It’s a story that, at this stage, is in danger of being done to death. But Drakensang Online is yet another MMO that has a dragon as its big bad. Where it strays from the beaten path, however, is by being a free-to-play action based romp that feels fresh and enjoyable whilst overflowing with accessibility. Developer Bigpoint Games hasn’t revolutionized the genre by any stretch, but that certainly doesn’t mean you should overlook this title. Read on to find out why you should spend some time exploring the world of Duria, even if your stay perhaps won’t last indefinitely.
Aesthetics – 9
From the moment you start playing the game, it’s a visual feast. Many aspects of Drakensang Online remind me of Guild Wars, and the character models and armor design are two examples of this. The world is portrayed in a realistic style with fantasy elements added in and it’s brilliantly executed. It’s gorgeous to look at and every zone is varied. Pains-taking work has been done in terms of color palletes and environmental design to make sure that even if you’re exploring two marshes, they don’t feel the same. Similarly, within the larger zones there are seamless transitions between locales. To go from abandoned settlement to misty marsh to gnarled forest whilst never having your sense of immersion jarred is no mean feat, and I can’t commend the game highly enough for managing it.
The wealth of colors used in the creation of the world spills over into the spell effects and animations of the three classes, all of which are varied and appealing. Whether you’re a spellweaver causing the earth to be sundered by bright flashes of lightning, a dragonknight whirling his blades in a circle around him, or a ranger gracefully vaulting over the head of an enemy, it looks incredible. Enemies, on the other hand, aren’t quite so varied and regularly use the same spells even if they themselves look different. I actually found this useful, however, due to the fact that enemies often attacked in large groups. Knowing what was attacking me and the damage I should expect to take from their assaults was very beneficial.
There’s nothing new from the game’s UI, but everything is clearly laid out and the option to rearrange skills is provided. If you combine both the mouse and keybinding bars down the bottom of the screen, there’s currently enough room to have every skill available to a class at your fingertips. More skills are on the way, which could ruin this, but as it stands it made a nice change for me to have a wealth of choice from my abilities without going into my skills menu to rejig my action bar every 20 seconds.
It’s the map screen which has to be my UI highlight, though. As the camera is at a fixed, top-down angle, it can sometimes be a struggle to figure out where you’re going. If you bring up the map, it’s slightly transparent to allow you to see through it and continue your adventures with greater awareness. It isn’t overly cluttered, though quest givers and objectives do spring up on it once you’re close enough. I thought this in particular worked well with the rest of the game, was unobtrusive and really made completing quests a lot cleaner and quicker.
In terms of sound, there isn’t much to say other than it does it’s job perfectly. Each zone has an ambience that suits its aesthetics and the soundtrack is produced by a varied range of instruments. Indeed, variety is the name of the game here as spells and attacks have myriad different noises and enemies even have different battlecries. It’s tightly packaged and really helps to create and immerse you in the world of Duria.
Gameplay - 8
Drakensang Online is an action game and, as a result, combat is where it really shines. It’s fun, fast paced and surprisingly tactical. All of this is complimented by a small but well designed range of skills which are unique to the three classes. Whether you’re a melee focused dragonknight, ranged spellweaver or a ranger who can happily switch between either style, combat feels frenetic and exciting. Part of this is undoubtedly down to it being an action game, where you have to manually aim at enemies rather than just target them and wait until they fall over.
But it’s how you input your commands during combat that really gives the game a sense of immediacy. Along with the standard action bar that you can place your skills onto, you can set three attacks onto the mouse buttons. Left click always casts the same attack whilst pressing tab alternates what spell you have bound to the right button. It’s quite an exciting system, and I found myself swapping skills on the fly to make sure I was using the best skill for the situation. AOE, cone and splash damage attacks are all featured. As enemies often attack from all angles and at a mixture of melee and ranged, you need to be constantly thinking and adapting. All classes need to have positional awarness and this helps stop the game from feeling static despite the top-down camera angle employed. Some projectile attacks can also pass through enemies, meaning if you’re kiting a couple of stronger foes it may be worth snaring one, then lining them up for maximum damage.
I’m aware I’m gushing at this stage, but it needs to be said. The combat is great. You aren’t overwhlemed by superfluous and useless skills; every one has a clearly defined purpose. It required me to be reactive and focused, resulting in the most engaging combat experience I’ve had in some time. You can even use the different terrain levels to kite enemies and gain a situational advantage. Whilst you can’t jump, every class gets a different movement skill. As a ranger I could vault up cliffs, allowing me to LOS tougher enemies and fight the battle on my terms. There’s also something to be said about having to avoid enemy projectiles. Some pack a mighty wallop if you get hit by them, so taking your eyes off the ball for a couple of seconds seldom ends well. As you probably guessed, the combat was the standout thing for me. It’s a classic example of action gaming done well; it felt fresh and kept me engaged.
There are a couple of drawbacks however. There’s no mob tagging system, meaning if someone stronger comes along at the end of a lengthy battle then you won’t get credit or loot from from your foe. Thankfully respawn times aren’t very long and you usually have enough going on in any given zone to go elsewhere if someone is griefing you. The other thing I feel could do with some tweaking are essences. Each class had unique ones which either make attacks stronger or add an effect like a slow to them. I just found getting hold of them to be a bit of a nightmare, so frequently didn’t bother unless I received them as drops. It’s an interesting attempt to add another layer to combat, but unnecessary.
