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Draugen (PC) artwork

Draugen (PC) review


Iím not sure exactly what I expected from Draugen. But it probably wasnít a three hour long walking simulator with an insulting overly-vague ending that wrapped up precious little.

Thatís probably a bit unfair -- no, that is unfair, -- but for every little bit of brilliance wrung from Draugenís attempts to find a lot of missing people, thereís an equally puzzling sense of incompleteness. Itís maddeningly ambiguous in a way that a better fleshed-out game could get away with, but, in a game so willing to skip over content, here, it just feels like thereís massive holes in the story you have no way of filling. And thatís a problem when youíre running with a game where, really, telling a story is the only true strength you have.

Because Draugen is one of those walking simulators that seem so popular these days. Only, Iím not convinced that was always the plan; early discussions with the developers hinted at fumbling around in the night with something horrible snapping at your heels. This made sense; for those who have put some time into Skyrim (which is, more or less, everyone) the gameís title will sound familiar. The draugen are a kind of Nordic zombie, which seem like the sort of pesky fellow who would want to stalk people from the shadows in all kinds of creepy ways. But it never happens; Red Thread Games have openly talked about how the gameís focus shifted during development, which is very much a thing that happens, and the vast majority of horror has found itself removed as a result. The problem is what itís replaced by; the problem is itís not replaced by much at all.

Itís now a game primarily focused on searching for answers. Edward Charles Harden is an American scholar searching for his lost sister, who thinks heís tracked her down to a remote island on the outskirts of Norway. However, itís the 1920ís, so rather than tag her on Facebook, heís forced to make the audacious journey guided only by mail correspondence some several months old. Itís a real shot in the dark, but one heís desperate enough to make. He makes the trip alongside his teenage ward, Alice, and discovers two very important things shortly after arriving. Firstly, that the island is ridiculously beautiful, situated inside a crown of snow-capped mountains and inhabited by untouched greenery and crystal-clear fjords. Thereís a real postcard-quality idyllic vibe running throughout the isle, which youíll have plenty of time to appreciate; itís also completely abandoned.

Meaning you now have two mysteries on your hands: what happened to your sister as well as what happened to everyone else. For brilliant little slithers of time, Draugen does an excellent job of making you question the relationship between the two sets of disappearances; was your sister caught up in some senseless mass evacuation, or did she bring this fate down on the small population herself? In a short amount of time, you find yourself pondering a lot of intertwining questions. What you discover is varying degrees of vagueness.

If the gameís dual mysteries do anything, they prove both the effectiveness and the ruin of being purposefully vague. Viewed as standalone tales, one mystery doesnít explain everything, but it explains enough to bring a sense of conclusion. Itís effective and gripping because it knows you seek answers for the questions youíre posed, but it makes itself fuzzy around the edges. You have the big answer, but you donít have all the answers and, rather than suffer encyclopaedic info dumps in an attempt to spell everything out in crayon, youíre left to fill in the blanks through the things that youíve seen and the conversations youíve had. In a genre infamous for its complete lack of interaction, itís the best (and, really, only) way to make the player feel involved.

And then thereís the second mystery. Despite spending much of the game uncovering clues, and finding pieces of what seems to be a much larger jigsaw, the other mystery is resolved with a weary shrug. Nothing definitive, not even enough to form an educated opinion from; the entire thread is casually written off during a disinterested conversation where you can advance a line of probables and maybes with little to no factual backing, and then forget it was ever a thing. Itís completely the wrong kind of vague; not the kind thatís offered you enough to work your own theories around, not enough to provide any sense of accomplishment. Itís the kind of insulting vagueness that makes you feel like youíve wasted a small slice of your life in the pursuit of absolutely nothing. Which simply drives home the idea that thereís a hole in this game; thereís content that was supposed to be there that simply isnít.

Thatís how Draugen ends; not with a wistful glance at the natural beauty of the island the pair eventually vow to leave behind, and not bolstered by the discoveries they have made and the small victories theyíve forged together. No, thatís all mercilessly devoured by the damp combination of wasted time and wasted potential. Things end, and youíre left to wonder if youíve done something wrong somewhere, made a wrong choice or failed to discover a McGuffin that triggers some kind of revelation, granting much-desired explanations. Thereís not; Draugenís strictly a very linear affair. Itís not you who have failed to discover content in the game; itís Red Thread who has failed to deliver it.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (June 27, 2019)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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