|The taverns of this land are a little unfriendly.|
Drakkhen is probably the strangest game that I've played since Le Maitre des Ames, which was actually in French. It is at once innovative and incomprehensible, intriguing and infuriating. It is unthinkable that I would quit a game with so many good features, and equally unthinkable that I'd play to the end a game with so many bad features.
There have been many times during the course of this blog in which I have listed two "active" games at the same time, but I can't think of any other times in which I have literally played two games at the same time--as in, I have a NetHack window open next to the Drakkhen window, and I switch to the former when I just can't take the latter any more (or when I have to wait for hit points to regenerate).
- The game's approach to night and day is more sophisticated than any other so far, even Hero's Quest, which kept track of time fairly well and did interesting things with the day/night cycle. In Drakkhen, you palpably experience daybreak, morning, noon, afternoon, sunset, midnight, and all the stages in between. You can actually see the sun rise, move across the sky, and set over the mountains. They even include these cycles while you're indoors, so you can see it get darker or lighter through the castle's windows. At night, the stars form very pretty constellations, and at dawn and dusk, even I can tell that they've done some impressive stuff with the colors in the sky.
|The sun sets on another day of adventuring.|
- Sometimes, those constellations turn into monsters, fly out of the sky, and kill you instantly.
- The game has one of the largest outdoor worlds of any game I've played so far, and you explore it in a continuously-scrolling 3-D interface not a million miles removed from The Elder Scrolls: Arena, which won't be out for another five years.
- While you're walking through this outdoor world, you'd better take care not to accidentally bump into any grave markers, because a demon dog's head will erupt from the ground and destroy you.
- The game manual tells an interesting story of a mysterious island continent of dragon folk (Drakkhen) discovered just after the last dragon is slain in the human world, and magic starts to fail because of it.
- Once the game starts, no references are made to the back story in the manual (at least not for me, so far), and the plot seems to involve dragon folk of different elements at war with each other.
|Something is amiss in Drakkhen-land.|
- Enemies you encounter in the wilderness are unnamed but interesting and varied, including things that look like lizard men, orcs, alligators, bats, scorpions, spiders, and of course dragons.
|This one almost looks friendly.|
- And when you encounter them, they come sliding onto the screen like Tom Cruise about to sing "Old Time Rock & Roll."
- Then, when combat begins, it...well, let's just say that if you ever meet someone who doesn't speak English, and he's confused about what the term "cluster#$@" means, you need only show him a few seconds of this GIF:
- The landscape is dotted with houses and taverns, where you get clues from various local folk about affairs political, magical, and martial.
- And you also get clues from some mysterious old man who suddenly appears in the middle of the road to spout nonsense.
- Every time I leave a main road, I die.
- There's a north-south line of flashing arrows in one part of the map. Half the time I try to cross it (and you have to cross it to get between key areas), I'm attacked and slaughtered by a dragon.
|A beautifully-rendered dragon, I should add.|
- My healing spells actually work about 1/6 of the time. Because of this, I have to spend a lot of time standing around waiting to heal. But regeneration is like the watched pot that never boils. Half an hour might go by in which my health bar doesn't move at all. Then, suddenly, when I wasn't looking, it'll be back to full.
As I said, a strange game.
Plotwise, I haven't advanced considerably since the first posting. My all-female party got locked in a loop of endless death with one of the constellation demon-dragon things, so I had to start anew. Since my female party had fared so poorly, I made my new party composed of all males--Ferdinand the Fighter, Berowne the Scout, Longaville the Priest, and Dumaine the Magician--four comrades who have sworn off the company of females for the duration of their adventure.
|This is a man's job.|
They assailed the Drakkhen Prince of Earth's fortress and did better than the previous party. Thanks to some hints on my first posting, I found a suit of armor in the dragon prince's room, and I returned and got it twice (it respawns when you leave and return), only to find that only my fighter and scout could wear the cuirass, and my mage couldn't wear any of it.
|Why the enormous dragon prince is displaying human-sized armor is left unexplained.|
Everyone got some weapon and armor upgrades, though, including swords found in the castle and various other items--helms, shirts, shields, and such--looted from enemies post-battle. Different pieces of armor aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Ferndiand is wearing a shirt, a jacket, and a cuirass, and getting some armor benefit from all three pieces.
|My scout and some of his gear.|
I should mention that the character who strikes the killing blow against each enemy gets loaded up with that enemy's gear, which is almost always worse than anything the character already has. This means I have to spend a minute or so after each combat dropping the unneeded bucklers, daggers, and other junk gear I automatically pick up. (The game manual makes a big deal that you're dropping the item "down a bottomless pit" instead of just saying that you discarded it. This seems a little excessive. I didn't want to carry the extra dagger; I didn't hate it.)