Quests are nothing new, consisting of the usual mix of fetch, carry and kill. This is saved by the combat being different enough that you don’t feel bored, but it’s still a shame. There also isn’t really a proper tutorial, and you hit the ground running. Some people may like this, but I found my introduction to the combat to be slightly terrifying as a result. Skill acquisition is well staggered though so at no stage do you receive a new ability without having had the opportunity to master the previous ones.
There’s a primitive crafting system, which is quite interesting. Like Guild Wars, dropped items have their stats hidden and must be formally ‘identified’ before you can use them. If you choose not to do this however, four items of the same quality can be combined to create a random item of higher quality. It’s an interesting idea, but there’s too much RNG in it for me. All I needed at one stage was a blue weapon, so combined four green unidentified weapons only to be presented with…a blue ring. Of which I already had three. Having said that drops are plentiful, and it provides an outlet other than a vendor for getting rid of surplus loot with a chance of a nice reward.
For the PvP enthusiasts, there’s a fair amount of things on offer. Firstly, players can register for world PvP for a small fee which makes them able to engage in combat with other players out in the world on PvE servers. There’s also a PvP server where this is on all the time. Otherwise you can choose between a 1v1 duel, 3v3 team deathmatch or 5v5 capture the flag. All of these are surprisingly fun and take place in well designed arenas. The only drawbacks are that if you come up against a higher level opponent you’re screwed, and the rewards offered for participating in PvP didn’t really feel substantial enough to me. It’s very enjoyable, but as part of the overall experience rather than as the focus of it.
Innovation – 7
While it doesn’t do anything new, Drakensang Online takes the existing properties of the genre and doesn’t let standards slip. Everything is married beautifully, from combat to the aesthetics and it’s a slick repackaging that feels appealing to play even if it evokes other MMOs at every turn. To my mind though, it moves above being a homage and is genuinely entertaining in its own right.
The fact is whilst it doesn’t really progress the genre in any meaningful way, it does manage to present its seductively packaged offering in a way that never feels trite, tired or overdone. I’ve said before it evokes elements of Guild Wars, and it’s just as inoffensive. A well-made game that doesn’t break the mould but is remarkably engaging nonetheless.
Polish – 7
I didn’t experience any gameplay bugs during my time with the game, but there were some lag and FPS issues which really irritated me. They seemed to be at their worst in the starting areas but did get better as the game progressed. It just didn’t run quite as smoothly as I hoped it would. The fact that there were extended periods of time when everything ran perfectly makes it all the more frustrating that there were jumpy bits. If you’re experiencing the issues, try to keep playing as they do even out…eventually.
Longevity – 6.5
The levelling process is enjoyable enough, but at endgame there isn’t that much to do. There are dungeons knocking about along with the PvP part of the game I mentioned, but it just doesn’t feel as fun as the levelling. You can alter the difficulty of earlier dungeons to make them tougher for better loot but it all seems a bit pointless without increasing tiers of bosses to kill. There’s also the big bad Herold to kill in pursuit of legendries but as there are no harder enemies to use this gear on, it kind of feels like an empty reward.
Whilst the classes are varied enough that I wouldn’t mind levelling another as it’d feel very different, the zones and quests would remain the same which is a drag. The game hasn’t been out that long and I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t more content on the way, but for now there isn’t as much as I’d like at endgame. In the end though, with 40 levels to play through in interesting zones with exciting combat, it’s probably worth it anyway. Not every MMO has to start at endgame, after all.
Social – 7
Again, there’s little missing here but nothing overly new. Chat, groups and guilds are all present and correct. The same goes for a friend’s list, and the group interface is set up quite nicely in terms of displaying other players’ health etc. There’s a small niggle I have, which is a community problem rather than a game problem. I play in the EU and on all the servers I tested people spoke tersely and didn’t interact at the lower levels. As I moved on to higher areas, it got better as people were looking for groups and things, but as a word of warning don’t be holding out too much hope for group dungeons early in your adventure.
Value – 7.5
The main thing you’ll be purchasing in the game is ‘Andermant’ which can be exchanged for a variety of things. It’s used to fund some fast travel and also buy special items and gear. Pretty much all of these things though seem to be quality of life improvements, rather than gamebreaking pay-to-win transactions. It’s also not that expensive to buy Andermant should you want to be able to move around a bit quicker, or stock up on items for a specific reason. There’s a chance Andermant will drop from foes and it regularly comes as a quest reward, so there are alternative ways to gather it. Those ways takes a lot longer (a hell of a lot longer) but it’s doable if you really object to buying it with cash. Other than that, welcome to the land of the free.
What it all comes down to is this: it’s worth your while playing this game. Does it revolutionise the genre? No, but it does provide a very enjoyable gameplay experience that will cost you nothing but the time of a small download. Whilst it may not have the wealth of content offered by Guild Wars, it does have the beautiful aesthetics without the added price of a game box. If you’re one of those people who firmly believes that a game without endgame isn’t a game at all, then it’s worth steering clear for the time being. But you’re doing yourself a disservice, because this game is wonderfully enjoyable both to play and look at.
If nothing else, come for the combat. With TERA on the horizon it’s refreshing to know that the future of the action MMO isn’t restricted to just one title. There are a lot of things that Bigpoint Games have done well here. It may not be the game that occupies you indefinitely, or even for that long…but I defy anyone to try it out and claim it was a waste of their time