Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern
a game by Ubisoft
We should have kept our bloody mouths shut. After all those years of predicting the untimely demise of adventure games and boldly claiming we'd seen the last of them around 1998, our words are coming back to haunt us. If adventure games are dead we must be witnessing some sort of zombie revolution, because we've got the damn things coming out of our ears. Apart from Escape From Monkey Island, we're being assaulted with lifeless titles that are only funny when they're meant to be serious, crammed with bad dialogue, poor voice acting and unoriginal puzzles. Stupid Invaders, The Ward and Gilbert Good mate are just some recent examples, although it seems we did manage to put a bullet in Simon The Sorcerer 3Ps head. You can check out Arthur's Knights II and Road To India in this issue for further abominations. And with a new Mystgame dragging its rotten corpse toward us, we feel like the lead in Peter Jackson's Brain Dead, liquefying a roomful of zombies with a rusty lawnmower. Well, someone's got to do it.
"By The First Egg!"
And the reason for such a gratuitous outburst? Well, Dragonriders may well be set in a world of fantasy, extensively explored by Anne McCaffrey in her novels, and look like a Severance: Blade Of Darkness wannabe, but it's definitely an adventure game. Not a terrible one - and certainly much better than the adventure games mentioned earlier - but hardly a classic. It suffers from many of the problems plaguing the others (poor dialogue, uneven acting) and falls into the trap of being too dull for its own good. We're sure the Pern books are entertaining works of fiction for anyone interested in that kind of fantasy, but having characters come out with things like "By the first egg! We must make haste and lead B'Toh to the chamber of Mak'l" or some such nonsense makes it quite difficult for nonfans to get involved.
You play D'Kor, a young dragonrider in the world of Pern, where humans and dragons form bonds from birth and do battle against the strange organisms called Threads that fall from the sky and kill everything they touch. But this game has little to do with flying through the air doing war. Drakkan, which was no doubt influenced by the Dragonrider books, already did that. Mere, story and dialogue are central, although there is a little fighting involved.
When the Weyrwoman, leader of D'Kor's clan dies, there is a scramble to find a replacement. The story opens as you try to assemble the senior members of the clan for a meeting. This entails talking to them all. A lot.
The developers have targetted the Pern book readers to such an extent that Dragonriders feels more like an interactive novel with graphics and reams and reams of dialogue. The problem with this is that, while the verbiage is full of detail and serves to tell the story in real depth, it's too straightforward in its delivery. When you click on another character you can't choose a topic and, whenever there is a dialogue option, it's usually between a helpful, courteous answer or a rude one that isn't going to get you anywhere. The worst part, however, is that you can't skip any of it. And when some crap actor starts droning on about something for the 12th time, that is exactly what you want to do.
Most of the time it feels like the actors are reading their lines for the first time, rehearsing rather than acting. At some points it actually sounds as if they've paused mid-sentence to turn a page and their tone is emotionless throughout. Particularly exasperating is your dragon, with whom you keep telepathic communication. For a creature that is supposed to be graceful, beautiful and huge, it has the slowest, dreariest voice in the whole game. Physically it doesn't seem quite right either.
To paraphrase Woody Allen, the dragons look like hairless donkeys with wings. And that's not the only awkward graphical glitch.
Hey, I'm An Rpg Too
Provided you have a hefty machine and a decent 3D card, Dragonriders looks quite good. The problem is that instead of having a camera that follows you Tomb Raider-style (and given that the controls are the same, it would make sense), it changes angles every few steps. As a result you can't really see where you're going, and moving around the caves where the quest begins is disorientating and annoying.
Not that it's all bad. Apart from the adventure element, there is a simple RPG system to make things more interesting and give the game more depth. Considering that puzzles are almost nonexistent and consist of talking to people in the right order, the development of your character is essential to keep you interested for more than a few hours. Instead of a page full of stats, you have a few attributes that improve as you gain more experience.
For example, your reputation increases the more you help others and your strength develops the more you fight Certain characters will only talk to you if you have a high reputation and you'll only be able to interact with certain objects if you're strong enough. It's all designed to keep novice gamers from having to think for themselves too much. The same goes for the action side of the game. Combat is basic (forward to thrust, backward to block) and even the smallest physical action is simplified. In an area where you have to jump platforms to get to the other side in true Lara fashion, all you need to do is stand on the edge, press the action key and see the short in-game cutscene, then repeat with the next edge.
It goes without saying that McCaffrey enthusiasts will get much more out of this than the rest of us and, at the very least, it's a huge improvement on Freedom: First Resistance.
2018-10-30 Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern game added.