Old School Point-and-Click games are a guilty pleasure of mine. From the days of classic Lucas Arts Games such as Sam and Max and The Dig to modern games like Silence, Deponia, and The Inner World: The Last Wind Monk. Each one tells a fantastical and fully immersive story whether you’re on another planet, living in a world where Furries were the dominant ‘species’ or even a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey combines factual accounts with fantastical characters and an imaginative narrative as we head to London in search of Jack the Ripper.
Coming from small indie developer Salix Games, I waited until a week after release in order to fully review this title as the launch was a bit rocky with technical and gameplay issues which halted my progression pre-release. However, the developers have released four patches so far to combat these issues, with more updates and quality improvements promised to be coming soon. As usual, I’d rather review a fully working version of the game, which is the closest to the version you’ll be playing, than dismiss the game with its launch-day issues.
So, come with me as we explore an unusual story revolved around Jack the Ripper, but not as unusual as the Otome games where he’s a handsome young lad I’m trying to get my leg over with…
Now, I’ve played a few games based around Jack the Ripper, the ones that stick in my mind are the Jack the Ripper DLC for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (which is pretty crazy) and Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper by Frogwares on last gen machines (which needs a remaster/port). Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey takes a different approach in terms of its story. First of all, the titular protagonists consist of a centuries-old Knight of the Round Table, the canine sister of a powerful wizard, and a lady of the night. We have Lancelot Du Lac, Morgana Le Fey (the sister of Merlin who has been transformed into a dog), and Mary Kelly who is rather infamous within the Jack the Ripper lore.
Without going into too much detail, as the game provides the exposition and background as you progress, Du Lac and Fey are bound together as immortal beings left upon the world in order to do good and help those that are in need. Du Lac is happy with doing this yet Fey just wants to break the curse and become human once more by seeking her brother (Merlin) and asking him to undo the magical bond. Upon capturing a demonic being (which you’ll take part in), you’re shown images of London, a cloaked woman, a church, and a few other seemingly unrelated objects, even though your question to the vile beast was “where is Merlin”.
So, off you head to London in search of these cryptic clues. However, things aren’t as easy as they’d hoped. Whilst in town they stumble across a something which catches their attention, a string of murders which they can’t overlook – seeing as they aim to help people. Little did they know that their pursuit of the truth, and Merlin, would lead them to one of the most notorious serial killers of all time, Jack the Ripper.
Taking the role of a gentleman Knight, a talking dog, and a down-to-Earth lady of the night, you have all bases covered as you investigate the horrific events in the streets of London…
What is Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey?
The first thing I feel I need to point out is that I wouldn’t class Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey as a pure point-and-click adventure game. In the literal sense of the words, sure, you point and click to move your characters around the screen and interact with various people and objects. However, to me, it felt a lot more like a Telltale game with its strong emphasis on the narrative and story than the actual exploration and interaction side.
Now, that’s not saying I didn’t like the game, because I did (especially after a few patches!), but you have to go into the game with the acceptance that you’re not going to be using your brain that much, you’ll mainly be coming along for the ride as you go where you’re told and complete certain objectives in order to trigger the next scene. Fans of the former Telltale’s style of storytelling will most likely appreciate what’s on offer more than those who are into games where you have an inventory which you fill up with items so you can solve puzzles later on.
Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey is an interactive story, a narrative with a set beginning, set middle and varied end (from what I gather), based on certain relationship choices throughout the game. I don’t believe too much of the narrative is changed, as it’s loosely based on the history and accounts of the Ripper, but I’ve been told certain things change based on who you choose to ‘bump uglies’ with and certain choices you make in conversation. Although, the game doesn’t actually tell you what conversational points or actions will change the narrative, unlike other games which flag it on the screen. I guess that’s both a negative and positive as it means the alterations could come at any point without you knowing, but it also means if you replay it, you don’t know where to pick differently.
Aside from the story, you’ll also have to do two rather confusing mini-games, a potion creating one and a combat one. I’ll be honest, I had to look up the info in the FAQ on Steam HERE in order to understand the potion minigame as there’s no help after the first one, and the second one requires a different solution. The combat mechanic is a QTE like we saw in YIIK. Click at the right time to either dodge, block or attack. It’s rather basic but it does the job.