The four guys were also able to successfully take on the east wing of the palace, where they killed a couple more of the prince's minions and got a sceptre which bestows the "Understanding" ability on the wielder. The manuals I have don't have anything to say about "abilities," so I don't know what that does.
|I apologize for the dark image; I visited at night.|
With the map helpfully linked by Rob, and shankao's advice to watch the sun, I was able to find east and--after several attempts in which I got killed--visit the Princess of Earth in her palace. Unfortunately, it had recently been destroyed and ransacked, apparently by the forces of the Prince of Fire, and she asked me to convey this back to the Prince, which I did. In saying stuff like this, you have to understand that I'm eliding long stretches of time in which I attempted to get from one place to the other but was killed or got so lost I had to reload.
The Prince of Earth was unhappy, and asked me to pay a visit to the Prince of Water, for no reason that I could understand.
|Wait...in what way, exactly, are you helping me?|
I thought my party was here to stop the Drakkhen from taking over the world, so I'm not sure why I'm running errands for them. Anyway, when I got to the Prince of Water's castle (again, multiple tries, deaths, etc.), I found a trap worse than the shark in the Prince of Earth's moat: every time I tried to cross the drawbridge, it slammed shut, crushing whatever characters happened to be on it.
|Note the blood splatter at the top.|
Nothing I tried would work, so I wandered away dejectedly. At a nearby house, though, I found a recently-dismissed former servant of the Prince of Water who was all too happy to tell me that "only magic may keep the dragon's jaws open." If he was referring to a spell, none of my existing ones--heal, lightning bolt, cure--seemed to be good candidates, so I figured I'd better explore and grind until I had a larger selection.
This would be a good time to mention the huge disparity in experience and leveling that I'm experiencing. As I write, my fighter is Level 4 and my scout is Level 5. My priest and magician? Both still Level 1. This is because of the way experience is rewarded for combat, with at least most (if not all) going to the character that struck the killing blow. I really dislike when games do this. If I want to level the weaker characters specifically, I need to have them fight individually in combat, but my combat survival rate is already low enough with all my characters attacking at once. Maybe it's something I can try later.
Anyway, in an attempt to grind, I explored the rest of the road network in the starting section of the island. The various sections of the island are differentiated by color, and there's a sharp divide (and a brief load) when you cross from one to the other. The initial zone, which I'm probably-incorrectly going to call "green" (Irene is asleep and can't verify) had a succession of houses in which the occupants offered a cryptic word or two. And as I mentioned above, some weird old guy with a beard and cane keeps popping up to comment on the action.
|This might be a clue to getting across the shark-infested moat.|
Eventually, I exhausted my exploration abilities in the green zone, encountering a number of outdoor monsters along the way, and I spent some time grinding in a more traditional way. The Prince of Earth's castle has this foyer where you have to touch the right rune to dissolve the entrance barriers. If you touch the wrong room, two hunchback-looking guys appear and fight you. From what I can tell, you can get unlimited experience just hitting the wrong rune repeatedly, killing the hunchbacks, and saving if you don't die.
So that's where I remain at the end of this posting, unsure how to cross the drawbridge or where to go next. I'll keep at it. The difficulty doesn't bother me that much. In some ways, it's not dissimilar to Might & Magic, another game that didn't give you much idea where to go, but also didn't hesitate to be mercilessly lethal if you went off the beaten track. I just wish I had a clearer idea of...I don't know...what this game's "deal" is. It feels like it was designed by some guys who had a lot of good ideas, but only when they were drunk.
As you can see, I've been experimenting a little bit with GIFs in my entries as a median between static shots and actual video (which I'm not ditching; I'll still do one or two per game). I'm not always going to go nuts with them, like I did here, but I figured if there was going to be any problems, they'd more likely occur with multiple GIFs than just one. As far as I can tell, they work well, but I don't know what weird ways you're all getting my entries. (I seem to be the only person left in the world who reads blog postings by actually visiting the blogs.) Let me know what does or doesn't work for you.