‘Walking Simulator’ is a term which I don’t like using as it doesn’t paint the right kind of picture for what you’re about to experience. However, despite my dislike of the derogatory ‘genre’, it’s one which most people understand when describing games such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Dear Esther, and Draugen. Developers Red Thread Games have delivered a beautiful, yet harrowing, interactive narrative adventure in the form of Draugen, a game which has you hooked from the opening title sequence all the way through to the end credits.
Unlike their previous game, the brilliant Dreamfall Chapters, Draugen isn’t a 30+ hour adventure game in which you proceed down branching paths and solve puzzles by interacting with various people and objects. Instead, we’re presented with a short two-three hour ‘Fjord Noir’ experience which you’ll be thinking about long after you’ve seen the credits roll – thanks to its brilliant writing and immersive storytelling.
Due for release on consoles later this year, and available now on PC, why should everyone who loves a good story purchase this game? Let’s find out…
In Draugen you take the role of Edward Charles Harden, an American who has travelled to Norway in search of his sister who has gone missing recently. Thankfully you’re not alone, you’ve brought along with you a young energetic girl called Lissie. Together, you set out to investigate the mystery of where your sister could have got to whilst you take residence with a local family in a farmhouse atop a beautiful mountain. Despite the small village residing within a peaceful and relaxing location, cut off from the outside world as it hides away on its own island, there’s a dark side which is waiting to be uncovered.
As your search gets deeper, secrets and past events become clearer as you piece together tales from the past. The once picturesque island begins to paint a different picture as the dark clouds set in and our protagonist’s mental state begins to take a turn for the worst. Can you remain sane and find your sister or will you succumb to the psychological issues you have and lose sight of her? You’ll have to play the game in order to find out…
As Draugen is a narrative-heavy experience, relying on its incredible storytelling in order to immerse you into the role of Edward, I don’t want to discuss the story more than I have above as it’s a story you should experience for yourself.
Draugen is an interactive narrative adventure. As you progress through the story, watching the days pass by the longer you play, you’ll get the chance to explore the small island as you walk around and look for your sister as well as investigate a few other mysteries which have occurred previously. For those looking for a lot of interactions in the form of puzzles and dialogue trees and/or multiple pathways, you won’t find them here. Draugen is very linear in its design and is more akin to a story in which you’re simply along for the ride. Sure you can go off from Lissie and explore the various parts of the island, but other than the beautiful vistas and gorgeous art design, there’s very little to look at or do outside of what the game wants you to experience.
Don’t take that the wrong way though, the narrative within the game is brilliant and the story is held together by perfect voice acting, very atmospheric music, and an intriguing plot which changes as you proceed throughout the story.
The narrative of the story is delivered through various means, talking to Lissie and yourself out loud allows you to speculate and formulate an opinion on events you’ve uncovered and thoughts on what to do next, and letters and documents are found throughout the various buildings which also helps build a picture of what’s going on. Most of these are found as you follow the path the game is guiding you along, but there are some things off the beaten path for you to observe and discover for yourself, this also includes a number of peaceful locations where you’ll sit down and draw the beautiful landmarks within your diary.
The character models and the art style is just as good as the environments around you, all of them looking very realistic thanks to their motion-captured production. Edward, the older and more mature of the duo, has a soft and caring voice which is full of anxiety and fear over the disappearance of his sister. However, Lissie is so full of energy and life as she runs around and plays in the sun, climbs on top of structures, loves to explore and constantly annoys you like a younger sibling.
As you walk around and take in the various scenic locations on the island, you can talk to Lissie at the tap of a button in order to either gain her insight on the situation at hand or get a prompt as to where you need to go next. She’ll usually answer back like an immature young child, but she tends to have a helpful response every now and again. I found the conversations between the protagonist and his female companion to be very natural and charming, delivering a nice balance of banter and casual rapport depending on the situation. You can even call out her name in order to see where she is if you’ve lost sight of her, which is always helpful when your vision has been limited due to weather and psychological effects.
