though, those which you don’t take with you wait in a kind of hub (like Mass Effect), but they still get experience.

    And I think Eidos will publish the game internationally, but with the Anaconda-Forums down right now I can’t confirm it.

  23. ulix says:

    And don’t let me forget:
    Its got one of the most annoying copy-protection mechanisms ever created by man. If you use a no-cd-crack you will not only not be able to play the game through anymore (due to missing key-quest elements like important NPCs or items you need), but the game will also “mark” your savegames, so that even if you reinstall the game and go on playing with an original .exe and the original DVD in your drive these errors will still occur. Argh.

  24. O.G.N says:

    So this is a sequel to the old Realms of Arkania games, right?

  25. ulix says:

    Well it is as much a sequel to the old RoA games as Baldur’s Gate was a sequel to the old Gold Box Games.
    It is no direct sequel, but is has the same setting (Aventuria) and the same (although drastically overhauled since then) ruleset.
    It takes place in an entirely different part of Aventuria though. The old games were called “Nordland-Trilogie” in Germany, indicating that they played out in the northern parts of Aventuria (I think Thorwal, Svelltland, Orcland and Riva, of course).
    Drakensang on the other hand is set in the Middlerealmian province of Kosh. Think of Kosh as a quite generic middle-european Fantasy setting, but with lots of Dwarves ;)

    My sourcebook says that Kosh has arround 80 thousand inhabitants,and of these arround 16 thousand dwarves.

  26. UncleLou says:

    ” invisible walls, horrid generic fantasy setting – but nevertheless looks like it might be a fun time”

    That’s a pretty good summary. Das Schwarze Auge is a ripoff of D&D, and it shows.

    Dialogues are awful in a pseudo-medieval style, voice-acting is worse (just two things inwhich Gothic – at least the German version – is just infinitely superior), and there’s a juvenile touch to it that’s hard to define, but the battle system is reasonaby tactical, and the whole underlying mechanics are pleasantly complex.

    A solid 6/10.

    Oh, and yes, as others have pointed out – the invisible wall is the direction your character is meant to come from at the beginning of the game. It’s not a non-linear game which you are free to explore, anyway, so I didn’t think it was much of a problem.

  27. ulix says:

    I’d have to disagree with the above comment.
    I’d consider myself someone who values writing and other little things enhancing the atmosphere of a game a great deal.
    And I find the writing (i.e. the dialogues) in Drakensang to be very good. They are witty and tounge-in-cheek, in true TDE-tradition, and I often found myself smiling of even laughing over the characters and what they had to say. Which doesn’t mean that this is meant as a comedic game, but it has many underlying comedic scenes and chats.
    Voice-Acting, while certainly no the best I have ever heard (not even for a German game), is stil definitely above average, some of the characters I’d even call well acted.
    Certainly not as good as voice acting in a >10Million production, but very good for a 2Million product.

    For me this game is definitely an 8/10, if your a TDE-Fan or player maybe even a 9/10, and definitely worthwile for anybody enjoying classical RPGs, especially Baldur’s Gate fans (since the mechanics are so similar).

  28. OnkelLou says:

    The first three screenshots are ace, btw. Your dwarf looks rather stumped indeed.

  29. onkellou says:

    Ok, I can admit it now, that was just a test for that new-fangled Gravatar thingy everyone seems to use. But it doesn’t quite work.

    AND I had to change my name because some bastard stole my nick.

  30. malkav11 says:

    If the combat works like Baldur’s Gate that’s not really turn-based. I have to insist on this because while I no longer particularly mind BG’s combat (and can see certain advantages to its flexible positioning options), it’s a far cry from the true turn-based systems in the Gold Box games I was used to when I first played it. There’s really no way to get it to mimic that style of play.

    That said, I’m excited about Drakensang, and I really want to see it translated. It doesn’t necessarily have to be released in the US – I’m sure I could buy an import copy off GoGamer – but an English translation is a must. I don’t read German. In the meantime, I really ought to make an attempt to get stuck into the Realms of Arkania trilogy of games.

