When writing reviews, it's important to stay objective and attempt not to be prejudiced against a given title. Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to stay completely objective and non-objectivity can easily cloud a review. With that said, I was not overly excited about sitting down and playing Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates. Five straight hours later, I had learned some humility, as Drakan continually surprised me with its depth, graphics, sound and production.
Drakan is a 3D adventure game that puts the player in control of Rynn, a voluptuous heroine coming to save the proverbial day. Her “sidekick” Arokh, a large red dragon, is there to aid her on her quest. Drakan utilizes many of the same devices as other 3D adventure games but implements everything very well and in the end, emerges a highly addictive package.
The graphics in Drakan, at first impression, are quite impressive. Draw distance is phenomenal and the framerate rarely, if ever, skips. Character models are very well done and animation is very smooth. Some of Rynn’s animations did need a little bit of work and this is most noticeable when Rynn rolls, as it does not appear entirely natural. I found Rynn’s model too be a little bit too Barbie-like as she is very out of proportion. I understand this is the popular look, but I think its been taken too far. Male and enemy models are exceptional, and the facial textures are excellent. Characters appear to speak and react quite well and it complements the voice acting perfectly. Now, I said that the graphics are impressive on first impression, what I failed to mention is how much better they get as you play the game. Drakan’s designers and programmers put a tremendous amount of effort into making the obese world as detailed as possible. The mountain sides are covered with lush grass and the artic caps appear blisteringly cold. Large weather effects, such as rain, play integral parts in the story and are very well used. It is possible to see through Arokh’s wings as he flies, and rivers glisten as if light were reflecting off them. Arokh in total is very well animated and has several different idle animations that help keep the game believable.
The level of detail in Drakan struck me while I was exploring the underground, standing next to some elevators. The counterweights on the elevator rock as if the rope was unwinding ever so slightly. This attention to detail really helps to suck the player into the game. There is a myriad of other standard effects that are well implemented: lens flares, weapon sparks, excellent shadows, and flame heat. Overall the graphics are very well done, but they are not without their problems. When exploring the very large world, it is possible to notice distant mountains changing shape as the engine determines how to properly draw them. Up close, the flowers and grass fill in a little bit too close to the player. Although it’s not as discrete as some other games, it’s still noticeable and a little distracting. My complaints overall are pretty minor and I really enjoyed the graphical detail and richness of Drakan.
The sound in Drakan is just as impressive as the graphics. Voice acting is very well done with just a couple of blaring exceptions. Arokh’s voice is a little too throaty and sounds like a poor Sean Connery impression. The rest of the voice acting more than makes up for this, as there is a very large amount of acting that occurs. Each creature you encounter has multiple sayings to respond with and this adds great depth to Drakan. I especially like the blacksmith’s very humorous dialogue. While the voice acting is excellent, the sound effects are a little bit weak. The effects are not nearly as well recorded, nor do they have the depth of the speech. I found Rynn’s jump noise to be especially grating, and likened it to the sound of a stuck pig squealing. Sound effects are well modeled in the environment and fade or amplify as you move relative to their source. Drakan’s music consists of a standard adventure score that is better than average. I found the music to be very inspiring but after a while, I just tuned it out as I’d heard it so much before.
Drakan is built on top of solid 3D adventure gameplay and while it does not take the genre anywhere new, it is an excellent example of what the genre has become. Drakan’s story is standard but well-written. Rynn and Arokh are set to the task of discovering what evil is plaguing the land and are determined to stop it. The story becomes clearer as the game progresses and lacks many of the twists and turns found in larger scale games such as Final Fantasy X. There are numerous quests and optional sub-quests that consume much time and help to add replay value to the game. The quests lack some depth in that they are often “find-kill-collect” missions. I don’t fault Drakan for this, but I feel that the serious adventure gamer should be aware of it.
A large amount of Drakan revolves around combat and I feel that the developers did an excellent job of implementing Drakan’s combat system. The controls are easily mastered and with 50 weapons and many spells to choose from, there is a large amount of variation in what the player is able to do. Fighting does become bash and slash after awhile, as the enemy A.I. is quite dumb. Spells help significantly and are complemented by an awesome gesture system that allows for the summoning of magic. Weapon and inventory selection is implemented through the use of “hot-slots”, which allow quick access to needed items. This helps to prevent frequent inventory accesses and proves to be very convenient. I think that shields are a waste of time, as the game seems to be all too happy to de-equip them whenever a spell change or weapon change occurs. I would have liked to be able to pick weapon packages that specify a certain group of inventory items to equip, but that might be asking for a little too much. The enemy A.I. is poor as enemies seem to have very few reactions; sometimes they run, sometimes they fight, and sometimes they just stand there staring into space. The game does provide for target locking which helps simplify combat greatly and eliminates much of the target confusion present in other 3D adventure games.
After some opening quests, it becomes possible to ride Arokh and further explore the world. This is a great character and story device as he helps to make many of the quests possible. Aerial combat and magic are very exciting and I feel they are implemented much better than land-based combat. I enjoyed firing on ground-based enemies and watching them run for cover. Arokh proves to be a constant companion and is always available to Rynn for aid.
The large size and complexity of the world of Drakan helps to make for an exciting adventure game and while not genre-redefining, Drakan is very well done. I compliment the developers for creating such an addicting and well-executed game.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Drakan and I think that true adventure fans will really enjoy this game. If you’re not an adventure fan, I would still give Drakan a shot as it has a lot to offer. Cheers to Drakan for being a well-rounded, well done game.