Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates
To be honest I thought the basic premise of Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates sounded slightly interesting. This action RPG features a big fantasy world, a dragon that can burninate things and there’s even a protagonist with large breasts that rides the beast to glory in a presumably provocative manner (or something like that). It’s too bad that all the action that happens off the dragon is so boring.
Playing as Rynn, a busty adventurer mentally linked to a rare dragon, you have to save the world from a generic evil race. Zzzzzzzz. The townspeople always have funny comments about Rynn’s lack of clothing and other irreverent things, but the main plot takes itself too seriously. If some of this humor was brought to the main quest then things would have been much more enjoyable. Sadly, the dull and uninspired narrative doesn’t exactly make for a rip-roaring time.
At least the portions where you fly around on a dragon are entertaining. The beast handles very responsively and the massive outdoor environments make dive bombing and soaring through the skies a joy. Fighting with other dragons is also exciting thanks to the intuitive lock-on system and different kinds of breath attacks.
It’s just too bad that the decent aerial combat only take up about 35% of the entire game according to my very unscientific calculations. The other 65% percent is spent on foot wandering through many bland dungeons. The problem isn’t the controls since Rynn dishes out combos and evasive rolls intuitively with the targeting system. She even has the ability to whip out a bow and pick off enemies. The problem lies in just how boring combat is. The best strategy for almost every battle is to bust out a 3-hit combo, roll backwards as the enemy attacks, and then repeat the process ad infinitum. Obviously this quickly grows extremely tedious. It doesn’t help that the many dungeons are so big. There are plenty of enemies and the few rare puzzles are incredibly simple. Drakan just comes down to enormous amounts of hacking and slashing.
There are quite a few spells that try to spice up the combat such as the useful Time Slow and various offensive fireballs and the like. It’s too bad the magic system is such a pain to use in the midst of combat. In order to equip a spell you’ll have to go into the menu and click on the spell (all while enemies are attacking you) or you can unequip your weapon, come to a complete stop, and then execute a short sequence of directional button taps. Once again, this is done while you’re getting attacked. A way to automatically equip spells would have been a delight. You can quick-equip items, so such a system for magic seems feasible. Perhaps one wasn’t implemented to add some challenge, but Drakan would still remain a fairly difficult game, so this omission is simply unnecessary.
As flawed as the gameplay off the dragon is, there are still some rare moments that hint at a better game. There’s this great Return of the Jedi-inspired battle with an enormous monster. Another memorable moment is the one dungeon in the game that actually feels unique. This snow-covered forest is crawling with strange robots armed with deadly laser beams. Simply charging head-on will get quickly get yourself killed so you have to run from tree to tree as if they were tank traps in an Omaha Beach level.
Some other things that Drakan manages to get right are the many sidequests and RPG elements. The abundant (and sometimes lengthy) sidequests net you with rare weapons, interesting boss battles and of course, experience points. When a level-up is achieved a stat point can either be used to upgrade melee skills, archery or magic. Although this character customization is a bit simplistic it still adds a bit of depth.
Unfortunately, there are also a few annoying problems that bring Drakan down again. The load times in-between the large stages are simply horrendous. Also, each memory card save takes up 1.5 Mb. This problem is made worse by the fact that there is a game ruining bug that makes it so you lose your dragon, therefore making Drakan impossible. It’s fairly easy to avoid this bug, but all you have to do is enter a stage on foot as opposed to on your dragon. Even so, it’s probably a good idea to have a couple save files even though they’ll take up most of your memory card.
Despite all the problems it’s evident that at least the sense of scale was masterfully done. As I’ve said many times before the environments are absolutely enormous, especially when seen from high atop your dragon. When you land the epic scale becomes especially evident. Enemies that once looked like ants now tower over Rynn. Granted, the view distance isn’t the greatest and the areas are particularly detailed, but this can be excused when the sheer scope of Draken is handled so well. Like some of the details, the music is also a bit sparse. At least what’s there is appropriately rousing while flying around and effectively creepy when traversing a dark dungeon. The voice acting is also decent enough, but many of the villains tend to overact as if they were in a cartoon or something.
Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates isn’t a terrible game. In fact, 35% of it is quite good. It’s just that other 65% that is disappointingly lackluster. The moments where you’re soaring through the countryside burninating trolls and stuff are great but the bland dungeons are far too prevalent. Proceed with caution if you plan on giving Drakan a ride.