  31. ulix says:

    While it is not turn-based in a sense that first character A makes his moves, THEN character B makes his moves, then character C, then maybe enemy X, etc. (mimicking the mechanics of a P&P game, which is only modeled like that because of the limitations of human comprehension – it can be difficult for a Dungeon Master to comprehend what 4 people are saying and doing at the same time – although their characters might actually do it at the same time), it IS turn based in a sense that first group A (the party) make their moves, THEN group B (the enemies), then group A again, etc.
    So player and enemy forces take turns, therefore it is turn-based. I have to insist on that ;)
    If you have a problem with the term turn-based, lets call it round-based and be friends.
    In the console you can even see messages like “start of combat round/turn 11 (you could use both terms in translation”

  32. Tagert says:

    @Noc:
    I don’t know whether you’re being sarcastic or not with the ‘prison’ comment. It has been done. (Ah, much love for the ambiguity of the interwebs.)

  33. Noc says:

    For the record: the “starting the game in a prison” comment was an Elder Scrolls reference. I thought it was funny.

  34. Ozzie says:

    Hm, played the beginning of Drakensang, so far it looks nice.

    The dinosaur RTS is called Paraworld. Never played it, but I can’t imagine that this game isn’t any good. SEK showed with Wiggles that they’re very talented and the concept sounds intriguing. Well, I have to try it out for myself sooner or later!
    Just hope that nobody dares to bully poor Wiggles!! ;)

    Oh, and there aren’t many better RPGs than Gothic II!
    But the voice acting is far from great since no more than 4 or 5 actors voiced all the characters…

    I’m not sure if journalists in Germany tend to overrate german games. Generally, reviewers tend to overrate hyped games and since those german games receive more hype in Germany than in other countries, of course, they will be overrated.
    But I remember an old amiga magazine called Amiga Joker which tended to give adventure games of a certain german company unfounded high marks. These games were at most mediocre.

    @Jim: Radon Labs released another game before Drakensang (and after Project Nomads, of course!) that is worth a look. It’s called Treasure Island and yes, it’s based on the book.
    Only played the demo, but according to reviews it’s too short (no more than 6-8 hours), the final act misses interactivity and it is, despite modern 3D graphics, a very old-school adventure, so absolutely innovation-free!
    It was probably never released in a foreign language.

    @ulix: Thanks for the warning! :/

  35. malkav11 says:

    It’s turn-based only in the sense that actions take discrete amounts of time that are divided into turns. I mean, Neverwinter Nights is functionally real time, but because it’s inheriting D&D mechanics it divides action timing into turns that elapse every so often. This sort of thing is “real time with pause”. For me, it’s an acceptable substitute for true turn-based combat, but it’s not at all the same thing.

    On the other hand, if I’m misunderstanding and there’s no real-time activity in the combat, then allow me to apologize.

  36. SofS says:

    All I know of The Dark Eye is that it’s an iconic roleplaying system. Not knowing German, I haven’t really had opportunity to learn more. That said, the comment that “Drakensang’s fantasy setting is no more generic than D&D would be considered ‘generic’” might be a bit ironic, as D&D is just about the most generic thing I can imagine. People in North America who don’t roleplay tend to use the name as a sweeping title covering everything related to the hobby. Two people could call it “generic” in both the most laudatory and the most derisive ways possible and both would probably be right.

    Reading, playing, and watching things in unknown languages is incredibly fun at times. It turns every interaction into a puzzle. Want to see part of why Hard Boiled is such a great movie? Watch it with no subtitles and see how well the story comes across anyway.

  37. Tagert says:

    @Noc
    That’s what I thought. I couldn’t be sure. Again I must bemoan the incongruity of the information superhighway for conveying important inflections in pitch and tone!
    (I found it quite amusing at first as well, before gnawing doubts, well, gnawed at me.)

  38. Dorsch says:

    @Ozzie: Yes, Paraworld was by no means bad. Also, It wasn’t much more than mediocre. But it was in NO Way the next big thing, a title that several publications implied.
    I don’t hate them for doing it, I can see their reasons. But I know that, with good games from here, there are always differences between the way the international press recieves it and ours. My guess is tahat Drakensang will get around 85% here and around 65% elsewhere, from what I’ve read in these impressions.

    Drakensang:

    PC Games: 81%
    Gamestar: 85%

    I don’t think the international press will agree.

