If someone asks about a pen & paper game, the majority will probably raise two fingers and answer: Dungeons & Dragons! Thanks to its extraordinary success, the transition of this universe to video games was inevitable, and titles like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale or Neverwinter Nights and their respective expansions have proved that the worlds and rules of a pen & paper game can be successfully used in a CRPG.
But when a relatively unknown German studio (Radon Labs) wants to make its entry onto the market using the The Dark Eye universe, one filled with the usual fantasy races (from man, dwarves and elves to orcs, goblins and ogres), you can’t help but be skeptic. Because, inevitably, you’re going to end up fighting against Evil. Again.
However, I was surprised to discover that our stroll on the continent of Aventuria will unfold by the rules of a pen & paper game from Germany that, despite being very appreciated in its native country, didn’t have the same kind of appeal in other territories, although it was used in what is now known as the Northlands trilogy.
Epic fairy tale
With an extremely mild story start, Drakensang puts us in the boots of a character who has nothing to do with the big events on the political and heroic scene of Aventuria. He or she is just travelling in order to find the home of an old friend who requested your help through a letter.
Even the starting area is an idyllic one: a small town located along a river, surrounded by pastures and a forest, where not even the few wild beasts don’t inspire fear. A rare thing, especially in an era in which every man should have known how to wield a blade. Unsurprisingly enough though, in order to continue the journey into the city where your friend lives we must first help some locals in order to gain their sympathy and obtain permission to continue.
Yet this very relaxed atmosphere is nothing but an illusion and, like in almost every game of the genre, something goes wrong. In this case, a series of crimes in the city of Ferdok will jumpstart the storyline, which means that our character will have to change into a real hero. After a series of events we’ll also meet the “engine” of the story, which this time around takes the form of a dragon. We also have ten gods that are mentioned pretty often, but the focus isn’t on them, as it happens in the Gothic series for example.
Here, only this half-god has a major influence. He gives us the main mission, the Dragon Quest, but its completion doesn’t come with the help of this mythic creature, but only with the assistance of our hero’s courage. There’s also an armor that needs to be reassembled by exploring the world and finding all the parts, as this armor was worn only by those who accepted the dragon’s tasks.
Races and classes, fourth edition
As it suits any game based on a pen & paper universe, Drakensang offers a large choice of races and classes for character creation, having the fourth edition of the Dark Eye rules serve as basis. Twenty classes are split depending on their native zone, from the mountain dwarves or the humans with a sickle in their hands to pirates and amazons.
I chose a pirate for my purposes, who didn’t disappoint from a fighting stand point, but did suffer from an acute lack of personality, which also holds true for the other classes as well. Nothing really made me believe that he’s a pirate, his speech least of all. He was more like a paladin. Not even his clothing remained specific for too long and during the course of the story he ended up looking like a dauntless warrior with a sword in his hand, fighting the good fight.
If we consider the fact that the voice acting is reduced to a minimum, it would have been a nice touch to offer written particularities for every hero type, especially since they come from the most remote corners of Aventuria. For example, my pirate should have been a lot rougher around the edges when it comes to manners, which can also probably be said for an amazon. These details can be considered relatively insignificant by many players, but they would have added a great deal of depth and immersion, not to mention influencing the approaches to certain situations when dialogue was involved.
For those who have never come into contact with a game based on the D&D ruleset, Drakensang may seem a bit strange. The fights have very strict rules and these are complicated enough to give headaches the first time around for the uninitiated. As a rule, we have a dice that determines our chances to hit our opponent, but unlike in D&D, here a lower value is better, not higher.
Moreover, the multitude of skills and attributes, as well as the way these depend on one another, can be daunting. That’s why the learning curve is a little more steep than in other cases (thankfully, the game manual offers the basic information you need to get started). The fights themselves are seemingly real time, but behind the curtain it’s all about phases in which each combatant has the opportunity to hit (or miss) its target.
Of course, any attribute, bonus, armor or a good weapon will raise the chances of hitting your opponent and causing more damage. Again, the manual will be your first stop for additional information, because the damage dealt won’t be precisely the one “inscribed” on the weapon, but will vary depending on various factors.