Drakensang Online Open Beta Impressions: 3D Diablo in a Browser?!

Set in The Dark Eye role playing universe (Das Schwarze Auge, which old fogeys like myself will remember from the Realms of Arkania series or the much more recent Drakensang: The Dark Eye), Drakensang Online is a German free-to-play hack n’ slash MMO RPG that, courtesy of a little Java black magic, runs in a browser window and looks like this:drakensang2

Yes, really. Drakensang Online’s (DO) graphic are simply jaw dropping. Dynamic lighting; Sumptuous water effects; Pixel shadery shockwaves; If you’re used to seeing it in the latest ‘triple A’ game, DO delivers. A press of the F12 key even expands the game to full screen.

The quality doesn’t stop there! DO also features a wonderful soundtrack and surround sound effects. Art design feels fresh with outdoor areas vaguely reminiscent of Morrowind. Most importantly, DO outright nails the rhythm and feel of a great action RPG in the mold of Diablo II. app 2011-08-23 21-32-36-26

In fact, I’d be so bold as to declare that Drakensang Online’s combat as one of the most strategic and nuanced systems in the genre. Healing and mana potions are expensive and have a cooldown timer, special attacks usage can pull from mana as well as 4 different elemental resources, while the wonderfully animated enemies provide a good challenge outside of the starting areas with a nice mix of melee, ranged, and summoner units.drakensang city

Sadly, outside of the core game itself, Drakensang Online wears its beta moniker in giant neon (occasionally German) letters. There are only two character classes available: A sword swinging warrior and a spell slinging mage; Skill trees are anemic; Simple MMO niceties such as grouping are relegated to a command line; And you can expect to find the occasional pop-up window or item description that has yet to be translated from the game’s native German language. To DO’s credit, I have never had a crash or disconnect. It even works under Google Chrome, something of a novelty in the browser based game world.drakensang4

So, how much does it cost? Few free-to-play games stay that way forever and DO is no exception. It is much more lenient that most, however. Drakensang Online passes the hat in the form of Andermant. Andermant is a rarely dropped currency used to buy magic items, elemental power recharges, buffs, item enchantment, and, most offensively, charges for you item identification amulet. While Andermant is very reasonably priced, you just can’t help feeling a little peeved knowing that the orange labeled trinket you just won from a boss fight is going to set you back a buck to ID it. Patient players will be able to grind for Andermant without spending a dime, but the scarcity of the drop coupled with the small amounts you get at any one time makes this a fool’s errand. I would strongly suggest just biting the bullet and drop a measly five or ten bucks on a modest pile of the stuff if you find yourself enjoying the game and plan to stick with it past the first few areas. Fair is fair, after all, and even free game developers need to buy food and bandwidth.app 2011-08-23 21-45-44-73

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Drakensang Online and am eagerly looking forward to seeing it evolve in the future. The content may be a little scarce if you are planning to make your home there, but the pitch perfect combat and premium production values make DO a very welcoming place to visit. A free account will give you 600 Amdermant up front and a thrifty player will have no trouble sinking four to six hours into the game before ponying up or grinding for the very reasonably priced cost of admission. Drakensang Online is a glittering nail in the antiquated (and increasingly irrelevant) world of $60 retail games.drakensang3

Drakensang Online requires either Java or their installer, is free, and open to all at agathon.drakensang-online.com

System requirements:

Pentium 4 2.8 GHz or comparable CPU
RAM: 1 GB for Windows XP; 2 GB for Vista/Windows 7
nVidia 6800GT with 256 MB RAM or comparable graphics card
Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Vista or Windows 7
DirectX 9c compatible sound card

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