    Paraworld:
    Gamestar 87%
    PC Games 89%
    PC Action 84%

    Eurogamer: 5/10
    IGN: 7.8
    Gamespot: 6.2

    I know numbers don’t mean much, but the difference also shows in the review text.

  39. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Considering the generic setting, you couldn’t be more wrong. The TDE setting is about the most complex background I know for a fantasy PnP. The world is described in insane detail. The clothes of everyone you will see in that game have been described in detail in some sourcebook, and I also bet 1/5th of the characters and groups is detailed there. To make my point, this game takes you to the river city of Ferdok. For the plot, it was necessary to have a Hesinde temple there. The designers talked to the PnP designers, and it was decided to build one in Ferdok. The monthly organ of the RPG informed the community that the foundation for the temple had been built in Ferdok. The CRPG designers got the go ahead.

    I think German Fantasy often comes across as somewhat more generic, because most German designers prefer the low fantasy setting. The background of those games is of course detailed to the point of mania in most cases. To be honest, I kind of like these settings, for one because they are often much more detailed and plausible than high fantasy settings, and also because a simple medieval setting with some fantasy elements is refreshing from those where the militia runs around in full plate and everyone who’s not a peasant flies on dragons and lives in floating cities, which are mostly just there without a reasonable explanation or a good grounding in a beliavable background. It also makes the fantasy much more fantastic, if not everyone is able to use fireballs to cook dinner.

    Finally, Drakensang. I) didn’t like it. I started it, and got bored, and started Gothic 2 again. The problem with DS is that contrary to Gothic, your actions don’t have much of an impact on the world, as soon as you leave the main plot. The Gothic series set a standard for a living world that is hard to follow. Getting caught stealing and murdering has actual consequences, instead of just a text box. And while the Drakensang dialogues are well written, you rarely have a lot of choice. The fighting system and the character management of DS are much better than Gothic’s system. All in all the game is definitely worth playing for everyone who knows the TDE background, because the world has been reconstructed with loving detail. But I think outside of the German speaking countries, it will be just another rather mediocre RPG.

    And lastly: Play Gothic 2. You said you tried it and got turned off by the high difficulty. Activate your masochistic tendencies, it’s worth it. And you will be rewarded. The feeling you have when killing that orc you ran from for 3 chapters, or getting back on that harbor thug who beat you unconscious and stole your money a few hours earlier is indescribable.

  40. antonymous says:

    Well enterprises like Gamespot don’t really write reviews, they write for payola. Those reviews are about as real as WWE wrestling is real fighting.

    Newcomers to the territory of big companies who are paying IGNs bills will always be getting undeserved low scores just as a way to keep them out and the lemmings clueless.

  41. Dorsch says:

    Well:

    PC Zone UK: 71%
    PC Gamer UK: 76%
    PC Gamer: 70%
    1up: 6.5
    Eurogamer: 5/10

    Still true. Actually, IGN gave a higher score than most of those, so your anticapitalistic fears are not rational at all.

  42. UncleLou says:

    Considering the generic setting, you couldn’t be more wrong. The TDE setting is about the most complex background I know for a fantasy PnP.

    It’s still brutally generic. Dwarves, trolls., etc. Wizards that look like Gandalf. Medieval castles. Dragons. Kitschy landscapes. There’s not an ounce of originality in the setting – it’s all one giant cliché, no matter how finely chiselled it might be. It’s D&D and Tolkien all over again.

  43. Jochen Scheisse says:

    The point is, if you knew the background, you wouldn’t say that. While there are definitely things about TDE that are Tolkien, and others that are D&D, that is unavoidable if you do Fantasy. I dare you to name a fantasy game that is not in the slightest Tolkien nor D&D, or doesn’t have medieval castles in a medieval setting (sic!).

    Also, if we talk about D&D here, we’re probably talking about Forgotten Realms, I suppose, because there are a million D&D settings and only Forgotten Realms had that distinct generic fantasy feeling, although I only know 4 or 5 settings. But the Planescape setting is also D&D, and it’s rather ungeneric.

    If you talk about the world instead of what you see in the pictures (and that’s what you’re doing IMO because I don’t see you having any idea of how TDE is like, I doubt you would have that opinion.

