Development and Gameplay
The character creation screen wont offer you any options in the way of avatar customisation at the start of the game, but there eight races to choose from and a massive 20 different classes, each of which provide different starting attributes and talents. As you gain XP you can spend it on upgrading your spells abilities, tributes or talents.
Learning about all the different stats and skills is a difficult process though. When you open each tab in the character menu a tutorial screen opens up and bombards you with information that you only get one shot to read before moving on and adjusting stats. This being the case, be prepared to crack out the manual before long.
Don't expect character development to be all that exciting either as it’s a pretty slow process in Drakensang
. In the initial eight hours of gameplay our character advanced just one level.
Criticisms aside for a moment though, the abundance of depth featured in character development system is second to few, a boon that will appeal to many RPG fans, myself included. There's even a cool crafting system in the game, which is always a good way to bring some diversity to an RPG to provide a further notion of progress and a welcome downtime to killing wolves, wild bores and resolving arguments about apple trees.
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All of your party members earn XP though, meaning that you can specialise each one in different areas - so while advancement is slow, it is at least very open to customisation. This also adds a sorely needed tactical element as, if you specialise your team correctly, they will help you become more effective in combat. It will allow you to sample more of the crafting system too and use a character for handy tasks such as lockpicking.
Talking to people is an important part of Drakensang
and there’s a plethora of side quests to be gained from doing so in addition to receiving occasional doses of Aventuria lore. The majority of side quests involve helping small town people with small town squabbles though, rather than anything all that exciting. One example is a quest that involves resolving an argument over a blessed apple tree and whether or not it should be chopped down. The tree in question borders on two farmers lands and one farmer is not sharing the profits made by selling the apples and by gum if the other farmer can't have some of the profit then no one will. It seems that even in the world of Drakensang, a lowly level 1 adventurer’s gotta start somewhere.
Even though many of the quests are the likes of the above or helping bakers find lucky charms that they dropped down the sewers (yes, that’s a real one too) there is always something to do to do in Drakensang
, even if it is a tad dull. The quest journal is sensibly laid out, which makes it easy to track your many quests, and the minimap is also clear about where you should be going to carry out your tasks, so you never get the feeling of being a loose end.
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The party-based combat system is more akin to an RTS than an RPG though. You can select any one of your party members to use a specific spell or you can group your forces however you want, focusing or dividing attacks however you want. Combat is pretty slow, to the point of almost being truly boring, with enemies and allies taking ages to go through the right motions. Indeed, many people that watched the combat remarked on its mundane pace.
In the early stages of the game we felt the combat also lacked tactical depth too. Few of the spells intermingle with one another such as debuffs, bleed effects or spells that make an enemy susceptible to a particular type of magic. Instead, you're left with the feeling that it’s a case of ‘cast spell x for x amount of damage’ or case ‘spell y for x amount of damage’ but with a different animation. This simplistic nature, coupled with the slow pace and way battles are spattered with inane auto-responses that your characters say as you issue a command, makes the whole process pretty dull.
Because of the way your characters and foes jostle around each other in combat it’s also tricky to click where you want to. If you click the wrong character, you wont gain access to the spells you want, if you click the ground then the character will move to that location and if you click the wrong enemy then the characters will start attacking the wrong one.
In compensation of this, you can pause the game to select the correct foe and even stack up spells against it which will be executed when the game is unpaused. This is all good and well of course, but if there’s one thing that’s going to ruin immersion it’s pausing the game all the time. The game also automatically pauses every time a fight is about to begin by default, which leaves you sitting there wondering what’s going on until you spot a wolves paw sticking out the top corner of the screen. Thankfully this option can be turned off in the menu.