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The Dark Eye: Drakensang – hands-on

Never heard of Drakensang? Get in line. It's an old fashioned RPG following the traditions of isometric view, point-and-click controls, and pausing the action with the good ol' spacebar. It's based on a German tabletop game known as The Dark Eye, and the property already has a sizeable fanbase, with the game aimed squarely at pleasing them, while hoping to draw in gamers who aren't so into the direction more recent RPGs have headed.

The world of Drakensang is straightforward fantasy without any particular twists thrown in – green undulating hills, medieval hamlets, elves, dwarves, etc. The game is banking on its depth to carry it, and in that regard it has complexity to spare. Right off the bat you're given a choice from among twenty character classes, and the interesting and unusual variants on what you'd expect to find don't make the decision easy. How often can you be a Dwarven Prospector in an RPG? From there you can tweak a ton of values to customize your character, a task quite daunting if you're not familiar with the Dark Eye system.

You're plopped into the world with no real introduction or story setup, which may throw some players off, while intriguing others not afraid of exploration. There are plenty of pop-up tips, but the sheer number of menus can be disorienting, which at the same time provide a staggering amount of options that will surely get serious RPG-heads salivating.

Although you start of as your single character, you can quickly build up a small party by recruiting NPCs in need of various tasks done. The process feels organic and not like the typical scenario of dramatically introducing a character that will so obviously be a party member. You just see a random NPC standing in the road, and after a conversation about their needs, you either invite them along or not. With a comrade or two in two, you're left to embark into the wild in any direction you like. It has the open feel of Oblivion's freedom, but with a more Diablo viewpoint.

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.