Draugen – Narrative Adventure and Historically-based games
Draugen is a first-person narrative adventure from Red Thread Games. As with their previous work on Dreamfall Chapters, developers have provided players with a breathtaking, interesting world to explore that is set in a historical era and location that is little seen in games today. Wandering through the world is a visual and aural treat that is somewhat let down by two divergent mysteries that are never adequately explored or resolved. As someone who genuinely loves both narrative adventure and historically-based games, I was immediately intrigued by Draugen from Red Thread Games. Called a “Fjord Noir tale of suspense and mystery”, the game travels down two distinct tracks that never quite seems to weave together cohesively. Backing up a bit, Red Thread Games is led by Ragnar Tørnquist, once with Funcom and well-known for his work on The Secret World, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall.
Red Thread is the development team behind Dreamfall Chapters as well. In short, the developers bring a wealth of experience to Draugen and it shows. Draugen is set in the 1920s with the protagonist, Edward Charles Harden heading to a small Norwegian village to search for his missing sister. The game, played from a first-person perspective, opens with Edward rowing a boat through a breathtaking fjord. He faces his young female companion named Lissie who accompanies him throughout most of the game. It is unclear whether or not the two are related family members, but their relationship is a close one. This is obvious when Lissie calls him (much to his annoyance) “Teddybear”. While rowing through the fjord on their way to a distant town, it is revealed that Edward had tracked his missing sister here. He has been invited by a local couple to stay while he looks for Betty. On arrival at the docks, however, Edward and Lissie find that the entire village is abandoned. So begins the second mystery: What happened to everyone? Visually, Draugen is absolutely stunning. The attention to detail to capture a Norwegian fishing and mining village from the 1920s is lovingly done. There are some places where the view is photo-realistic. Motion capture for the characters also provides a very true-to-life portrayal, though I found Lissie’s eyes lacking in expression in contrast to her mouth and body movements, though that is a small point. As the pair explores their hosts’ home for clues, they examine photos and letters that reveal a lot about a number of inhabitants of the village, but they are never seen. Yet it is through dialog with Lissie and the collection of clues that Edward begins to unravel both the mystery of what happened to his sister Betty and what happened to the villagers. The consequences of those discoveries have their own effect on Edward as well. However, since this is a spoiler-free review, I won’t reveal any details about what they learn or what begins to happen to Edward. I will say that the tale being told is haunting and the landscape adds to the feeling of tragedy. Edward and Lissie interact with one another through branching dialog options as they examine the world for clues and sometimes simply through casual conversation as they are traveling from one place to another. A little bit of Norwegian folklore and history are thrown in that can be pretty interesting altogether. The voice acting is quite good, though I found Lissie’s colloquialisms to be tiresome and trite. It’s like the writer was trying too hard to show that this is the 20s “old bean”. The game’s score is brilliantly done. Composed by Simon Poole of Dreamfall and Dreamfall Chapters fame, the music evokes a sense of mystery and suspense.
In some places, the tune soars as high as the mountains surrounding the village while in others it brings a tear to one’s eye. There are simply not enough good things to say about how well the score fits the game’s themes. My main complaint about Draugen, however, is that the two mysteries never quite gel. The story tries too hard to be spooky and haunting and ends up feeling disjointed. I was often frustrated by the lack of information about all of the disparate discoveries the two unearth. By the time the game ended at about the 3-hour mark, I was fairly dissatisfied with the resolution to both. Neither, in my opinion, were adequately explored or resolved, though Red Thread did indicate in the end credits that Edward and Lissie would be back for further adventures. Perhaps we’ll get more resolution to Draugen, though I have my doubts since they are actually leaving the village as the game ends. Gameplay-wise, Draugen is pretty simple and repetitive: Explore and interact with the game world and chat with Lissie. There are few puzzles and the ones that are present are quite simple. There is no combat, only exploration. For a 3-hour adventure, however, it’s plenty though if they’ll be back for further adventures, I can only hope that more variety in activities will be added.
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