Drakensang: Dark Eye is a game with a silly name by a rather unknown (or at least low key) developer Radon Labs but it is a really well done title. It's one of those games that feels as though it was made by classic RPG gamers for classic RPG gamers.
From the start, the story doesn't really grab you as it is the kind of story one expects to read through in Elder Scrolls and it does have somewhat of a slow start. This isn't really a bad thing because if you look at the game as a series of events that take certain amount of time, it loses the episodic or chapter driven feel of titles such as "Fable" or "Neverwinter Nights". To help with this, time passes based on events instead of a system clock. For example in the game "Silverfall" the scenery changed from day to night over a period of time. It may take the player "days" to do something such as walk 5 or 6 scale miles. In Drakensang, it might take two to three real hours to get through an event that takes about 30 minutes in game time. Radon Labs totally avoided using specific time dialogues between characters to help keep the flow of time less of an object and point.
One of the nice features that developers and designers implemented in Drakensang was a "magic window". There is this corporeal "hole" that nothing can obstruct your view of your party; trees, buildings, caves, anything… you can see through it without the objects being faded in and out suddenly or having the camera jerk in a certain direction that makes it hard to move the characters from place to place. What's better is that the magic window is unobtrusive. It doesn't have hard edges or a border at all, rather a halftone easement that keeps focus on the action. Aside from this, the game looks and feels like what one would expect Guild Wars 2 to look and feel like when it does finally see store shelves.
Some players may find the dialogue a bit hokey, as the facial expressions and body language are pretty generic, but it does go along well with the odd voices and character names such as "Todd Tinshaper" (a blacksmith, go figure!). On the other hand the character movements are fluid with action sequences being somewhat believable.
Character management is pretty standard. You can send individual party members to attack individual foes, gang up with you, or employ them to do a specific task that it within the job class. A nice feature that was included was the "select all' icon. One might drag a box around the party and send all of them down the road, but it's a lot easier to click 'select all' and be bothered with it no more. Another advantage of the 'select all' button is that if you have a spread out party, they'll all start to convene on the point you tell them to without having to hunt down each individual character on your screen. The latter was a huge drawback to titles such as "
Item management is also something that the developers seem to have thought out. It is very easy to sort items with the backpack being wearable or consumable items, the pouch being money and letters (somewhat having the purpose of key cards in MGS), and then there is the medium sized bag that you can what you want into it for whatever reason (I usually put smithing ingredients in it). You can also drag and drop any item in your inventory to the avatar of another character to give it to them and vice-versa. This comes in handy when you want to make a member the party mule or simply ensure that they're properly equipped. Something else that was nice and not often seen is that when you're shopping you can click on the avatar of another party member to buy an item specifically for them – the money 'earned' adventuring is in a pool and belongs to everyone (and when the party member leaves they don't take gold with them, they do however, take their equipment). The real advantage of the inventory system though comes in the simplistic and practical layout. It's integrated into the character sheet, just like it would be on a pen and paper AD&D character.
Another strong point of the interface in Drakensang is that everything is "right clickable" and will bring up a context sensitive menu. If you want to know what certain ability or attribute does, what it affects, and how the scores are calculated then simply right click on it. If you want to use something in your inventory, split it and give some to a party member, drop it, or look at it closer – right click on it. If you want to see what can be done about a status ailment, right clock on it. Need to know what ingredients make up a particular spell scroll, or what enhancements are on your weapon… RIGHT CLICK ON IT.
The right click menus reduce clutter and keep from having to go through pages upon pages of item glossaries, searching various "books" and so on. At first it feels a bit unsettling and as though it removes you from the game, but you'll notice less button clicks and fewer windows popping up on screen for the same information that you would in other games and you will appreciate it. It allows you to stay focused more on the game than on the information of the game.
Where Drakensang excels is how character levels play out. Radon Labs took a slightly different and much more complex approach Drakensang. Players don't earn just experience points, they also earn adventure points. You can take the earned adventure points and distribute them to your character whenever you want, not just when you level up (which can take a long time even from level 1).