The thing that stood out for me though was the complete reversal of hints within Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. I’m used to games given little to no hints on what to do next, yet every time you have a mini-game, the screen is full of hints, or at least an option to click for a handy help screen. However, this time around, the game practically tells you where to go and what to do in terms of the exploration side, yet steps back and leaves you alone during the hands-on moments.
Aside from the really interesting and funny narrative, this is where Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey shines. I loved the characters we met within the game, from our three very different protagonists, all with their own personalities, goals, and abilities (did I mention Fey can talk to animals?), to the various common folk you’ll get to interact with. A few of my favourites clearly have to be the vulgar-mouthed Aoife who’ll make up a lovely song for you on the spot if you piss her off, Mr Green the chemist in his ‘original form’, and Charlie the little urchin boy.
Not only are the characters interesting via their written dialogue, but they are also brought to life with some amazing voice acting from the likes of Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones from Torchwood), Perdita Weeks (Catriona Hartdegen from Penny Dreadful), and Alexandra Roach (From Black Mirror) – a trio of Welsh talent. There are some really good supporting voice actors as well, including two people who appear to be in every single game I play at the moment, Amelia Tyler and Jay Britton! Seriously, they are in everything.
The developers have also populated the streets with non-speaking characters. These are easy to spot as they appear to be 2D drawn NPCs which almost resemble cardboard cutouts which have been scattered around the streets of London. I imagine this is down to the budget and time the developers had. For me, I thought this was a good idea – it added some form of clutter to the various scenes in order to make it seem more alive, and it made the characters you could interact with stand out more.
That was one of the compromises I spotted, but there were a few issues/wishes I had a list of by the time I’d reached the end credits, these were…
Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey has been developed by a small team so there were bound to be a few things, here or there, which would have slipped through QA yet clearly required a bit more polish before release. Thankfully, a lot of the issues I had pre-launch have now been rectified and won’t affect people picking up the game after today. So, the things I’m about to mention are not yet present or things I feel the game is missing. However, do check out the games News page HERE as the developers are putting out patches quite regularly at the moment.
I’m kinda well known for scrutinising subtitles, just look at how my complaint about Spyro blew up and actually pushed Activision to add them into the game a few months later (not to mention I complained in my EDF 5 review and now EDF Iron Rain has them). So I have to mention that the subtitles within Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey can be a bit inconsistent. There is a song segment where coding appears within the displayed words, a few conversations just appear as colons, and a few words don’t mirror what’s being said vocally. Nothing is too drastic or game breaking, but the developers are still in the process of cleaning up the issues which have been spotted so far.
Another issue, which I thought was quite major, is the lack of in-game notes. I’m not quite sure why, but the game has launched with a portion of the investigative and informative mechanics missing. When you open the menu, you have a tab for your journal and objectives. When you click on the objectives, there’s a big space to the right where I presume hints or a description of your task would appear, but it’s currently blank. The game also had a space for lore such as info about the characters and locations, yet they were all blank with a note on the News page for the game saying these were being added later.
Hints on what to do next aren’t really essential, as the name of the objective pretty much sums up what you have to do, but it would have been really cool to see info on the various characters and locations, especially as a lot of them are based on real people – it would have added more depth and realism to the overall experience. Personally, I would have delayed the game to get them in there or maybe launched as an Early Access title, just so people who don’t go looking in the forums know that a few things may not have been added yet.
Modern Point and Click game tropes?
I’m not too keen on the control method used within Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. Sure, it’s point and click – you can’t get any simpler than that. Although, it can be quite cumbersome and distracting at times. To the developer’s credit, today, the movement is better than it was pre-launch, as there were previously some places you would click and your chosen protagonist would walk in the opposite direction. However, there are three things missing in my personal opinion.
1. Interaction points. Modern games such as the ones I mentioned earlier on, all have a button you can press which briefly highlights interaction points within the area. This means you can quickly see what can be interacted with, where an exit is, or who you can talk to. As Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey doesn’t have this, you find yourself spending a lot of time just wandering around as interaction points only get an indicator on-screen if you walk within a certain distance of them.
2. Alternative controls. Telltale games don’t have the above mechanic (remember how I said this was like a Telltale game), but those games you can move around with WASD or a controller, this mechanic is missing in Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. If we could move our protagonist with manual controls, then I believe the above would be a lot easier/better.
