by Marcus Mulkins
previewed on PC
A Johann-come-lately to CRPGs
Suppose I were to announce to the world, "My company is about to bring a pencil-and-paper RPG to your computer!" How much excitement do you think that would cause? When you consider that the old SSI Dungeons & Dragons modules first appeared some 20 years ago, that Bards Tale and a host of other titles followed in their wake, that we've seen the Baldurs Gate trilogy followed by the Icewind Dale series followed by a myriad of Neverwinter Nights titles, that... I think you get the idea. Fantasy RPGs playable on your PC are nothing new. In fact, the concept is almost an antique. Sooner or later, nearly every RPG seems to have inspired a computer game. So, why should we be excited when German developer, Radon Labs announces that they will be bringing Drakensang: The Dark Eye to your PC monitor?
Well, as you may have guessed, I'm not exactly doing cartwheels here. In Germany, "The Dark Eye", produced by Fantasy Productions, is their version of AD&D, more or less. It's a pen-and-paper RPG that's been dominating that market in Germany for 20 years. It's in its fourth version now - which means, if anything, it's a well polished system. Heck, for it to still be heavily played in this age of every household with at least one PC or gaming console, that says a lot. But what really piques my interest is that the game is set in Aventuria, which is the fantasy land which spawned a series of games in the '90's, called the "Realms of Arkania" series, which were published in the US by Sir Tech. The series consisted of Blade of Destiny (1993), Star Trail (1994), and Shadows Over Riva (1996).
"Stiff" by today's standards, as the combat was a sort of phased turn-based system, the games were engrossing. I mean that the game setting was seriously fleshed out. Further, it was one of the first RPGs I encountered that had an incredibly intricate skill-based system for developing characters. Instead of your usual Warrior, Cleric, Magic-User, Thief, etc. mix, you could have characters cross-train into umpteen different areas. Like, your Bard could also dabble in Alchemy; stuff like that. [Like Heinlein, I believe specialization is for insects.] The upshot of this is that even if your party lacked a MASH unit (otherwise known as a Cleric), practically any party member could help out with healing your wounded personnel after a skirmish. And the interplay of the deities in Arkania was a serious matter: the gods took their involvement seriously, so it wasn't uncommon see a score or more manifest themselves during a campaign. All this made for an incredibly rich gaming experience.
So, now we will be returning once more to Aventuria, an area of Arkania that I hold dear in my gaming memories. The only thing that remains to be seen is how well Radon Labs does compared to their Attic Entertainment forebears. Given how much the tech has advanced in the last decade, Radon Labs will be hard-pressed to produce a gaming setting fit to rival Neverwinter Nights and all its kin.
Whatever shall I do?
Good question. Radon Labs isn't spilling the beans yet - which is odd. The German-language version was released to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in late 2008 and the game won the first prize for its story and was selected as the best RPG of the year in Germany. Yet, I couldn't find anyone relating what the story is all about. All I can gather is that the story has zero relation to the "Realms of Arkania" series, so don't look for any insights there. What we DO know is that you as the player will be able to create _one_ character. Along the way, you'll be able to add up to three other permanent characters that you will directly control. In addition, you will have slots for up to four "guests", who will accompany your party for a quest or two and then go their own way.
If you've never played "The Dark Eye" p-n-p, or the earlier Arkania series, trust me, character creation will be a treat. Besides the usual Strength, Intelligence, etc., positive traits, you also have several negative traits to factor in: superstition, acrophobia, claustrophobia, avarice, etc. Then there's several score of skills to flesh out, as well as scores of spells to select for your spell-casting quiver. And lets not forget the potion making details for the alchemy-inclined amongst us! Radon will lay out about 50 archetypes (for those that want to just jump in and get the show on the road!), but you will be able to mix and match your own concoction to your heart's content.