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Sunday, 7 March 2021

DRAKAN: ORDER OF THE FLAME


You don't often get to play as a dragon in a video game. More often than not, the monstrous fire-breathing beasts are something you kill rather than control. Drakan: Order of the Flame, Psygnosis' late 90s action adventure filled that gap by putting you in the shoes of a dragon rider complete with an over-powered flying lizard as your companion.
 
WATCH THE VIDEO REVIEW!
 

Drakan was the debut game by Surreal Software and took four years from conception to its final release, changing hands from multiple publishers in the process. Ultimately, Psygnosis won the rights and they put a lot of faith - and money - in the fledgling franchise. It paid off too, selling very well earning a sequel exclusive to the PlayStation 2. Since then, it's been somewhat forgotten barring a small but dedicated cabal of uber-fans keeping its memory alive. I remember being in awe after reading about its 1998 E3 showing, but for some reason it escaped me when it was released. Even years later, when the advent of a disposable income had me addicted to buying old games on eBay, I never once considered it.
 
Some cavernous dungeons are filled with dangerous Tomb Raider-esque traps (left)
They can even explode you into a mess of bloody guts (right)

Playing it now, over two decades after it hit store shelves, I really missed out. As you can tell by the screenshots, the game is heavily inspired by Tomb Raider; a buxom female protagonist, underground dungeons filled with traps, and an emphasis on exploration and observation to find the path forward. By 1999 standards, the comparison was favourable, with more fluid and open movements than what Lara Croft was doing in her fourth game. Add to that a fully realised world and the ability to ride a friggin' dragon and you're sure to have a winner.
 
The story is pretty decent too. Set in the land of Drakan, our heroine Rynn survives a Wartock attack on her village. She awakes to see a village destroyed, bloodied bodies everywhere and her little brother Delon stolen by the orc-like creatures. This isn't the first time this has happened, but the monsters have never been this bold for centuries. Atimar, the village priest and Rynn's father figure, uses his last breath to tell you about the Order of the Flame, a company of militant dragon riders that once protected the realm. Now, it is up to Rynn to bond with a dragon and save Delon from the clutches of the evil horde.

Weapons and magic items take up slots in your inventory.
You might have to get rid of stuff to take them.

There's an engrossing lore in there, but the game itself does little to express it. Plot points are presented as exposition dumps and character motivations turn on a dime to suit this. It doesn't help that the voice acting often dives into Resident Evil levels of badness. Rynn herself comes across as sarcastic, brash and just damn rude. You're more likely to see her hurl an insult than anything else - including weapons.

Rynn's combat abilities heavily skew towards melee. She can add a surprisingly varied number of weapons to her limited inventory, forcing you to Tetris them about a bit. By pressing "I", Rynn will turn to face the camera, displaying a small grid at the bottom of the screen. Weapons, potions, armour and keys all have a grid size which requires the exact shape to be free in order to take it. Double-clicking one of the icons will equip or use it, taking it out of your inventory. This means that if you use a three-block weapon and fill your inventory up to the brim, you cannot swap out for a weapon of a lower size. You simply won't be able to store it otherwise.

Downed enemy dragons may leave glowing health-giving dots suspended in mid-air (left)
Some doors need to be opened before you can ride a dragon through it (right)

As a result, if you want to pick up a new weapon later on in the game, you'll have to say goodbye to another one first. Thankfully, each have their handy stats available, from damage, speed, range and durability. Yes, that means weapons can break. They each have a health bar of sorts represented by the two numbers in this very same stat block. Very rarely did I see any of them break, though. I kept cycling through my weapons, using the base dagger to break crates when hunting for consumables and reserving the best damage dealers for fights.

The combat is where the controls really struggle. While certainly more fluid than Lara Croft, Rynn still moves with a slow delay as animations playout before you're able to enact another. The gunplay of the Tomb Raider games somewhat mitigate the clunkiness, but with swords and axes, you have to get up close and personal. I couldn't quite figure out a way of attack that wouldn't leave me vulnerable. Enemies do have specific attack patterns and a predictable number of moves in which to see an opening, but I - or should I say Rynn - was never really fast enough to exploit them. The earlier goblin-like Wartocks will duck your swings before cheaply wailing at your ankles. Spiders are so small, that you have to crouch to attack them, but now a move towards them covers a huge amount of ground, placing you directly in front of their fangs. By the time you get to the frustrating shield-bearing ogres, you'll be well-versed in health potion consumption. 

Don't drink too many of these elixirs, though. I found them to be far too rare, only having a finite number to be found in the game world. Some pre-ordained enemies do drop them, but I often lost more health than the potion would gain. In many ways, Rynn's vulnerability put me on the edge of my seat, too often being forced to enter a new dungeon with barely a sliver of energy. But, when you know you can quick save anywhere the result was more trial-and-error. I would say this, though; some fights do not need to be had. Others can wait until you have a dragon by your side...

Downing elemental dragons in a boss fight will earn you their abilities (left)
Just fly into the floating crystal to acquire it (right)

Drakan is a game of two halves, seamlessly woven together. About an hour or so in, you'll meet Arokh, an ancient red dragon awoken from his petrified state thanks to some ancient magic. The two of you will bond, forever tying your fates together but more importantly, Arokh is a tank. He can spit fire like an angry volcano, instantly decimating anyone in its trajectory. He'll even learn the use of their elemental attacks such as poison and lightning, but more importantly, he can FLY!

