July 6, 2022

Draugen – PC Review

Upon my initial introduction to Red Thread’s Draugen, I was simultaneously intrigued and dismayed. This sentiment would remain until the end credits rolled. Draugen is a niche experience for a particular type of player, be warned that Draugen is a ‘walking simulator’. It’s a psychologically laced mystery with heavy doses of dialogue and segments of travel around the small town of Graavik.

So, if you don’t have the patience to slowly and methodically unravel the secrets of Graavik and Norwegian folklore, Draugen might not be for you. My time with this product ranged from literally falling asleep, to being genuinely curious, and intrigued in the tale being presented.

Now, how one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated, and should be taken with a grain of salt. (This included) So let’s examine the product through the lens of metrics such as; Graphical fidelity, story/characters, content/length, controls and gameplay, then finally, sound design and cinematics.


Graphical Fidelity

Overall I must admit, Draugen’s environments are visually satisfying at 60FPS 1080p. Trees and water look natural, and I didn’t notice any textures popping in and out. Initially, however, the motion blur setting was driving me mad and needed to be disabled. When characters remain still models look well animated, but when Lissie moves, results range dramatically. The use of motion-capture is readily apparent in some scenes such as: walking on the benches in the church, or skipping/dancing in the house, movement looks realistic and natural. Other times, like when Lissie’s head turns or she does certain gestures, character models move quite robotically.

Additionally, Red Thread seems to have had some trouble syncing vocal work with lip animations, though we’ll get more into that later. Some of the items players interact with are finely detailed, and this deserves applause. Draugen looks pretty good, and to be honest, It had better considering the majority of the game is walking and taking in the sights.

Characters & Story

To some degree, it’s characters and story is where Draugen thrives. Players take control of Edward Harden, (as stated by Red Thread) “accompanied by his ward, Lissie; a gregarious, independent and enigmatic young woman”. At times Lissie can be these things, whereas others, she comes off as a bratty child. She constantly berrates Edward and the shallow dialogue system does little more but give players the illusion of choice. Oftentimes regardless of the dialogue players pick, conversations loop back to a main choice of progression defeating the point of ‘dynamic dialogue’. Players will simply exhaust all dialogue options and basic choices with no impact.

Without spoiling anything, the closing minutes are an absolute mess. It comes off as convoluted and pretentious, in an attempt to be mysterious and allow the player to come to their own conclusion. The problem is that; Draugen doesn’t compell us to care either way, because it’s over before anything gets truly fleshed out. The ‘choice’ isn’t even an active decision the game just ends, letting players take away from the ending what they will. There’s two simultaneous plotlines unfolding in Draugen, and only one of them gets resolved, and unsatisfyingly. It builds up to these highly predictable reveals, which end up being anticlimactic during, what should be the most exciting moments.

The writing itself is pretty good, however, there’s constant annoying reliances on old slang like “old sport” to remind players that it takes place in the 1920’s. It’s obvious, though, that the team involved spent copious hours researching their setting and plot, which is disappointing because their application of this knowledge is so frugal. Draugen has so many interesting concepts, but it’s execution of these ideas are minimal at best. It’s quite apparent just how much was cut from this game, from survival-horror to straight up walking sim, and not a Draugen in sight.

Content & Length

Draugen is incredibly short. Taking my time and exploring everything Red Thread would let me see in Graavik, still clocked in at a mere 3 and a half hours. I found this incredibly disappointing because Draugen is bursting at the seams with ideas it wants to explore, yet didn’t. At times, I even felt patronized by certain areas with no purpose but to ‘rest’. Edward sits in designated spots and looks in a predetermined area, as if; in a game with little or nothing else to do but look and see, I apparently needed to be told where to look and what see. While I’m complaining, one moment was so ludicrous it shook the entire immersion of the experience. A bird startles Edward and sets off a negative series of events where, both the initial cause and the characters reaction were ridiculous to the point of near comedy, during what should be a tense moment.