As for experience points, not many points are given for standard actions such as felling a bandit. While many games dispense a large amount of experience in the beginning with a plot line consisting of the player character being the 'only hope' or the 'last one left', or even 'the last resort' in the game world. Drakensang instead places the character in a small town in search of a friend who sent your character a letter. Obviously the character starts at level one, but you don't get sent on main or side quests that seem inappropriate for a character of that level. For instance, in Neverwinter Nights, the player character witnesses a raid in which majorities of the higher level NPCs are overwhelmed and killed or seriously wounded. The next thing the player character knows is he's following the same bad guys that were responsible – clearly not something a level 1 character would really consider given their inexperience. Realistically, a first level character might simply be more of an errand boy and come across a band of wolves or fight off a few back alley muggers. Drakensang, to avoid the awkward progression that might ensue under a realistic setup, you do simple handle a few small tasks but something that a person of your characters stature.
With adventure points, these can be handed out to you and your party at will. This gives the game a lot more in the way of customization and realistic progression as well. For example, I can't learn how to drive if I've never sat in a car, but I can know how to drive before I'm old enough to be permitted to do so. Likewise in Drakensang, I don't need to be a certain level to know what herbs and plants help me, but I do have to be taught how to pick them. When the player character meets someone with a certain trade or skill, they can be asked to teach it (for a fee of course). At that point, your player character starts with a proficiency of "0" which means you have the basic idea, concept or theory behind the skill. While skills are level dependent in the context of the skill itself, they are not level dependent in the context of the the overall character.
This also helps shape the player character with more realism than other games in the genre. Drakensang does have player characters who appear to be around 13 years old, but they have master lockpicking skills. The idea behind this would be that the child grew up doing little more than thieving so naturally they'd have the ability to sneak around and pick pockets and locks as well as keep an eye out from various kinds of traps. However, a balance is made in that the child thief isn't going to be well mannered, will not have a silver tongue, and probably won't be much of a sword and armor wielder (but this isn't to say that in time they won't pick it up from those around them). Characters are in many regards a product of their environment and with the environment being rather diverse it allots many options in player's perceptions as to how better shape their PC and NPCs.
The level of a character dictates only the basic attribute scores, if those scores can be modified and the failure / success rate of your skills and the character sheet will tell you how attributes have an effect on what skills. If your character is a "knight" you're going to be well versed in etiquette, reading people, and interacting with them in favorable ways, but you probably won't be scholarly. So, you can wield a sword like it was your job (which it would be) but you could start a fire with magic. Later, you earn enough ability points and run into a mage who after being asked would teach you that skill. Because you've been taught doesn't mean you'll be good at it – especially since magic pulls from the intelligence and wisdom attributes. You're as smart as a box of hammers, there's a pretty good change you'll fail. On the other hand 'practice makes perfect" so dumping ability points into your arcane lore is the equivalent to repeat actions in that field. You get better the more you do it. Elder Scrolls had a similar set up, where if you had your character run all the time, their run skill would increase thus you'd run faster and tire out less frequently. The difference is that in Drakensang, the player get's to decide if they really care about running fast or enduring those runs.
I will say that I was a bit disappointed that Drakensang did not try and pull back from the modern MMORG combat theories of 'tanks' and 'agro' but they didn't make it a main idea either. On one hand the theory greatly improves battle success rate, especially when the party is in an urban setting where such tactics might find employ in a realistic sense.
Overall this is a solid title. I think it to be a little underappreciated thus far, but it also took The Witcher a few months before people realized how well made that game was (and it took a bit of time before CDPROJEKT polished it up to what it should have been from the start). The same can be said for THQ's Titan Quest. I can't say I "highly" recommend (though I almost highly recommend), the game because of the voice acting and the hokey NPC names (but it does take me back to the older AD&D days), but the effort that was apparently put into the rethinking character progression and the fine details within it definitely make the game worth playing, if for no other reason than to sit back and see the direction RPG titles need to start thinking about going. It is definitely worth every bit of the $29.99. So, if you're in the market for a new RPG game on PC – Drakensang: The Dark Eye – it's inexpensive, fun, intuitive, and embodies most of what was good in classic RPG titles with modern visuals and commands.