Even is this slightly janky form, flying is insanely satisfying. The terrain is designed around this mechanic, at first enclosing you into valleys and gulfs before opening up into the world at large. He's just as impressive on foot, too, making any necessary departures as Rynn feel ever more exposed and worrisome. You begin to know just how fragile Rynn is compared to her dragon.

The levels, which are so entwined that I wouldn't necessarily call them that, are perfectly designed around this back and forth. Wartocks will drop gates preventing anything larger than a humanoid from passing. Caverns shrink and expand to suit the size of the player. It is, however, a little glitchy. I don't know if this is due to the fanmade patches to get it running, but I often found myself stuck behind geometry. Arokh can easily walk into tight spots, but takes pin-point manoeuvres to get him back out again. There was one section where I question whether he was supposed to be there at all. In the mines, there is a giant mind-controlling emerald that you have to destroy before escaping down a tunnel with falling rocks. Arokh joined in early, making me think he was needed to cause maximum damage, or even to assist in the escape. Alas, he is just a massive hindrance. Now that I think about it, I can't imagine he had any opening to get there anyway.
 
About halfway through the game, you'll have access to an entire lake (left)
This is open and can be explored by foot or by dragon (right)

Even so, the game is still full of invention and interesting mechanics. Some moments even reminded me of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There are moments where you can push rocks down hills to kill Wartocks you won't get to meet until much later down the line (death, destruction and the body parts they leave behind stay put). You even have to chop down a tree to create a makeshift bridge. When the world opens up, you can literally fly anywhere on that map, even if the ultimate progression is pretty linear. Call me impressed.

There is one aspect to the game I didn't try; multiplayer. Apparently, the scene is stronger than I was expecting with many fanmade mods and patches to allow for such a thing in more modern times. I couldn't find an open match, nor could I find anyone willing to join a closed one, but the chatter I see on forums shows that it does work.
 
Drakan: Order of the Flame does have its flaws - some quite major ones - but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. The dated graphics, slightly wonky controls and a plethora of bugs are more noticeable now than perhaps they were in the day. Nevertheless, I still feel like I've re-discovered one hell of a game. A bloody great dragon doesn't hurt either.


To download the PC game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo and the Drakan AiO Final 2 patch to run on modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 259 Mb.  Install Size: 312 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


Drakan: Order of the Flame is © Psygnosis Ltd
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


Like this? Try These...

https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/p/arthurs-knights-tales-of-chivalry-aka.html  http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/dark-earth.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2019/10/the-mummy.html


16 comments:

  1. The download link appears to lead to the Arokh's Lair as opposed to MEGA.

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    Replies
    1. Looks like I kerfuffled my links. All fixed now.

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    2. Leads to MEGA now but all i see is an Empty folder, i take it that site might be having some hiccups today?

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    3. Not doing well am I? Resolved!

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    4. Everything is working now, thanks for uplading Drakan i've coincidentally been thinking about it recently for some reason.

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    5. Cosmic forces doing their thing again it seems :) I wanted to get the video review in at the same time too, but it was clear as the day wore on that it was never likely. Watch out for it tomorrow maybe.

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  2. Don't play the Sequel that became a PS2 Exclusive title named "Drakan: The Ancients' Gates" its awful youtube.com/watch?v=AcybRyD5HkY ... Similar thing happened to "Die By the Sword 2" that also be came CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE , but for DreamCast, renamed as "Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm" youtube.com/watch?v=4Mpwbzd7ERE ... can't say if its bad, since didn't played it ... yet ...

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    Replies
    1. Yep.. I'm friends with Lani Minella who voiced Rynn in this game.. She wasn't too thrilled that they went with somebody else with a fake English accent for Rynn in the PS2 game..

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  3. You are a great one for that man, thanx!

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  4. I actually never knew this one existed. I had The Ancients' Gates on PS2 and always thought that was the only Drakan game. Thanks for sharing this, I might never have known there was a Drakan game before that one otherwise.

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    Replies
    1. The Ancient's Gate is actually the "sequel" but was a PS2 exclusive with a completely different voice cast and a horrible story and gameplay.. lol

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  5. Definitely the best out of both Drakan games.. (The PS2 sequel was.... Yes...lol).. Drakan was a HUGE part of my childhood so it is definitely going to be great to play it again!!

    Thank you for this!! :)

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  6. Never commented before. But this, is a gem. Back when everyone so hyped about Tomb Raider Rynn was my hero. Too bad the game was buggy AF back then I cannot finish it because of the crashes. Let's just say it's Tomb Raider but in fantasy settings and some minor RPG element (looting, upgrade your gear). Now I just don't game much anymore. But for those who's looking for oldie but goodie, this is definitely a must try.

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  7. it's really very good thanks so much
    https://www.gameskp.com/2021/04/akili-interactives-endeavorrx-game.html

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  8. Did a review on this game a month or two before this was put out, super cool to see it here!
    Going to link it in the review.

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  9. Easily the finest of the two Drakan games. (Yes, the PS2 sequel was....lol). Drakan was a huge part of my youth, therefore I'm looking forward to playing it again!!

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