Drakan: The Ancients' Gates
Once, hundreds of years ago, dragons and humans had an alliance, but that alliance was destroyed in a great and terrible war that drove the dragons into a long slumber and put Drakan into a time of chaos and decay. The Spirit Dragons, protectors of the empire, are trapped within a series of gates and a race of evil beings called the Desert Lords are working to enslave humankind. With the aid of the Spirit Dragons, the Desert Lords could be defeated, but only a dragon can open the gates and there is only one of the Elder Breed of dragons awake in this dark time. This one is Arokh, the very dragon you, Rynn, are bonded to. Together you could save Drakan, or guarantee its ruin.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Initially all games have a learning curve and Drakan: The Ancient's Gates is no exception, but right up front, the game provides you with the option to practice the skills you are going to need immediately and offering tips on how to do things across the top of the screen the first time you do them. Rynn, a female warrior, is easy enough to maneuver and the real time combat is superb. Hand to hand combat is both varied and challenging. You fight enemy warriors and monsters up close, from a distance, and in the air. Some opponent's approach in the normal fashion, others drop down from the ceiling and still others fly in from above. I have had enemies run or cower down after a potent magical attack and, when shooting with my bow, have had them step behind objects and even laugh at me. Often they will run for or call out their companions when they see you coming and many of them will give chase if you run.
Magical spells are invoked with a unique set of hand movements that must be remembered for each spell, making magic what it should be, a learned skill for the character and the player. Both magic and bow range attacks are made a bit easier with the targeting feature, however, in some cases when you cannot seem to target with the bow, there is a zoom feature that comes in handy for getting enemies in challenging spots. Targeting is also a handy feature when fighting hand to hand as it allows you to dodge attacks without loosing track of your opponent. On the down side, you have to release your targeting in order to run away from an opponent, which can be frustrating in the heat of battle, at least until you get the hang of it.
Drakan also offers a unique aspect that few games, other than its PC based predecessor Drakan: Order of the Flame, can boast at this time. In Drakan you can ride your companion Arokh, a magnificent dragon of the Elder Breed. From his back you can fly through the skies and battle enemies. His movement is a bit more challenging to master, but well worth the effort. This ability to soar through the sky on a dragon's back is more than most Fantasy Adventure and RPG gamers can resist and is almost worth the investment by itself.
Another great feature worth mentioning is their unique way of dealing with limited inventory space. As you adventure through dungeons and pick up treasure, most of the unusable items, such as gems, that you would have to sell anyway are automatically converted to gold. This allows for variety in treasure without the hassle of selling it all later. Definitely, a nice touch that most RPG players can appreciate after all the game time spent deciding what inventory item you want to drop so you can pick up something else.
Unfortunately, the game looses some of its interaction when dealing with NPCs. When you engage in conversation with someone, the game takes over and you sit back to watch. There are no answer choices. The NPC talks, Rynn responds, you are essentially an unnecessary bystander. Additionally, if you rescue an NPC, by opening a prison door for instance, they will thank you for their freedom, but apparently were not overly excited about it as, if you pass by again some time later, they are still standing there.
Also on the down side, Rynn or an enemy she is fighting will periodically become stuck in some invisible barriers that should, by all appearances, be navigable areas. This can also be frustrating if you go to hide in one of these apparently open areas and get killed when you discover too late that it is not so open. I had one monster, upon his death, become suspended mid-fall, although some parts of his body did appear on the ground below him.
This is the one area where Drakan falls a bit short, but ultimately, you won't be playing this game for the graphics. The scenery is nice, though the graphics tend to be a bit angular and not overly refined. One of the places you are continuously reminded of this is with the poor design and movement of Arokh's jaw when he speaks.
Low level NPCs tend to all look generally alike. It feels a bit repetitive when you rescue one man's daughter in a dungeon and she looks identical to another man's wife whom you rescue a short time later. Perhaps it is just a small town, but a bit more variety in the appearance of people you will be interacting with would be welcome. On the other hand, the more critical NPCs tend to have more original, detailed appearances, and make up, to some degree, for the lack in the others.
All around the audio does not really stand out, which is fine with me. The mood is enhanced by subdued music that is almost inaudible in some dungeons, therefore, not annoying or distracting. When Rynn is moving around, the sound of her footsteps changes with the terrain. The general sounds of background details such as fire and water are nicely done and add good atmosphere to the game. Over all most of the voice acting is convincing, especially on the more key characters.
Room for Improvement
Drakan is a great game with an interesting storyline and many wonderful features that will captivate you for hours of gameplay. However, this game suffers from several unnecessary flaws. With a little more time focused on graphic details and the prevention of issues such as getting stuck in the scenery, the game could have truly excelled. On a lesser note and mentionable only for the lack of creativity it denotes, the main character, Rynn, bears a striking resemblance in appearance, attitude and voice to the renowned Laura Croft of the extremely popular Tomb Raider series.
There are two areas of this game that are worth mentioning again. The first of these is the delightful ability to ride and control Arokh in flight. The second of these is an excellent real time combat system enhanced even more by a notably cunning AI.
All told, Drakan is a game that bridges the gap between Fantasy Adventure and RPG in such a way that fans of both genres will be able to enjoy. I strongly recommend this for fantasy fans of any genre and feel it is safe to say that the positives far outweigh the negatives in this wonderful and genuinely absorbing game. Take the time to play this game and stretch your dragon's wings.