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Drakensang Demo: Ich Bin Stumped

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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Jim Rossignol

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