What I absolutely loved about the character interactions though was the subtle attention to detail. If you’re talking to Lissie and she’s replying but you start to walk away, she’ll ask where you’re going and demand you return to her so she can finish what she was saying. Similarly, if you look away when she’s being emotional or saying something of great importance, she’ll question why you won’t look at her whilst she’s talking to you. I can’t recall playing a game previously where the NPC characters detected if you were actually looking at them and adapted their dialogue accordingly – it adds a level of detail to the experience which further enhances your overall immersion.
It’s always hard to talk about a game which relies heavily on its narrative in order to showcase its deep and mysterious story, as I don’t want to resort to letting any spoilers slip. I went into the game without any prior knowledge or information on what the game was actually about, having ignored clicking on various YouTubers and Twitch streams of people playing the game.
In hindsight, I’m glad I did as this is the sort of game which you need to play for yourself the first time, without knowing the final outcome and the chain of events which happens throughout the story. As soon as the game loaded and I was sat in a boat talking to Lissie, I knew this game was going to be something special, not just because of the gorgeous visuals but the character interactions, beautiful music and overall tone the game was going for.
As a fan of Point and Click, adventure, narrative-heavy, and immersive storytelling games, I can’t tell you how much I loved the pacing, the story, the atmosphere, and the overall setting within Draugen. I know some people may not like it due to its limited interactions and lack of ‘gameplay’, but people who enjoyed titles such as Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and What Remains of Edith Finch will also love what the developers have created. Although it’s not a very long title, it’s one which will stick with you and make you want to return in order to see if you’ve missed anything as you replay the game with newly obtained information on the situation.
Performance-wise, My i7 with 16GB RAM and a 780ti did struggle a little throughout the game, mainly with the game crashing due to running out of video memory. I had the game set to Ultra (as it auto-detected I could) and the resolution was set at 1080p, but certain scenes were a little too much, causing framerate dips and the aforementioned crashing to the desktop with a GPU error. However, thanks to the in-game resolution scaling slider and the many customisable visual options, I was able to adjust it to an 81% resolution scale and everything worked fine from thereon. Obviously, when the game finally comes to the PS4 I’ll be picking it up again so I can re-experience the game without these PC technical issues.
Also, as a side note – there doesn’t appear to be support for the DS4 natively, I had to use Steam to emulate my DS4 into an Xbox controller. So all button prompts, if using a controller, are displayed as Xbox prompts. I know there’s only a small portion of people who use their DS4 on the PC, but I would love it if more developers would start to implement native DS4 support within their games.
Despite its short length, Draugen is a narrative adventure which you shouldn’t miss out on. Visually the game is absolutely stunning, from it’s highly detailed and realistic characters to the picturesque environments within this Norwegian setting, it’s easy to get lost in the moment as you wander around and admire its beauty. Thanks to the mysterious and harrowing nature of the narrative, the story brings up questions which will stick with you long after you’ve seen the final credits roll – some of which may be answered in the prequel comic book which is due for release later this year as (possibly free) DLC.
If you’re a fan of narrative-driven interactive storytelling, Draugen should be your next venture into this immersive medium. The story will grip you from the start, the events will surprise and intrigue you as they unfold, and the discoveries you make will leave a lasting impression on you.
- - Stunning visuals with an amazing amount of detail in every object and structure
- - Entertaining and realistic banter between our protagonists
- - An exciting and mysterious story which you'll remember long after finishing the game
- - Hidden achievements for exploring and taking in all of the beautiful vistas and landmarks
- - The soundtrack is beyond amazing and the voice acting delivers the incredible narrative perfectly
- - Not an issue for me but some people may find the lack of 'gameplay' off-putting due to the nature of the game as an interactive story
- - I was left with a number of questions upon finishing the game, some are hopefully answered within the comic. However, the comic isn't available yet