‘Long story short’ is a term that defines Draugen exceptionally. It should have been a long immersive tale, unravelling mysteries and discovering more about Edward and Lissie. Instead, it offers a conceptually intriguing locale to explore, with nothing to really find but short streamlined bursts of exposition. Graavik feels empty, but not in the way, or for the reasons that it should.

Controls & Gameplay

Unsurprisingly, Draugen’s movement and ‘aim’ are standard of FPS walking simulators. A nice touch was the forward movement being bound to the right click and while being held, left click would sprint. To my dismay, I was unable to bind the action for ‘calling Liss’ to my mouse’s thumbkeys. If it were not for this, I would have played the entirety of Draugen one handed, without using the keyboard. For a walking simulator this may be ergonomically satisfying, but I found the lack of controls and minimal ways to interact with Draugen unengaging to say the least.

Gameplay, (also unsurprisingly) is fairly basic. It’s a walking simulator. Players walk, observe and interact with people places and items, following a set of triggers that unveil the main story. It’s nothing unique or groundbreaking, afterall, Draugen’s selling point is the characters, plot, and setting. Not edge-of-your-seat reflex gameplay, or intricate strategizing.

Sound Design & Cinematics

There’s no cinematics in the way that we percieve them in Draugen. It is, however, a fairly cinematic game in nature. Upon first arriving, the scope and scale of Graavik seems grand. Though the cinematic feeling shortly fades once players begin to wander the empty town.

In regards to soundwork, Red Thread did an incredible job, I must say. Composed by Simon Poole, the sound-score is deep and immersive. The music helps shape the setting and tone of the game, though I felt developers wanted emphasize the music so much that it often overwhelms and drowns out dialogue. Which by the way, is what I’d claim is most deserving of praise.

The voice acting for Draugen is one of it’s most attractive features. Though I found Lissie’s personality sometimes grating, I must admit that (with the odd exception) Lissie’s voice acting is impressive. Initially I quite liked Edward, he sounded like a less gruff Booker DeWitt (Bioshock Infinite), which is quite the compliment to be compared to Troy Baker. Although the more time I spent with Draugen’s characters, the more Edward began to sound like Cyril (Archer). As good as the vocal work is though, it’s sync with the mouth and lip motions of the characters are atrocious and immersion breaking.

Conclusion

When all is said and done, Draugen did not impress me. I wanted to be drawn into Graavik and immersed in it’s mysteries. I wanted to take Edward down a path of self-discovery and learn about this Norwegian village and it’s inhabitants, yet all Draugen offers is a foundation for what could be a fascinating tale. But it doesn’t take the time to delve deeper into actualizing these concepts, it merely presents them.

Draugen desperately wants to be more than it is, and I couldn’t help but feel that it would make a better movie than it is a game. It’s a mediocre PC title that would be a great mobile game, but that honestly feels insulting to say. Tonally, I couldn’t help but feel vibes of Bioshock, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, yet Draugen fails to capture the interest and complexity of the either. You don’t feel involved in the mystery as it unravels, rather players feel like bystanders coasting along until it’s inevitable, unsatisfying closure. It can be smart at times, but it’s not as clever as it thinks it is.

Draugen fills a market for a nichè crowd. The majority of players likely will not enjoy it for what it is. However, objectively speaking it’s a functional product that tells a mediocre story. I just wouldn’t be able to justify a purchase of Draugen for the amount of content provided. If you like walking simulators this may be up your alley, otherwise, it’s a mechanically devoid dose of ‘what could have been’ and a reminder of the potential it had. There’s a story to tell here, it’s a shame we didn’t get to hear it all.

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What did you think of Draugen? Let us know in the comments and stick around ABG for all things gaming. If you enjoyed this content, why not check out our The Outer Worlds PS4 Review


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Great Ideas Tied To Faulty Execution
  • 5.8/10
    Score: - 5.8/10
5.8/10

Overview

+ Looks Quite Good

+ Great Characterization And Voice Acting

– Too Short For The Story It Wants To Tell

– Boring Gameplay

– Predictable, Yet Convoluted

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