Drakan: The Ancients' Gates Preview
Rynn and Arokh return to save humanity on the PlayStation 2.
When Drakan: The Order of the Flame was released for the PC in July of '99, it offered a refreshing twist on the standard third-person action-adventure formula. In addition to controlling the scantily clad female lead Rynn for ground-based adventuring, you were able to take to the skies on the back of your trusty dragon Arokh for aerial combat. The combination of a shapely lead, swords, and dragon flying helped the game stand out from the pack and made for some fun gameplay. Fans of the original game will finally be able to play developer Surreal Software's follow-up this January, when Drakan: The Ancients' Gates comes to the PlayStation 2.
While there isn't a "two" in the title, Drakan: The Ancients' Gates is a true sequel to the PC game, following the further adventures of Rynn and Arokh as they find themselves fighting to keep the last traces of humanity from being enslaved. To do so, the pair must make their way through 15 levels set in four environments, talking with characters to learn new magic and battling hordes of enemies on their quest to awaken a group of ancient dragons from a long-lost empire. The combined power of the great dragons looks to be the only thing capable of saving the world from darkness.
Those who have played the PC version of the game or any third-person action-adventure game should be right at home with the basics of Rynn's control. The control scheme works well with the Dual Shock 2 and should be easy enough to pick up after a few minutes. You'll move Rynn with the left analog stick and use the right stick to control the free-look function, which allows you to better examine your surroundings. The square button is used to attack--you'll be able to perform combos by tapping it quickly and trigger other types of strikes by pressing the D-pad in conjunction with it. The X button puts Rynn into a crouch and is also used to trigger rolls if you press a direction on the analog stick when crouched. The triangle button is used for jumping, and the circle button allows you to parry in combat and use magic. The R1 trigger is a inventory button that allows you to draw a weapon quickly. R2 is used to lock on to targets for combat. The L1 trigger serves as both the "use" button, which allows you to interact with other characters and trigger items, and a call for Arokh. The L2 button allows you to toggle between available targets during combat. Finally, the select button calls up an inventory screen, where you can check on what you're carrying, review your magic, check out your experience and assign points to various skills to boost their effectiveness, view a map of the area you're in, and review quests you have in progress. The control for Arokh is a bit more basic, as you'll be spending most of your time in the air when controlling him. You'll move him with the left analog stick and use the right stick to help turn and adjust his pitch. You'll have access to two basic attack types, and his primary is triggered with the square button and his secondary is triggered with the circle button. Like Rynn's combat controls, you'll be able to perform different attacks when pressing the D-pad and attack buttons. The triangle and X buttons are used to adjust your altitude while flying. Finally, the L1 trigger allows you to scroll through your available dragon weapons, which you'll also be able to use in combat.
The combat system in Drakan will offer you a wide variety of ways to kill enemies. Rynn will eventually come across 50 hand-to-hand weapons, 24 bows, and 30 different spells. The spell system will offer a cool alternative control method for players who are serious about their spellcasting. You'll be able to "cast" spells by holding down the circle button and moving the left analog stick to get Rynn to perform hand motions that will trigger spells. The various spells you learn in the game will have their own corresponding motion. It's a bit tricky, especially when you're in a hurry to get off a spell, but it is a cool feature. Arokh doesn't have quite as much variety in the weapon department, but he does all right--you'll be able to use five different dragon weapons including fire, lightning, sonic, ice, and darkness.
The graphics in Drakan: The Ancient's Gates are several cuts above those of its PC predecessor, though they're a bit rough in spots. To the game's credit, it features some much appreciated antialiasing that allows the huge environments you venture through to look very nice. The textures in the game are also very well done, and they don't look quite as smeared as the textures in other PS2 titles with large environments. The environments offer a nice sense of scale and weather. Mountains in the far distance will have visible snowcapped peaks, while storms will illuminate the sky and surrounding area with lighting. The water in the game is a bit rough and looks flat. The characters, while much better looking thanks to their generous polygon budget, are still blocky. However, subtle touches like Rynn's hair and expressive face keep the characters visually interesting. Unfortunately, many of the NPCs you encounter aren't quite as attractive. Though uneven, Drakan's graphics are impressive overall thanks to a smooth frame rate and animation.
Though the build of Drakan we got our hands on was still early, the game was fun to play. The ground and air combat felt good, although the camera could be a pain at times. The large environments were nice to roam around in, and character interaction was helpful--early levels acquaint you with Rynn's abilities and ease you into the action at a good pace. Leveling Rynn's abilities up with skill points looks as though it will offer players a degree of flexibility in terms of tailoring Rynn to their style of play, which is pretty cool. So far, Drakan: The Ancients' Gates looks like it's shaping up well. Gamers eager to hack, slash, cast spells, and ride a dragon can look for Drakan: The Ancients' Gates in January of next year.
GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.