  44. Al3xand3r says:

    Meh, I don’t applause the repeated use of the word generic for an RPG that you have no idea of its actual setting, dialogues, or anything of significance.

    The Witcher’s engine had its limitations also but it’s still one of the best RPGs. It also looks VERY generic if you don’t know anything about it but it was actually quite fresh as RPGs go.

    Maybe at least give the game the benefit of the doubt before condemning how generic it is.

  45. Kieron Gillen says:

    That the Witcher isn’t considered generic fantasy says much about how generic fantasy is.

    KG

  46. Okami says:

    As somebody who played his first Pen&Paper session of TDE 18 years ago, has read quite a lot of the novels during his youth, played the Nordland Trilogie as well as Drakensang and to this day still reads the odd TDE sourcebook, let me say:

    TDE is as generic a setting as it gets. It’s of course not completely generic and has enough original content to give it a distinct feel, but that doesn’t change the fact that TDE is generic, not really believable (yea, it’s low fantasy, bla.. but that still doesn’t change the fact that you have every possible climate and every possible culture from bronze age barbarians, viking raiders, muslim arabs and medieval knights all the way to jungle savages and renaissance swashbucklers cramped into one tiny continent) and often painfully juvenile (go ahead, read some of the novels and cringe at the description of a naked elven maiden, how she looks allmost boyish and has firm little breasts and curly soft pubic hair…) .

    On the positive side, it’s got a few really good Pen&Paper campaigns, decidedly un-generic Orcs and Goblins that fall neither within the noble savage nor mindless evil monster categories and some of the novels are really good (some! most of them are trashy pulp by writers who barely deserve that name..).

  47. Albides says:

    The point is, if you knew the background, you wouldn’t say that. While there are definitely things about TDE that are Tolkien, and others that are D&D, that is unavoidable if you do Fantasy. I dare you to name a fantasy game that is not in the slightest Tolkien nor D&D, or doesn’t have medieval castles in a medieval setting (sic!)

    Pen and Paper wise? Tekumel and World of Darkness?

    Computer-wise, can’t think of any. Probably never been made. But I’m not sure what this exercise achieves. Of course the faux-medieval setting is going to be common. That’s why it’s generic.

    I don’t think knowing which god is the god of weaving and which nation wears clothing with a unique double weft or somethings is indicative of the non-generic nature of the setting, though. That’s like arguing for special consideration because “our [elves, dwarves, magical swords, completely generic trope] is different” or something like that.

    Also, if we talk about D&D here, we’re probably talking about Forgotten Realms, I suppose, because there are a million D&D settings and only Forgotten Realms had that distinct generic fantasy feeling, although I only know 4 or 5 settings. But the Planescape setting is also D&D, and it’s rather ungeneric”

    Most people think Forgettable Realms when they think D&D. D&D is a ruleset, not a world. But type D&D into google image search and you get this. Type fantasy and you get this. Generic.

  48. Janto says:

    Hear hear. And now I have a strong urge to play something based on Earthsea… which was fairly non-generic, as fantasy goes, despite its wizards and dragons, not to mention all the far stranger fish in the sea.

    Fantasy literature tends to be generic, but by golly, fantasy games make it look fresh in comparison. And people actually complain if it doesn’t have orcs and what-nots in it!

  49. Kieron Gillen says:

    Perhaps ironically, the fantasy world in an RPG which immediately came to mind as least generic is Planescape. Which is D&D.

    But a hell of a lot less generic than most trad-fantasy MMOs, even revisionist ones like the Witcher.

    KG

  50. Albides says:

    Janto,

    Epic fantasy does tend to be generic, but fantasy in general isn’t. You’ll find very little that’s really generic in something like the World Fantasy Award. And there are movements aiming for more variation in fantasy, like New Weird.

    There’s a few non-generic fantasy books that I’ve been meaning to try. Ricardo Pinto’s no-magic novel, The Chosen, which has a lovely website. K.J Bishop’s The Etched City. Felix Gilman’s Thunderer. China Mieville’s Perdido St Station. Try amazon and one good book points to another.

    Or buy Tekumel source books. It’s worth it for the neat art alone, as well as the encyclopedic worldbuilding.

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