Reviewed: June 14, 2002
Reviewed by: Mat Houghton
Sony Computer Entertainment
Sequels like Drakan: The Ancients' Gates are hard games to judge. Is it as good as the original; is it any cooler? Did they keep all the good stuff and then trump it? Did they keep the nude code? Unfortunately, I canít answer any of these questions for you, except maybe that last one. Iím pretty sure they didnít add any specials like that on a console game. See, I never played the original Drakan (damn my lack of independent wealth and a good computer) excepting for a few minutes of the opening and a demo of the afore mentioned nude patch.
Differences between the two that I am sure of are that this sequel is on the PS2 while the original was PC, there are noticable graphic improvements, and of course the plot line is much more fleshed out than the original. And while the game shares characters and events from the original, it still remains it's own unique entity so that those unfamiliar with the original will have no trouble stepping into Rynn's boots.
On that note Iíll only sketch in a few things. Rynn and Arokh continue to rebuild their world, and save it from the encroaching forces of darkness. This time your job is to open four gates so you can reawaken the Dragons of the Order (oh, did I mention Arokh was a dragon, and you get to ride him as he rains fire and death down on your enemies). Basically, theyíre the good guys who departed centuries ago for a well earned nap.
Now the world is being terrorized by evil sorcerers who are trying to crush humanity under their iron heel. You get the picture - kill all the bad guys, open the gates, save the day. Certainly not a problem for any hot babe and her dragon.
At first glance there is a lot to like about Drakan. It's a well-rounded adventure with minor RPG elements, heavy on quests, and light on puzzles. You will do a lot of hacking and slashing but not in a repetitive way. Monsters are limited so it's feasible to clear out an area and relax. This also keeps Rynn from getting too powerful for the adventure, as you can't gain excessive levels without advancing further into the main story.
The scale of Drakan is huge. The world is enormous, there are dozens of characters to interact with and even more weapons, armor, spells, and miscellaneous items to collect. In addition to the main story there are over 25 major side quests you can take part in for specific rewards. There are also at least a dozen other hidden quests you have to discover on your own, then find out how the puzzle works then go looking for the solution.
One of these side quests has you pushing buttons on four points of a compass. You need to find out which buttons to press and in which order and the solution is spread out across the land on eight stones that are incredibly difficult to find. Some stones are even hidden within other side quests. This particular side quest could take you 4-6 hours to complete and your reward; one of the best swords in the game.
That's the best part about Drakan. The main story almost plays a minor role to the sheer quantity of side quests and hidden surprises. There is simply so much to do that it becomes addicting to the point where you can't put down the controller until you complete just one more quest. Fortunately, your "shopping list" of quests is conveniently displayed in your journal so you always know what's left to be done.
Drakan looks fantastic. The characters are all well molded with almost no boxiness to them, especially Rynn. Character design is also good (the city watch finally have nasty looking swords, though they still get whipped), though I do wonder why all the dragons have under bites. The monsters, while being not especially diverse, are very good looking and well detailed; skeletons have blue glowing eyes that leave a trail, some monsters have armor and shields, and then thereís the frogs with the big claws.
The only complaint I have with the graphics is that while everything changes scale nicely based on your altitude while in flight, once you are on the ground a lot of the buildings seem just a little too large. You have this massive castle, but it has only a few rooms you can access, and it looks like they take up all the interior space. Itís kind of like they let a five year old design the interiors, and then made them look good on the outside. Itís a small complaint though, because otherwise everything is excellent. Just donít get so distracted looking at those Monet-like skies that you miss the bone dragon sneaking up on you.
The music comes and goes, but when it's there it accentuates the situation perfectly. Mostly its symphonic; pastoral for the cities and countryside, something a little more intense for combat and traps - theyíre scripted but quite nasty sometimes.
The better part is the voice acting. Itís the best Iíve seen on a game; especially a console game. Thereís a lot of dialogue and all the people you talk to repeatedly have at least one or two good lines (my favorite being the blacksmith in Surdana ďIf it isnít my little blood-soaked princess!Ē Uttered in a nice guttural rasp).
Drakan is a huge game that varies in length depending on how thoroughly you play it. The main game is pretty linear, go here do this, but do five other things first so you can do what you actually need to do. Typical RPG quest stuff.
In addition to these main objectives there are all sorts of side quests (most of which you have to find to even know about) to accomplish. You could have anywhere from 40 to 80 or more hours of play. The nice thing about it is that there is really no monotonous hack and slash for level building There is no endless generation of monsters, and almost everything is in some way related to a quest in some way, be it furthering the story or just greed (my favorite motivation), toys, or the desire to find all the really good stuff.
A note on trying to complete all the quests in the game: Itís really easy to miss some of them, even when youíre looking because in some places people fade into the background really well. Iíve walked by some characters twice and not noticed, only to turn around and nearly decapitate them - you really canít do that, but I did swing with intent.
Also for all of you stat loving RPG'ers out there - you will be a little disappointed that thereís only three stats in this game: Melee, Archery, and Magic. Their only function is to let you use bigger and better toys in that particular category. Note: Pick one (or two) skills and stick with it. Thereís not enough experience (only 12 points) in the entire game for you to be a bad ass in all three skills.
This is an excellent action RPG. If you like Tomb Raider you can probably get along pretty well with Drakan. If you like RPGís and are looking for something with a little more bite to it, this will be right up your alley. The graphics are great and quite detailed and the music and other sound effects are enough to keep you interested (the scrape of metal on metal is enough to make you cringe-oh my poor maul!). You might even laugh a few times. Itís well worth the $30 admission price, and will keep you gaming for at least a week assuming you have absolutely nothing else to do, like eat or sleep.