The inherent problem with a game like Draugen is that you can’t talk about it. That makes reviewing somewhat tricky. You see, dear reader, Draugen is one of them there fancy pants walking simulators, all artistic and such like. The story of Druagen is the game, but I can’t talk about the story in detail without ruining the game. You see the problem?
*Downs a shot of whiskey* But I got this. I got it. Right. Here we go.
Draugen takes place in 1920’s Norway. The uptight and nervous Edward Harden has travelled to the coastal village of Graavik in search of his lost sister, Emily. Accompanying Edward is his young ward Lissie who is boisterous, talkative, constantly spouting inane theories about what’s going on and above all else really wishes Edward would take that stick out of his uptight arse.
As for the town of Graavik it’s a beautiful place. Vast mountains in the background, idyllic houses and a sea-view to end all sea-views. While Druagen may not be a powerhouse of graphical va-va-voom it still does a pretty good job. It would be a fantastic place to live if it wasn’t for the fact that all the residents of Graavik have vanished. This was not mentioned in the brochure.
If some of this sounds familiar then you’d be right; Draugen conjures up comparisons to the likes of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and What Remains of Edith Finch and indeed owes a lot to such games. But still, Draugen does manage to bring its own twists to the walking simulator genre. Like how Edward is too damn polite to go into certain places. Everyone has vanished, Edward, it’s okay to stop sleeping on the couch and use one of the bedrooms.
At the core of everything is the relationship between Edward and Lissie which is a meld of father & daughter, brother & sister and just plain friends. Some players might find Lissie annoying, but personally I found her endearing. She calls Edward, “Teddy Bear,” and constantly says things like, “Old bean,” or describes Edward as a “wet blanket”. Whereas Teddy Bear is meek, afraid to break the rules and is polite to a fault Lissie is happy to bounce around, stick her nose in everything and generally enjoy life. She’s at once brilliantly likeable and utterly annoying. The contrast between her and Edward is a genuine joy, even if I did occasionally want to strangle her.
By tapping F when Lissie is nearby you can engage her in various conversations that further help flesh out the game’s story and mystery. Without doing this a couple of important bits of information can actually be missed. There’s even a basic attempt at offering dialogue choices, though they don’t seem to have much impact on how things play out. They feel more like an attempt to add more gamey stuff to the game.
Outside of chatting to Lissie your interaction with Draugen is limited. This is a linear story with no puzzles to solve. You’ll be lead from story beat to story beat with only a little room for meaningful exploration. It’s the kind of experience that needs to have a truly outstanding story, in my opinion, because without that it’s too easy to notice the fact that you’re playing through a glorified visual novel.
So, what of the story? How does it hold up? There are two narrative threads that run through Draugen; is Edward’s missing sister in Graavik, and what happened to all the people? Both are interesting tales with some nice twists and turns. The game works to make you question the nature of the mystery, too, adding in things like doors closing of their own accord, raising the idea that something supernatural is going on. Is everything happening because Casper the Ghost took a vacation?
With the town empty most of the narrative gets built around finding photos, letters and other things. It’s effective, but the downside to delivering the plot this week is that it’s hard to feel connected to the people involved. Do I really care about the people of Graavik? No. They’re little more than some vague descriptions.
Ultimately nothing in Draugen got a reaction from me. There were no amazing moments when things clicked together, no feelings of true discovery and nothing that really gripped me about the people of Graavik. This was particularly true of one specific member of Graavik’s community, a small child. While Edward and Lissie were clearly affected by her story, I was not.
The relationship between Edward and Lissie proved more enjoyable, but even that lacked weight. To be fair, though, that’s partially because I called a major plot point within the first 30 minutes of the game thereby robbing it of impact when it came around. This, I think, may potentially be the game’s biggest hurdle; some people are going to see a big part of the plot coming. This is because the game drops a lot of clues along the way which to anyone who has had prior experience with narratives of the same ilk will almost immediately pick up on. However, it has to be said that Draugen should be praised for putting in those hints rather than just having the twist come out of the blue. A good twist should always be done so that when you go back and rewatch/replay/reread everything the clues are there. The thing is the clues need to be hidden in such a way that most people won’t notice them at first. Draugen struggles with this.
Despite this, though, Draugen is still a solid narrative adventure. Be warned, though it can be a short experience; my first playthrough clocked in at around 2-3 hours. My second took longer as I ensured I caught every potential conversation and took time to double check all the locations. Doing this, especially running through all the conversations with Lissie, helps flesh out the story more.
Speaking of fleshing things out if you like your stories to have full closure then Draguen might leave you feeling irritated. Of course, leaving some questions is vital when it comes to making a sequel or DLC, something which Draugen is clearly aiming for, and it does succeed in leaving the right questions to have me wanting more. But it also left some plot threads dangling that probably should have been handled better. This also includes a major plot point about Edward which the developers themselves have clarified in spoiler posts on the Steam forums.
Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning that the developers are apparently considering adding VR support to Draguen. As a first-person game it would be a superb addition, though the lack of interaction could grow irksome.
So, is Draugen worth playing? It’s a challenging question, least not because trying to review the game without being able to talk about the major pieces of the game makes it hard to justify my conclusion. In my opinion Draugen is a solid story-driven game, but not up in the upper echelons of the genre. It has the potential to be up there, though, and the potential to have two fascinating characters in Edward and Lissie. I look forward to the continuation of their story.
3 out of 5