Mystery of the Druids, by first-time developer House of Tales, is an adventure game that unsuccessfully attempts to evoke the supernatural intrigue of the Gabriel Knight games. As Brent Halligan, a Scotland Yard detective, you are assigned to investigate a series of brutal murders. The setup promises both sleuthing and suspense, but Mystery of the Druids delivers neither. Instead, you get only generic adventure-game puzzles that have little to do with detective work and everything to do with tricking people into helping you perform mundane tasks. You also get a story that moves blandly from point to point.
Since Halligan is a detective for Scotland Yard, you would think that advanced tools of the trade would be at his disposal. But Mystery of the Druids has a seemingly endless supply of contrivances, excuses, and roadblocks. To access the Yard's computer database, you must trick your irascible chief into signing the proper forms. Never mind that you're investigating a series of brutal murders--he simply won't help you unless you trick him. Worse still, the game's first major puzzle requires you to find a way to knock out a beggar so that you can steal his change and use a pay phone. Why? Because the phone in Halligan's office doesn't work. And, conveniently, Halligan has lost his wallet. And no one in the department will let you use his or her phone.
Other puzzles are equally confounding. One involves throwing a handful of salt to destroy a huge mausoleum. Another has you stealing a fishing pole to get the said salt. Almost every puzzle requires you to resort to petty theft or illicit means to accomplish your goal, and your goals are, more often than not, simply ludicrous. Adventure games often require you to suspend your disbelief to navigate the challenges, but Mystery of the Druids requires you to abolish your disbelief completely.
Halligan can't seem to get help from anyone. People hang up on him when he's trying to get information, librarians refuse to help him find books, and everyone seems to be generally rude and unimpressed by the fact that he is a detective working on a horrible and infamous murder case. Scotland Yard, and possibly the entire population of Great Britain, might consider suing House of Tales for defamation of character. Only two characters provide any help at all. One of these is Dr. Melanie Turner, an anthropologist who becomes a sort of Grace to Halligan's Gabriel. You play as Melanie for brief periods of the game, but her puzzles are of the same ilk as Halligan's, and there's no real discernable reason for her presence.
Melanie Turner is a plot device in a game surprisingly devoid of plot. The major developments in Mystery of the Druids don't take place through discovery, but through dialogue. People tell Halligan what is going on and what he should do next. This acts not only to kill suspense, but also to make the storyline little more than a brief respite between the puzzles. You are forced by the game to do unintelligent things--hide a sacred artifact in a ferry cabin, break into a suspect's house--and the results are predictably bad. One major plot twist halfway through the game is so silly and grotesque that you can't help but wish you were given a more intelligent character to control.
The dialogue doesn't help to liven things up. Most of it is entirely expository, outlining what's gone on and what should happen next. Some of the early dialogue makes a cursory attempt to establish the characters, but for the most part, it's there only to set up the puzzles. The actual dialogue branches are confusing and often seem like a maze that you'll need to navigate over and over again to get every possible thread. Important dialogue branches will just disappear as you converse, and you'll have to repeat whole conversations to find them again. The voice acting is good for the main characters but occasionally inappropriate for secondary characters--like the venerable professor who sounds like Howard Stern.
The graphics incorporate three-dimensional characters on two-dimensional backgrounds. The backgrounds look good, but the characters are low-resolution and awkward. Moreover, they all have strange arm animation that make them look like they are either trying to describe the shape of a ball or prone to violent fits of vertigo. The graphics are generally good, though, and most locations have ambient elements--like construction workers in the background--that make each area seem alive.
Unfortunately, Mystery of the Druids falls victim to the worst clichés of its genre. It would seem that the act of investigating a murder, a supernatural murder at that, would include enough puzzles of its own. But House of Tales has opted instead for the path of illogical inventory puzzles and morally questionable acts. It's bad enough to believe that Scotland Yard would put such an infamous case in the hands of an unlikable and incompetent detective, but it's worse that House of Tales has put that same detective in your hands.