Released in a double bill with its sequel, The Dark Eye: Memoria, The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav is a reasonably straightforward point-and-click adventure set in the Dark Eye universe. That universe is the German equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons, and while it hasn’t quite emerged as a global RPG player like D&D has, we’ve still been stealthily getting games from it, like Blackguards and Blades of Destiny: Realms of Arkania. So stealthily, in fact, that we weren’t aware they were a connected universe.
Your character in The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav is a kind of inverse Harry Potter. There are plenty of prophecies written about your character, Geron, but rather than save the world, they predict that you’ll end it. You’re the ‘Bird Catcher’ who will bring ruin to everyone, and you’re bullied by locals in your hometown who would rather that you steered clear of them. There’s a touch of Terry Pratchett’s Rincewind about you too, as you’re a magic practitioner but not a good one, and you only have one spell to hand: the ability to break things at a distance, which is fitting for someone who’s predicted to end it all.
With all that swirling around him, Geron is fairly bitter and hardened, but he’s still got a determination to get out of the hole he’s in. The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav starts in medias res, as you’re partway through a King’s challenge to gather four oak leaves that have been hidden about the city of Andergast. It’s a ceremonial challenge before the arrival of the neighbouring Queen from Noxia, and the winner is promised to get a prize and audience with the King. Suffice to say that the makers of the challenge would rather you didn’t win.
The plot soon develops to reveal that a Seer has returned who both cursed you (setting the prophecy in motion), and narrowly failed to destroy Andergast himself. This fires you like a ballista through various plot moments, taking you on a hunt for a fairy called Nuri, and a fabled harp that will stop the Seer once and for all. You’ll take in swathes of the Dark Eye’s world and beyond, dodging orcs, tricking imps and dyeing the beards of dwarves. It’s pretty traditional fantasy stuff, but with a mischievous, humorous side that takes it closer to Discworld than The Wizarding World or Middle-Earth.
The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav gets a lot right, and its world, characters and quality of writing are all among them. Geron manages to be likeable while largely being smooshed into the ground by everyone around him, and the world shows enough imagination and subversion to stand apart from other similar worlds, even though it deals in the usual swords and sorcery. The fairy you meet is human-sized and makes imaginary friends out of sticks; a pirate has a skin condition, and you can steal stuff from him as you rub in cod liver oil. A character called the Occulunculus is just brilliant.
Screenshots should also hopefully convey how painterly and beautiful the environment is. We can’t recall a point-and-click that aims for something close to realism and looks this good – we’d happily have some of the backgrounds on a wall. It pulls you through the game, knowing that the next sequence might look better than the last, and the writing pulls that imagery into unexpected scenarios. For an older game (The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav was originally released on PC in 2012), it’s been tarted up extremely well.
The point-and-clicking and gameplay is a little more wonky, and could have benefited from more of that tarting. Control of Geron is via the analogue stick, so there are some strong concessions to console, but interactive elements are handled less well. Small circles appear over interactive elements when you’re able to use them, but those circles can be frustratingly inconsistent about when they appear. Sometimes you just need to be near their connected item; other times you need to be near them AND looking at them, while occasionally you have to be in a specific spot that the game had in mind. This was obviously built for PC, and Chains of Satinav loves to put important stuff high above Geron’s head, which is exactly what the game has trouble with. An RB system that cycles through interactables is okay, but only helps when those blasted circles are visible. We wondered why Daedalic, the developers, didn’t just bite the bullet and show all interactive elements in a scene at once.
Geron is slow, which comes into focus in larger hub sections (particularly in a nobbly section towards the end where you’ll be trial-and-erroring across multiple connected game screens). There’s no run button, so you’re stuck with his stroll. Using your inventory is probably the most inexplicable of issues, though: you can pull up a mini-inventory while playing with the D-pad, but there’s no text to identify what the item is, and the cursor for using an item on the environment is so small that it becomes hard to know what you are using. You’ll often be drawn into the bigger version of the inventory to combine your items, but it’s fiddly, and also not particularly clear in what you are using on what.
You’ll also gain two spells to use (Geron never quite becomes a master wizard, which is a nice bucking of the norm), but using those spells felt a bit invisible, and we often forgot that we had their abilities. These aren’t complete game-breakers, but it can feel like your shoelaces are tied together, when you know full well what you want to do and you just want to get on with doing it.
We should probably chuck The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav’s logic on that pile of foibles, too. You might have a good idea of what you want to do to complete an objective, but Geron will have a very specific order in which he wants you to do it, and he will often give you no help in finding that order. There’s a sequence involving a wizard’s hat, knife and decanter of wine that had our hair in clumps, as it teased us by telling us we’re on the right track when we felt like we’d arrived at the solution – thank you very much.
The skew-whiff logic becomes a huge problem in one particular section towards the end of the game, mainly because you’ve gone Through the Looking Glass into a world whose rules are completely askew. You’re not only exposed to an abstract world, but you’re given a huge area, multiple tasks at once and various interlocking systems involving seasons, the flow of time, wind direction and colour wheels, all with the control wrinkles I’ve already mentioned. Praise be for walkthroughs, but even using them was difficult, as configuring the various systems and understanding its terminology was confounding. It was visually stupendous, and would otherwise have been a highlight, but the game screeched to a stop at this point.
Logically, it’s a bit stop-start, then. We went through entire tableaux without needing help, while other bits just pushed their luck. If you’re a point-and-click veteran (we’d like to think we are in that group), then we’d suggest it’s at the more difficult end. There’s no in-game help option, so you’ll likely be bookmarking a walkthrough.
One remaining niggle is the story, as there’s a gaping hole in it in the form of the Seer. He barely appears – some would argue that he doesn’t appear at all – and it robs the game of a bit of urgency. You’re working to stop something, but that something is mostly prophesied and doesn’t really suggest a threat until the last act. It can occasionally feel like a road trip without much of an idea of a destination, and it’s a missed trick.
Regardless, we’d like to make the case for why you should stump up the – admittedly high – £17.99 for The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav on Xbox. Point and clicks have always struggled to transition to console, so any fans will be aware of the pitfalls. Plus, the logical leaps are less of an issue in the age of walkthroughs, so, as long as you don’t bounce like a bee at a window trying to get past the logical walls on your own, there’s a fun, meticulously crafted and involving story to be told here. By the ending, you’ll have a lump in the throat (in a good way).
As a gateway to the wider Dark Eye universe, Chains of Satinav does a bang-up job, and leaves you eager to hop onto the store and buy its follow-up, Memoria. Logic and control issues aside, it’s a higher-tier point and click, and it tells a story that’ll have you cosying up with a blanket and Andergastian tea.