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Surreal Software



M (Mature)



Q1 2002



-Good Graphics

-Interesting Story

-Fun Side Quests



-Save system is too forgiving



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Drakan II: The Ancients' Gate

Score: 8.8/10

When the PS2 debuted, and especially in the software lull that followed the launch, there was a lot of talk about how difficult the system was to program.  Highly aliased versions of Tekken and Ridge Racer seemed to support the consensus that it was too hard to tap into the purported power of Sony’s new system.   Now, over a year later, most of that talk has died down as developers seem to have a better grasp on the architecture and middleware options have become available.  The most telling signs that developers have begun to tame the beast are the wonderful games popping up from very small developers.  Snowblind’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was a contender for most critic’s best graphics award—even beating out a number of titles on the more powerful Xbox platform.  Surreal Software’s Drakan: the Ancient Gates is not a graphical marvel of that level, but it is a title that matches up well, graphically and otherwise, with most projects from the major developers.  The care and attention given to all aspects of the game is readily apparent over the course of the over 20 hours of gameplay.

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Drakan is a pure adventure game.  Some platforming elements are present in most levels, but these are not nearly as annoying here as they are in Half-life or the Tomb Raider games thanks to both their simplicity and the game’s precise control.  The adventure takes place all across a huge medieval world populated by power mages and strange beasties galore.  One requirement I have for any adventure game is that it take me to a world I haven’t seen before and one that I can believe in;  Drakan does both with the aid of lovely graphics and art design.





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Despite not using any true full screen anti-aliasing, Drakan presents very little in the way of “jaggies.”  This is done by carefully choosing from a low contrast color palette.  There is rarely a moment when a creature or background object shows much separation from the overall environment.  It shows that art design can be as powerful a tool for great graphics as technical prowess, and it shows why the PS2, though underpowered, still has the potential to shine next to its competitors.


Still, I doubt Drakan will be remembered in the future as a graphics showcase.  The graphics are good and clean, but they are not stunning by any means.  The gameplay, on the other hand, might go down as some of the best in this generation.  At least some of the appeal comes from the ability to take to the air on the back of main character Rynn’s trusty dragon companion Arokh.  It is easy to waste a tremendous amount of time simply gliding and diving through the air.  The controls are perfect, the world is vast, the draw distance is solid, and the whole concept is just incredibly cool. 

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Even without the dragon flight sim aspects, Drakan’s gameplay is more than solid.  Rynn has access to plenty of spells and even more weapons.  Changes in armor and weaponry are reproduced visually on the character model.  Rynn grows in stats and abilities as the game progresses giving the game a light RPG feel without ever dragging the player down into micromanagement Hell.  All these abilities are put to the test during combat with a vast and creatively designed cast of creatures.

The difficulty level does not get too hard, but it definitely provides a challenge.  This challenge is stymied, however, by one of the most controversial aspects of any adventure game, the save system.  Drakan uses a save-anywhere system, just like most gamers prefer, and while I agree that it is annoying in games to be forced to start an entire level over when I have died near the end, I still feel save-anywhere systems completely undermine the difficulty of any game.  It is simply too easy to save after every little challenge and quickly work through all of the levels.  A better option here would have been to scatter a solid amount of save points throughout the levels.  This would have eliminated the need to restart at the beginning and stiffened the difficulty considerably.

Finding places to put those save points would be easy since the game features a linear mission structure.  You can do most of the missions in any order, but you must do nearly all of the missions to advance.  Surreal has added a large number of side quests, something missing from the PC original, and they help provide a less linear feel and actually provide some solid emotion if the player is paying attention to the story.

Other than the save system (which I’m not inclined to deduct many points for because I know it is a plus to a lot of gamers), there is little to complain about with Drakan.  The hacking and slashing can become repetitive certainly, but I have played very few combat heavy adventure games where this was not the case.  Approaching twenty hours of gameplay, the value of the game is very high, and, in the end, the game simply feels like such a labor of love that it is hard not to like it.  The attention to detail, the story, the action, the graphics—everything about the game is solid and well thought out.  Anyone who likes fantasy adventure games is likely to be happy with their purchase.

- Tolen Dante

(March 10, 2002)

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