Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates Review

Well, it took a few years, but there is finally a sequel to Drakan: Order of the Flame. It is unfortunate that it didn’t come out on the PC like the original did, but a sequel is a sequel. Fortunately for all those who enjoyed the original title, this game is an absolute blast to play. It’s best described as a slightly older Zelda title for lack of a better description. But read on for more information.

The graphics in Drakan are rather impressive at first look. You have large open sweeping vistas, huge valleys, deep lakes, and more snow than you can throw a Wartok at. Best of all, this is done with next to no pop up and very little use of fog. The only downside is the fact that the texture detail is kept low. Most of the time however, you’ll be too busy flying hundreds of feet off the ground to notice.

Indoors on the other hand is where the graphics shine. Without having to worry about Arokh (your dragon) the graphic engine can work it’s detail to the maximum. Some of the latter levels show this off nicely, including one dungeon where you have to spend the entire time walking through a pitch black cave, guided only by your flickering torch and a bunch of eerie glowing skeleton eyeballs looking back at you. That dungeon and the final levels show off very nicely how well the designers designed their indoor environments.

The character models on the other hand are fantastic. The developers have said that more polygons are used for Rynn alone than an entire scene would have been in the original Drakan. Arokh is also fantastic looking, sporting a powerful well-muscled look, see through wings, lots of amazing standstill animations (seeing Arokh stretch and yawn is just fantastic), and basically looking like how a dragon would look if such things were real in our world. While the other character models aren’t anywhere near as fantastic as say Baldur’s Gate, they serve their purpose well enough.

Also of note is the particle system used in the game. Rain falls constantly in one level, and it looks like you are spending your time flying through a small hurricane. Other places to mention are whenever you cross over an invisible bridge of some sort, particles rain down covering it enough to let you know where the bridge starts and end. It’s a sight to see to believe.

There are a few bugs though. While barrels explode/fall to pieces whenever you destroy them, sometimes parts float in midair for a bit before vanishing. Other problems include monsters being dead in midair, and a few clipping problems with Arokh.

Next up is the music. Drakan’s musical selection is mostly just ambient soundtracks, with a few nice exploration tracks mixed in. Each town and overland area has it’s own theme music, which tends to set the mood quite well. You also have a nicely pumped up boss soundtrack that plays, well, whenever you fight a boss. For the most part though, the music is nothing special. At the very least, you won’t remember it after playing. However, this is not saying it is bad, just non remarkable.

The voice work on the other hand is very well done. Drakan offers a full speaking part to everyone in the game. While everyone has a slight British accent for the most part (especially Rynn), it’s not enough of an annoyance to make a big problem out of it. The voice work overall is very well done. Rynn sounds like your basic ‘you can’t stop me’ hero type, and Arokh’s voice sounds like how a couple hundred-year-old dragon would sound. Personally though I think Arokh should have been a bit more gruff in his voice (like the PC version), but it tends to grow on you after awhile.

Also of note are the interesting sound effects in Drakan. While quite a few of the voices/sounds are pulled directly from the PC version, most of it is new and is quite nice to listen to. The sounds of birds chirping in the background, the clanking of the blacksmith, and of course, the growls and rumbles Arokh makes as he reminds you that he’s alive and is right behind you. It definitely livens up the world around you.

Many pages are devoted to detailing all the controls, and the space is not wasted as all the buttons on the PS2 controller short of L3 and R3 are used. While it may seem complicated, you get used to it very quickly.

For those who skip reading through the manual however, you are in luck. Most of the controls are explained in the first ‘training’ area. The game will also list more controls like using magic and riding your dragon once you get into those parts of the game. Ultimately this is a job very well done for the designers converting a keyboard/mouse game into the Dual Shock controller format.

If you’ve ever played a Zelda title on the N64, you know more or less exactly how Drakan plays. Basically you control either Rynn or Arokh in a 3rd person view just behind them. Control is very tight, and the camera keeps behind them at all times. Being in 3rd person view, you might have to worry about getting the camera stuck in a wall, but that isn’t a problem as you’ll fade away if the camera gets that close.

