Developer: Red Thread Games
Publisher: Red Thread Games
Platform: Xbox One
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 21/02/2020
Price: £16.74 – Rapid Reviews UK were very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
It’s 1923, and you’re playing as an American traveler named Edward Harden. His sister Betty is missing, and he has tracked her down to a coastal village in Norway. Joined by his companion Alice, or Lissie, they set out to uncover the mysteries of the village, while Edward’s search for Betty grows more desperate. To say any more about the narrative of the game would be spoiling it, and it’s difficult to explain without experiencing it for yourself!
Now, the PC version of this game has been covered previously, which you can check out here. To avoid repetition, I’ll be looking at it primarily from my perspective which may differ from Patrick’s, as well as how it runs on Xbox.
Similar to games such as Life is Strange or What Remains of Edith Finch, the majority of the game is spent interacting with highlighted objects, viewing the village of Graavik through Edward’s eyes in the first person point of view. This makes it accessible to all, as the basic controls are to move and use differing buttons to select a dialogue option, so even a new gamer can experience Draugen.
Being alone in Graavik except for Alice, she is the only person you can speak to. This creates a focus around their relationship, and it feels so natural. Alice is feisty and independent, and her quips bring her personality to life. When interacting with her, you have various dialogue options. However as Patrick had mentioned, it’s not made clear whether your choices affect the narrative. It’s something I would have liked to know as it would affect the way I play, perhaps more cautiously, and stop me worrying if I was changing any outcomes. It seemed odd to not know this when their relationship is so integral to the story.
Playing as Edward was one of the most interesting perspectives I’ve played in a game. He’s unreliable, clouded by his desire to find his sister. Playing in first person almost forces you to put yourself in his shoes, exploring his mental state (which is done so well) and his thought process. Edward’s actions are completely different to what I would do, so you really get to know his character. He’s driven by his love for Betty, serious and logical, in contrast to Alice who is imaginative and playful. Having these clashing personality types only enhanced their relationship, and the way they speak to each other is so real.
The Search For Betty
The story takes so many twists and turns, that it’s hard to predict what is going to happen. Even when I thought I had it sussed out, I’d be wrong. The best way to see what I mean is to play it yourself, as it’s such a unique experience. It pushed me to keep playing to discover the mystery, and with the game taking a couple of hours to complete, you can do it in one sitting if you’d like.
I do feel like it may not be appealing to some people however. It’s not a straightforward story; even after playing, I still have questions. It’s inventive for sure, but perhaps a little abstract for some or just too slow for those who don’t enjoy narrative based games. Then again, with how unique it is, it may just be the reason that someone is converted into exploring narrative games. It really all depends on the person.
What has made Draugen earn its PEGI 16 rating is the dark themes it touches on, and there’s an overall eeriness. As I’ve mentioned, mental health is discussed through Edward’s character, and it’s not done in a way that’s typical or offensive. I think this is important to add regardless just in case any one is triggered easily, or if you have an issue with dark games in general. Though Graavik may be beautiful, its secrets hide something deeper.
Views of the fjord
Visually, the sights and colour in this game are stunning. The autumnal leaves on the trees are striking against the blue sky and waters, purple flowers standing out among the earthy rocks and grass. The change of weather from sunny to rainy to misty creates a variety of beautiful lighting and colour palettes, reflecting the mood of the situation. Buildings are filled with detail, even in rooms that you aren’t required to investigate. It was even more of a joy seeing it first person, as if you were there.
Unfortunately these aren’t at the best they could be, as graphically it isn’t particularly amazing. Often things such as the leaves of the trees are blurry and undefined, so it can take you out of the immersion a little. Sometimes the dialogue from Alice doesn’t quite match up to her lip movements. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in that respect between Xbox and PC, though I will note I’m using a standard Xbox One. Perhaps PC may be a little better depending on your specs, but if you’re trying to decide which one to get, it seems they’re pretty similar.
In some ways though, the level of graphics doesn’t matter when the world looks so good and the characters can show such emotion. I loved little details like Alice walking along the train tracks or looking out the window, as it was realistic that she interacted with the environment. Her expressions portrayed clearly how she was feeling, whether that be angry or mischievous. I was more focused on this and exploring to unravel the mystery rather than the visuals being perfect.
The voice acting and dialogue was natural, and did incredibly well at showing emotion too. Frustration was clear in Alice’s voice when she became annoyed with Edward, and panic in Edward’s voice when he can’t find her. The soundtrack also did a superb job at highlighting feelings as well; the build up in tense moments had me holding my breath and wandering through the village felt as if you were in a Studio Ghibli film at times, with that hint of adventure!
Solving the mystery
There is so much more to Draugen than can be explained. Although it seems as if there’s no need to replay it because you know the story, I’m tempted to revisit it simply because knowing the ending gives you an entirely new perspective on everything. There’s also quite a few achievements that you might not have picked up through game play alone.
If you’re a narrative based gaming fan, this is definitely worth buying. Even if you aren’t, I would recommend giving it a go as the controls are simple to pick up and it is beautifully unique. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you won’t find out unless you try it! Xbox may be a little more accessible as not everyone has a PC, but in terms of their versions, I can’t see there being much of a difference. What’s exciting too is that the end says that Edward and Alice’s adventure will continue, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can buy a copy of Draugen for Xbox One at the following link: https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/p/draugen/9pnxq2t4b37z?activetab=pivot:overviewtab
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.