Rise and Shiny recap: Drakensang Online

Drakensang Online screenshot
This week I was excited to spend some more time exploring Drakensang Online, the latest version in the long-running RPG series. I'd barely touched anything from the previous games, so I was blissfully unaware of what to expect from this one. I knew that Bigpoint was involved, so I had a feeling that the cash shop would be controversial but very convenient. I had also viewed screenshots and watched videos from before, so I was ready to see just how it would run on a basic laptop with three gigs of ram.

The experience turned out more or less as expected, but it did throw me a few curveballs. Click past the cut and let's talk all about it.

Drakensang Online screenshot
The first and most obvious feature of this game, which will probably be universally agreed upon, is the graphics. They are great, to say the least. Yes, the camera is locked in position like in a game of Diablo or Torchlight, but there are so many neat little details to marvel at: tiny butterflies dancing in the breeze, waterfalls splashing as you run past, even tiny skulls swinging on the backs of giant bog monsters... all of these look beautiful. The lighting effects also look and feel splendid. Fires cast a warm glow and spell effects feel very real. There are essentially two classes -- a melee and a magic user -- but when those magic missiles fired across the field, lighting up the area as they passed, I almost regretted my choice of class.

Early on I was joined by some higher-level players as they ran around with me, showing off their skills. One of my favorites was an awesome area-effect ability that rained stones and flame down on enemies, destroying them all. The sound accompanying all of all this was great. Even on my tiny laptop speakers, the sounds and music were immersive and beautiful. I was beginning to think that this game was possibly one of the highest-quality browser-based games I have ever played. It probably is, as far as production value.

"The game doesn't feel very directed, either. It feels linear, and there is a sense of story in the game, but at some points it's not terribly clear as to where to go and what to do next."

When we get into the combat or quests, though, we begin to see the stitching a bit. Now, as someone who has played more than a few dungeon-crawlers in his lifetime (and has a spouse who loves them), I can admit that repetitive, fast and loot-heavy combat is sort of what these games are all about. I think that's why we like them. Still, it would be nice to see quests more involved and less kill-ten-ratsy. Also, it was a little confusing when I'd grab a quest from an NPC and realize realize that it was a repeatable one from before. Perhaps I missed the text, but it would be nice to have better indicators as to what kind of quest it was.

The game doesn't feel very directed, either. It feels linear, and there is a sense of story in the game, but at some points it's not terribly clear as to where to go and what to do next. In a lot of ways I liked that sense of being lost, but I would have liked a bit more direction. Basically, I played in an area, finished all of the quests, and then explored until I found another. In between, I would go into instanced dungeons that even offered difficulty levels at the start of each.

In an interesting twist in design, special abilities require certain components or reagents to work. As you use these abilities -- and you will use them a lot -- your dead enemies will drop plenty of the reagents. I'm not sure what the point of this system is, especially since so many monsters drop plenty of the stuff needed in the first place, but perhaps there are more moments later when the reagents do not drop like rain. Until then, I did not notice any issues with running out of the items, and I used my special abilities like crazy.

The cash shop is done in pretty typical Bigpoint style. This means that players can literally buy some of the best stuff in game through the cash shop. Of course, players can also earn the cash needed for those items through regular gameplay, so it's not a hopeless situation. I am a huge fan of "buying power" this way, and I especially like it if there are almost no financial barriers between me and some of the coolest items in game. Call me old fashioned, but I earned my cash with my real-life labor... I see nothing wrong with using it to buy stuff in game. How often do I buy these nicer items? Very rarely, but when I want something cool (like the classic disc-shaped Cylon ship in Battlestar Galactica Online), I love the fact that I can get it without slogging through hours and hours of grind. For many players, Bigpoint's style is too much or too annoying. It can reward cash over time, and for many players this flies in the face of everything that gaming is all about. I beg to differ, especially since gaming is about making up rules and then playing by those particular rules, but I do understand the other side. Thankfully, Bigpoint is up front and obvious about its cash-shop policies from early in their games. If you don't like it, skip it.

After this trip into Drakensang, I was left impressed enough to recommend it to almost anyone who enjoys slaughtering monsters and collecting loot. However, be aware of Bigpoint's cash-shop style and be prepared to spend a little money if you want to burn through levels. Otherwise, play like normal and the cash shop will never enter your mind. You will build up some virtual funds just by playing the game, so spend those after you save them up. If you do decide to use the cash shop, there are some great cheap items to try out first. I ran it successfully on my basic dual-core laptop with an integrated graphics chip, although it did get pretty hot after a while. If you have desktop that you normally play on, you'll be golden. You can even play in fullscreen mode if you prefer. Overall, I would say that while it's a little bland in the quest department, Drakensang Online looks to be a fun dungeon-crawler that you can play anywhere. The added bonus? You can play with your friends or thousands of new ones.

Next week I will taking a look at Crystal Saga, a new Anime-themed browser game. It looks fun so far, but ask me again after a week of playing it. Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!
This article was originally published on Massively.