Your basic goal in Drakan is to wander the world and do what needs to be done to save it. You start off with Rynn, and for the first 5 hours or so, you have control only of her. At this point, you would think that the world is absolutely huge, since as Rynn it would take ages to cross the countryside. Shortly after completing the first major dungeon however, you get access to your bonded dragon, Arokh. At this point you realize just how huge the world is, as even with the powers of flight and a much faster traveling speed, it still takes quite some time to get from place to place.

Getting into combat, you will quickly find it’s easy, simple, and complex all at the same time. With a simple button press, you ‘lock on’ to the nearest enemy, giving you the ability to circle around your target easily. This also enables to you pull off complex stunts like jumping and rolling from side to side to avoid getting struck, and lets you continue your attack as soon as you get up. It’s also heavily used in aerial combat on your dragon, as most airborne critters are extremely agile, and without the lock on ability, air to air combat would be much more difficult than it is already.

As far as combat goes, you have your choice of a slew of weapons, both melee and ranged (along with dragon breath) to take down a large host of foes. All weapons are rated in strength and in durability (or ammo for ranged weapons). Each time you hit a creature, the durability goes down. When it drops to zero, you lose the weapon. Weapons can be fixed, and ammo replenished, but each time you do so, the maximum durability drops on the weapon. So basically don’t get used to what you are using, as it will wear out eventually. The same holds true for your armor and shield (if you choose to use one). Basically it works very well, and keeps you from using a single weapon the entire game.

Magic on the other hand is a new addition to Drakan. If you choose to take the path of magic throughout your adventure, you’ll never have to worry about weapons or armor. You’ll spend most of your time attacking from afar, and waiting for your magic to build back up. There are some nice spells that compliment melee attacks if you choose to go duo skilled however. Spells like Slow Time, Clone (makes you invisible basically), and Heal are useful no matter what skill path you take.

There are problems however. First off spells in general seem to be unbalanced. Lets take Slow Time for example – at its highest level, you slow down time for just over a minute. Basically it makes time slow to everyone around you, while you maintain your current rate of movement. In that minute, you can easily defeat anyone in melee, including most bosses. And since your enemy is slowed, it’s next to impossible for them to strike back. Other ranged magic spells let you take severe advantage of another problem, the AI.

The AI in Drakan is questionable at best. While you are fighting a bunch of moronic creatures (including the brain dead undead), most creatures have the inability to get from point A to point B. Also quite a few of the levels are designed so you have safe spots (mainly upon a box of some sort) that make you completely invulnerable, while allowing you to rain down spells or ranged attacks upon them. Creatures also don’t care one bit if you’ve killed their partner, even if they should be able to see easily where the attack came from.

As stated above, the pathfinding is a problem. Your dragon, when you’re not on him, follows this same problem. Arokh, when left alone, tries his best to fly above you and rain down fire from above if needed. Unfortunately simple things like trees, mountains, and other objects on the ground seem to be invisible to him, as he constantly attempts to fly right through them.

One final problem though – the final boss fight is way too easy. Once I found out what I had to do to actually fight the final boss, it was over in a single spell. Another problem involving this is that the ending, well, stinks. Basically there is no ending. All you get for your efforts is 4 pictures and a bunch of text read to you.

Ultimately however, the standard gameplay keeps you engrossed through the adventure across the lands. The small problems as stated above aren’t all that obvious most of the time (short of Arokh), and don’t really get in the way of the gameplay. As for the ending though, well, you’ll remember all the good times you had playing the game, and will only look at the ending as a hope for a sequel.

Is this game worth your gaming dollar? Most definately. It’s a remarkably well done action/adventure game, filled with lands to explore and creatures to slaughter. You’ll get around 15-20 hours out of this title the first time through, and with the three different skill paths, you’ll have a good reason to play through this game more than once.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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