'War of a Dark Age' by Assassin
|Review machine: Athlon 950, 384Mb, ATI Radeon 64Mb DDR @ 1024,768 Reviewed 05/10/02
|Download (UK) (Russia)
War of a Dark Age is a series of single player levels set around 200 years after the PC game ended. The series is intended to be a sequel to the game for players who do not own a PS2 and have not played the official sequel, Drakan: TAG. It features RPG style modifications and a magic system similar to the ones found in the aforementioned game plus much more.
Right, now first of all I'd like to point out that this level series is different to the standard action orientated gameplay of the original PC game. War of a Dark Age is more of an RPG / action hybrid and 'borrows' many of the best features from the official sequel for example a money system and a sidequest system. Having played a sizeable portion of Drakan: The Ancient's Gates myself, these two features in particular are very similar and work very well considering the limitations of the PC Drakan game engine and / or the level editor. Assassin has put a lot of hard work into this series adding new interesting features that keeps players interested.
The storyline of the game as mentioned in the introduction is set 200 years after the PC game ended and features one or two playable characters (Human or Dragon / Human) depending on your path through the game. I won't give away too much of the plot in fear of spoiling the game for you but I can tell you that when Rynn and Arokh went into the rift, they never came back. The storyline develops throughout the game via text messages (see screenshot, left) and the game boasts 4 different endings depending on your choices made throughout your quest which brings me neatly back to the new features...
Yes, the game has four different endings and two paths through the game; join the light side and bring peace or join the dark side and be evil and rule the world. The way this is implemented is easy enough; you are asked by two beings (a clue; not humans!) to find and bring a powerful artefact to them, now which one you take it to will be the deciding factor between light or dark. You are given a further choice later in the game to determine which ending you will get - there are two endings for dark and two endings for light. The sidequest missions work in a similar way, usually two people will ask for the same item and depending on who you favour depends on the reward you get which may be money, a potion or a weapon.
Talking of the sidequests, you start the game with no skills and very little money. You gain money from fallen enemies (albeit not much) and sometimes from completing certain quests. Skill points are awarded for each sidequest you complete, these can be spent to train your character as a mage, fighter or archer, just like in Drakan: TAG in fact. The way you actually gain the skill is different though; in War of a Dark Age you must find and ask the various characters around town if they are willing to train you. If they are you give them a skill point and you now have the ability to use better weapons or magic which can be bought from shops and emporiums in the town or gained as a reward. Usually the weapons you gain from your fallen enemies are poor and not much use so don't rely on this - completing some sidequests is a must. The weapons in the game are generally good, you will find basic ones in the shops but you do get some kick ass cool weapons as a reward for the harder sidequests.
Overall, the gameplay is an interesting change from the norm and you will be required to travel between levels fairly often and returning to your town is a must if you want to progress in the game. Its also very important to speak to NPC's as they offer tips and guidance as to where you should be going and to tell you a bit more about the story. When you first start out, you will not be able to use the more powerful weapons in the game until you have gained experience so the usual kill everything in sight approach does not apply here. In fact avoiding fights early in the game is advisable as you don't get many health pickups from fallen enemies. Note that potions can also bought from the alchemist in the main town but remember you don't have much money and you also need a weapon so be careful what you spend your money on!
Other little gameplay enhancements are a few puzzles thrown in for example there is a ancient library in one of the sidequests and to reach it you must cross a maze of characters laid on the ground. You may only stand on the correct letters; the others will result in death and you find clues to the correct letters to stand on by reading a couple of book extracts. A cool idea which kind of reminded me of the Indiana Jones movies.
On to other things, graphically, War of a Dark Age is good but nothing special - the landscapes are pretty average but there are a few areas where there is very good attention to detail for example the main town and the village near the end of the game. The towns are laid out like a typical medieval village and feel busy and full of life with people milling around and doing their day to day tasks. The screenshots show this detail more as I have used the foghack 'cheat' to enable a greater draw distance. The texturing is OK but there are a few areas where the textures don't look right and there is a lot of the 'carpet tile' effect in many parts of the later levels. As for the lighting, again this is okay but nothing special; there are not many lights around and building interiors are as bright as day etc. The game also features a night and day cycle system which mostly works OK but when you come to certain points in the levels there is a sudden change which does not look right - it would be better if it changed from day to night whilst you were inside a cave for example so you wouldn't notice the sudden change as used in the PCL 'Dragonmech'. Overall though, the lighting does not interfere with the atmosphere and gameplay so it isn't too much of a problem.
Sound wise, there is little in the way of ambient sounds which would have helped to improve the atmposhere a little. However, Assassin has made some new dragon voices which sound pretty good and its quite easy to hear what the dragon is saying. These are one liners such as 'lets find something to kill' etc which are a lot better than the dragon referring to you as 'Rynn' when you are not!
Now, how hard is it to complete? Well, for the average player, it may appear daunting at first and its not really obvious which sidequests are the best to take on first with your current experience level and weapons. However, if you approach it with the right mind and expectations you will find that the difficulty is just about right and the puzzles are not overly complex resulting in fun and rewarding gameplay. A note though; there are one or two places where items such as keys dropped by fallen enemies can fall through the floor and become invisible. So if you are stuck, try crouching near the body and using the enter key to pick up the 'invisible' weapon / key / whatever - this did happen to me once with a knight in the Barbarian's fortress so keep your ears peeled for the familiar clink sound upon the death of a foe.
So, if you are after an interesting change to the normal Drakan style of gameplay and fancy a bit of the features found in the official sequel which you may not be able to play and feel left out, download this for a fun, atmospheric albeit short adventure.
Rating; Architecture & lighting: 6.5 Texturing: 5 Item & enemy placement: 7.5
Atmosphere: 9 Gameplay / new ideas / enhancements: 10 bugs: none serious.
- Click the images to enlarge.