3. A faster walk cycle/fast travel. There aren’t many scenes within Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey, probably about four or five streets and various buildings (don’t take that as a negative though as a lot happens in these locations), but it feels like a slog at times because you walk so slow. You can double click to walk faster, but the difference is like changing from a slow stroll to a normal pace (remember Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture?). I feel double click should have had the characters running and/or an in-game map for fast travel.
It made me laugh at one point as I was told to ‘hurry’ and find a woman before she is killed, yet all I could do was walk around at a leisurely pace!
Scene Transitions and ignorant characters
The scene transitions were more often than not just a cut to a black loading screen. However, some of them flickered up an image of a different character in the scene just before it went off, or it would remove a few characters before it went black. I imagine it’s just the timings, characters going off before the backdrop or it coming back briefly instead of going straight to the loading screen after a cutscene, but it’s something which could have done with a bit more tweaking.
The final thing which brought me out of my immersion was the ignorance of the characters. Basically, the characters don’t always auto-adjust their position when you click to interact with them. You sometimes end up facing the opposite direction whilst talking to someone, or you’ll be stood talking about someone behind their back, to their face!
*There are notes on Steam saying most of the above things are known and being looked into*
Now, I know you’re thinking “you really hated this game” well, I didn’t. I actually really enjoyed the story, the interactions with the various characters, how the developers merged fantasy with factual information, and the look and feel of the artistic designs within the game. Sure, it has its issues, but none of them are game breaking, I was left satisfied at the end of my 7-8 hour playthrough (even though I wished the ending had expanded on things a little more).
The above ‘issues’ are things I have to point out as a critic as they are factual things I encountered whilst playing the game in its current build, 1.04, but as I previously mentioned, the developers are very active over on Discord and are trying to resolve any issues brought to their attention. Plus, the game-breaking bugs are no longer there as I was able to get through the game just fine on this build.
As a small indie company, I wasn’t expecting AAA quality or a 100% perfect product on launch, but once the major issues were ironed out, I was literally hooked as I played through the entire game without leaving my desk.
I was running the game on a semi-okay PC (i7, GTX 780TI, 16GB Ram) at 1080p in the highest quality and I had no issues with framerate, crashes or visual defects. It all worked great. The actual visual quality is well done, the game seems to be a mixture of 2D and 3D objects on a [possibly] 2D hand-drawn backdrop (a bit like older Final Fantasy games). There are some dynamic shadows, but they do get placed incorrectly in places like the church. When the game zooms in for the cutscenes, the character models are a bit of a mixed bag. The protagonists and Blodeuwedd look great, they are nicely detailed and the game uses a really good depth of field filter to focus on the main character in the shot. But then we have characters like Charlie who looks like he’s made out of plasticine at times.
However, I believe it’s the artistic design the developers have opted for – it’s not animated, it’s not Cel-Shaded and it’s not Realistic – it’s like a moulded caricature style, realistic with various exaggerations based on the characters personality.
Sound wise, I loved the voice acting in the game along with the script. The combination of the two brought the characters to life. There’s a lot of humour as well as some rather dark subjects being covered and I think the voice actors did a great job. The music also fit the scenes perfectly and stuck with me a while after I had stopped playing.
Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey isn’t perfect, but it’s a really interesting and exciting narrative adventure game with a talking dog! If you’re yearning for a more narrative-focused and linear story to play through, in the wake of the demise of Telltale Games, then this is a game which will easily fill that void for you. As you flip between the three protagonists, you’ll be involved with murder, sex, prostitution, magic, talking to animals, and getting drunk. Sure, the interaction you’ll personally have isn’t as much as a standard point-and-click adventure game, with an inventory and lots of puzzles, but the main focus here is the story and I believe the developers have delivered it in a great way.
I hope I’ve not put you off Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey with the observations within my review. If you wish to get an up to date overview on what’s been updated since this was written, check out Steam HERE and their forums. The developer is very active and I’ll try to update the review once things are resolved.
Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey£24.99
- - Very interesting story
- - Great voice acting and funny dialogue
- - Three protagonists, all with their own personalities; one is a talking dog!
- - There's a really cool twist on the legend towards the end of the game
- - See above for the issues and missing parts (at the moment)
- - The whole game is contained within a small number of scenes (this didn't bother me though)
- - The ending is a bit abrupt and I kind of wished for more at the end, but maybe there's another ending or a follow up planned?
- - The game holds your hand a lot, it's an interactive narrative game rather than a standard point-and-click adventure game (in my opinion)