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Drakan: The Ancients' Gates (PlayStation 2) artwork

Drakan: The Ancients' Gates (PlayStation 2) review


"As for Snotmaw, well, I have to admit watching and hearing an audience chanting "SNOTMAW! SNOTMAW! SNOTMAW!" made me feel like a pro wrestling jobber about to get pasted by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in a match held deep in the heart of Texas......but he was just a typical Wartok who hit harder and took a lot more damage. All I had to do was slash, slash, roll backwards, wash, rinse, repeat to kill him with ease. Oh, and he somehow got stuck trying to move around the Kong's corpse, which gave me a good number of uncontested attacks while the big dummy flailed about helplessly. Kind of anticlimactic, if you ask me."



While the phrasing might seem a bit harsh, I find myself referring to Drakan: The Ancients' Gates as "a beautiful failure". It could have been one of the best games on the PS2 due in large part to the gorgeous, atmospheric world it takes place in.....but a number of glitches and quirks do their utmost to drag down the experience. It's a game I've yet to beat because of the various malfunctions I've endured, but I still find myself desiring to give it another shot every couple of years. Thinking about how the game should have been induces me to restart the adventure, but one thing or another always causes me to abort my run, leaving me to wistfully dream of what could have been.

But the atmosphere always brings me back. On the surface, this is a proficient action-RPG. You control the heroic and exceptionally attractive gal Rynn, who teams with Arokh, a Dragon of the Order pledged to assist her in wiping out evildoers. In the overworld, Rynn mounts Arokh and engages in dogfights with feral dragons, while also wiping out the enemy's ground forces from a safe distance. After dismounting her beastly comrade, the girl uses melee weapons, bows and magic to slaughter monsters in caves, fortresses, catacombs and other dank places. It's good stuff that's greatly enhanced by how wonderfully the locales are portrayed -- something that becomes mind-blowingly obvious early on when Rynn is sent into the Shadowmire swamps to obtain a necessary artifact.

This place is dark and ominous in appearance, as sunlight is obscured by dense vegetation. The lizard-like Trogs are scattered all over the place, prepared to aggressively defend their territory from interlopers with their elongated claws. Rynn will be in the Shadowmire for some time, going from murky swamps to a spider-filled cave (arachnophobes like me will be "thrilled" at how a couple of them are the size of a Clydesdale), a desolate mine and the crumbling castle-like structure that serves as the stronghold of Trog leader Toadfist. While other regions of the game might lag a bit behind this behemoth of a swamp, it isn't by much. The overworld regions are varied in appearance, while the dungeons tend to be vast and loaded with fights. As far as aesthetics go, my only complaint is how these monster dens are designed mostly as linear sprawls with few (if any) puzzles to break up the near-constant battling.

Most of my problems with Drakan come from more serious issues -- the aforementioned glitches and quirks. Spanning the gap between certain regions of the game (such as the two main sectors of the arctic Northlands) are "gateway" caverns you're meant to ride Arokh through. As you go through these places, the game forces you to save as it loads in the new area you'll be exploring. If you're supposed to be with the dragon and aren't, there is a chance that, during the saving process, he'll be lost forever. For all intents and purposes, this equals GAME OVER.

That glitch never happened to me, though. I'd heard about it before I even bought Drakan and was diligent to make sure Rynn was attached to Arokh's hip whenever possible (something which seemed a matter of common sense to me). However, other problems have buried their teeth into me and drawn blood more than once. My first effort at beating this game abruptly came to an end after I completed the plot events involving the storm-assaulted region known as the Andrellian Isles. During the mandatory save as I was leaving that place, the game froze and my data was lost. Oops. So I learned that I should have two saves going on at once, even if each one eats a mammoth chunk (1.5 MB) of my memory card, forcing me to delete a bunch of stuff to prevent a similar incident from screwing me over a second time.

My second trip through the game suffered a setback in the Northlands that annoyed me enough to lose interest in it for a few years. There's a cave inhabited by a particularly wily Wartok (orc-like tribe) who swiped some gauntlets that bestow the power of invisibility upon their bearer. To get a key item for a mission, you're commissioned to kill the beast and retrieve those gauntlets. However, if you find the monster's cave and explore it before specifically getting the quest to go there, it won't drop the gauntlets upon death and you're stuck....unable to advance the plot and forced to restart from an earlier save.

And now? Well, I've done a good job of avoiding the major game-killing glitches, but can't stop noticing all these little quirks that regularly detract from my nights alone with Rynn. Monsters occasionally get stuck in walls or are frozen in place until you assault them. And even when unimpeded, their AI is quite suspect. Many foes can easily be subdued by swiping at them with a sword a couple of times, executing a backwards roll to dodge their reprisal and then landing a couple more blows. Parts of this game that should be memorable are dragged down by shoddy programming. Take a look at one specific segment of one particular dungeon -- first, as portrayed by a narrator promoting the potential awesomeness of the moment and then, by me.....the guy who experienced the not-so-great reality.

NARRATOR: Players will experience a thrilling two-part arena battle in the lair of Wartok chieftain Snotmaw. First, they'll be confronted in close quarters by a gigantic Grull Kong. While reasonably easy to defeat from a distance, their ability to kill Rynn instantly by grabbing and throwing her into a nearby wall makes this melee confrontation a harrowing challenge. Survive that and Snotmaw will make his presence felt to the delight of his underlings, who gleefully chant his name in anticipation of the blood his gigantic cleaver is about to spill. Rynn needs to be careful here, as this magnificent beast-man is both stronger and far more durable than the average Wartok, making him more than a worthy challenge for her blade.

Sounds cool and epic, doesn't it? Now, how did this scene really unfold?

ROB'S DIARY: Uh, yeah.....well, first I was a bit nervous as the Grull Kong stomped out to confront Rynn. But then.....it just froze in place. So, I switched to my bow and sent a few arrows into it, which seemed to get its attention. It stalked towards me, but for some reason, decided the line it was taking wasn't quite precise enough. This led to it turning around and moving a few steps away to find a more direct path to me, I guess. By the time it was ready to move back in my direction, I'd fired a lethal number of arrows into it, sending it down for the count. As for Snotmaw, well, I have to admit watching and hearing an audience chanting "SNOTMAW! SNOTMAW! SNOTMAW!" made me feel like a pro wrestling jobber about to get pasted by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in a match held deep in the heart of Texas......but he was just a typical Wartok who hit harder and took a lot more damage. All I had to do was slash, slash, roll backwards, wash, rinse, repeat to kill him with ease. Oh, and he somehow got stuck trying to move around the Kong's corpse, which gave me a good number of uncontested attacks while the big dummy flailed about helplessly. Kind of anticlimactic, if you ask me.

Oh.....that's not so good. And that's the game's problem in a nutshell: there are so many areas and battles that should be awesome, but are diluted by poor programming to the point they instead become pedestrian and disappointing. Still, I find this game irresistible because it looks so good and exudes the epic feel of grand adventuring. Over time, Drakan's charms have gained it a loyal following of fans, but it could have been more. Much more, which I find a bit depressing because I'd truly love to simply call it "beautiful" instead of "a beautiful failure".

Rating: 6/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 08, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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