At first glance, Draugen takes your breath away- It’s visually stunning. Unlike that cute, blonde girl at school that every boy couldn’t keep their eyes off of, Draugen is more than just looks. Its story is complied of twists and turns that immerse you in its epic story. The music score is perfect for a 1920’s psychological mystery theme and of course, the visuals are stunning. If this is what Norway looked like in the 1920’s, then we need more games set in this period.
Draugen is a psychological mystery game that takes place in the early 1920’s in a small town of Graavik, located on the gorgeous coast of Norway. Draugen begins its adventure on a simple rowboat, surrounded by the beautiful scenic views of Norway. Here you’re introduced to Edward Charles Harden, an American traveler who has ventured out to Graavik in hope of finding his sister- Elizabeth, who he believes is in danger. Accompanying Edward is Lissie, a gregarious, independent and enigmatic young woman. Upon docking at the peer of Graavik, you quickly realize all is not well- the local store is abandoned, there’s not a person in sight and most worryingly, there’s no sign of Elizabeth. Together, Edward amd Lessie must explore this scenic coastal town that’s nestled amongst the fjords and mountains of rural Norway before it’s too late. Soon, you start to unearth the darkness that lies beneath the picturesque surface of Graavik. How can such a pretty, quiet and small rural town hold such dark and disturbed secrets? The deeper you dig, the more layers of this intriguing story you discover. Combining your discoveries with Edward’s decreasing mental state, you’re set to experience an enthralling story from a fragile protagonist view.
The developers behind Draugen are a small team of 12 based in downtown Oslo, Norway, called Red Thread. Established in 2012, Red Thread is the team responsible for the choice-and-consequence adventure Dreamfall Chapters. With a mission statement of “to create story-driven games with soul for a global and diverse audience of players who love stories — across multiple genres and platforms”, it’s no wonder that Draugen is a powerful story that will engage most gamers on an emotional level. Draugen is written by Ragnar Tørnquist, the man responsible for The Longest Journey, Dreamfall, The Secret World, Dreamfall Chapters and he certainly doesn’t lower his standards for Draugen. Draugen has had an interesting development, to say the least. It was first announced in 2013 and set for a 2015 release, described as a survival horror game. During Draugen’s extended 4 years of development, Draugen has seen a shift in direction that has established itself as a mysterious psychological thriller. Red Thread has described the 2019 adaptation “as moments of darkness and fear, mystery and suspense, but it also has beauty, peace and poetry.”
If you’ve played The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, then you’ll feel right at home with Draugen. For all those unfamiliar with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, basically both games could be described as walking simulators. You’ll explore the world at a slower, almost tourist-sight-seeing pace that’s mostly confined by the game in a set direction and pace. By this I mean you can’t explore random areas of the game. Draugen will direct you down a pre-defined path with little room to deviate. If you attempt to explore an area that the story is yet to unlock, you’ll be greeted with a cutscene that explains why you can’t enter there, or you’ll simply be physically unable to enter that area. This isn’t a bad thing. Draugen is a powerful story driven game that will immerse you from the first minute of the game, to the last. At its core, you’re investigating the disappearance of your sister, but the story of Draugen is much deeper and powerful. You’ll interact with your companion Lissie throughout the game, usually with 2 or 3 different voiced options that will describe how you’re interrupting the story. Other than that, there’s not a great deal of involvement from a player’s point of view other than walking, looking and the occasional interaction with options such as opening doors, climbing over rocks and other small tasks.
To say that the town of Graavik is stunning is an understatement, Red Thread have done a great job utilizing the Unreal engine for Draugen. Every inch of Graavik is worth exploring, the ocean crashing into the cliff face, the abandoned houses, the handwritten notes, the 1920 family photos and every leaf of every tree- Stunning. The character models of Lissie and Edward are amazing, so it’s no wonder you spend a lot of time interacting with Lissie. The subtle use of the weather system is great. When you first arrive in Graavik, its bright and sunny. The autumn leaves pop out of the screen, the crystal-clear water looks amazing and you can see for miles upon the highest peaks of the town. As the story begins to get dark and mysterious, so does the weather. The dark, gloomy fog settles in. You can’t see more than 5 meters in front of you and suddenly you’ve lost Lissie. Then the rain sets in and compounds the state of the game, its incredible how well the weather reflects the state of the story, or more specifically, Edwards mental state. I simply can’t fault Draugen visually, the only criticism would be that the town of Graavik is a bit small. But this is understabdable as it’s limited by its story. It left me wanting more. More locations to explore, more story to discover, more mystery, more suspense, more everything!
While you’re taking in all the scenic views and trying to piece together the many layers of the story, you suddenly hear the complimenting music that is building suspense in a critical scene, or the creating panic in a change of tempo in the game. Obviously, I wasn’t alive in the 1920’s, but I have no doubt that the music created for Draugen would have been a smash hit back in the 20’s. I did enjoy the voice acting between all of the characters as well, more or less. I felt like some of the dialogue, specifically from Lissie, was slightly out of place for the 1920 period. Small criticism yes, but as your dialogue between characters is a high volume of the game’s content, it did stand out.
- GAMEPLAY - 74%74%
- GRAPHICS - 93%93%
- AUDIO - 70%70%
Draugen is an interactive, story-driven thriller that will keep players guessing how the story develops until the final minute. Draugen is a visual masterpiece that is only let down by a satifying, yet relatively small playthrough duration that will leave players wanting more.
How would I rate my 3-hour experience with Draugen? Amazing. Yes, it was only a brief 3-hour trip of Graavik, but it felt like a week long holiday. The story was surprisingly deep and satisfying and once I completed the game, I wanted more. I respect a game that doesn’t pollute its story with meaningless tasks to prolong and dilute the experience- this is a sign of a good game. Nothing is worse than finishing a game and feeling relieved, thinking ‘finally, that game is over’. Draugen is like a good, interactive movie. You’ll spend about the same amount of time exploring the detailed world, enjoying a great story and taking pleasure a solid music score as you would watching a good movie. Draugen is simply a great game that most gamers will enjoy and one you must experience.
For more on Draugen, check out our previous coverage.