Draugen comes from the Norse word “draug” and is used to describe a supernatural entity. The Draugen are said to be the ghosts of sailors or fishermen who have lost their lives at sea, doomed to haunt the waves. Huge in size and covered in seaweed, a Draugen is always seen rowing the remnants of his shattered boat. Draugen is however also the name of a new action-adventure mystery game from developers Red Thread Games and coincidentally enough you start the game in a rowboat on a beautiful Norwegian Forde. The question is, why are we there and do we ever meet the Draugen?
Draugen tells a brilliant story, one that is like reading a short tale that stays with you long after you put down the book. Set in the 1920s, you play the part of Edward Harden, an American naturalist who has travelled with a young teenage girl called Lissie to the small fishing village of Graavik in Norway. Edward is trying to find his sister Betty who he believes was last seen in this village, and the clues begin as soon as they both get off the boat. The town is however deserted so it’s up to you – and both of the characters – to follow the road ahead.
It’s a gripping yarn that is told through some amazing writing, with visual storytelling of the town coming across via an atmosphere of the never knowing, as you are left to guess at what is real or not. Is the reason there isn’t anyone left in the sleepy village because of the supernatural? Or is Edward slowly unravelling mentally? It is this type of question that you’ll find yourself struggling with from the first moments right through to the end of the game. The documents you find on the way are all very important in trying to piece the clues of the narrative together and every single piece of information you gather adds to the lore.
Gameplay-wise and Draugen plays out in a fairly straightforward manner: there isn’t any combat or any puzzle-solving as such and instead it’s all about the discovery and journey. For some, this will feel far too much like a game from the so-called “walking sim” genre and that could well put many off immediately. But for me it feels like a great interactive storybook that plays out through the course of a three hour game. It will however mean that all you are left to do is pretty much walk and run about for the most part, with just a few interactive elements splitting that up, letting you clamber over something, pick up some items or read a diary for example. I love this kind of gameplay though and it all works really well in Draugen – just don’t expect it to tax the gaming muscles too much. The clues are easy to find too, and the game tends to constantly point you in the right direction if you should ever try to wander. Lissie even says “Where are you going?” if you wander away from what you should be doing. If by some strange occurrence you manage to stray, you can shout out and Lissie – or any others – will shout back, pinging up with a marker on the screen that shows you where the direction of the voice is coming from.
It has to be said that Draugen is a very relaxed gameplay experience which will never make you break a sweat. And again, for some, this style will not be interactive enough with many gamers wanting to get their hands dirty and be able to do more. But there is the occasional illusion of free will with moments that will see you needing to hurry or run around, whilst others deliver just a little bit of much needed tension and fear in what is happening around you. At the end of the day though it’s the journey that is important with Draugen, rather than how you get there.
Visually the game is stunning and after playing through this I can guarantee that you’ll want to spend a short weekend break in the village of Graavik. Apart from the death, murder and general weirdness it’s the most picture-perfect spot in gaming. Lighting, textures and the animation of characters is perfect and it reminded me at times of the Bioshock universe – especially with Infinite, the last game in that franchise. It’s all well detailed too and I loved the interiors and the extra period-correct details in the things like foodstuff in the local store, and maps ordaining the walls in some of the living quarters. In a word, it can be stunning.
The sound department isn’t a slouch either. The soundtrack itself is a stunning feat of choral ethereal beauty that stuns with the opening track and carries on throughout the game until the end. The voice-over work is heavily used throughout and the main actors deliver a brilliant job. Lissie’s voice-over in particular portrays the jubilant, playful and wise character to perfection, with it selling lines like “noodle juice” and “old bean” convincingly and joyfully throughout.
If you like this kind of thing then Draugen on Xbox One is a great piece of storybook gaming that is getting on close to being a must-buy. The story is a good one, covering a tale of intrigue, sadness, murder and jealously, all while set on the background of a deserted village separated from the rest of the world. The relationship between characters is brilliantly crafted as is the writing and dialogue throughout. The gameplay is simple though, and the journey is much more about sharing an experience with the narrative then forging a path on your own, and this might well frustrate certain gamers. It’s a short experience as well, but as the world is so likeable I could have happily spent much more time in there. But occasionally leaving the player wanting more is for the best, and that is what is present here with Draugen.