Sometimes after you play a game it’s hard to find the words to explain succinctly just how good the experience was without some form of spoilers. This is exactly how I felt after rolling credits on Draugen, the latest story-driven adventure from Ragnar Tørnquist and Red Thread Games (Dreamfall Chapters). While I encourage you to play Draugen without reading too much on the Internet, I can assure you that this review will be spoiler free. I can also assure you is that Draugen is one of the best games I have played this generation. So if the term fjord noir doesn’t twist your arm then hopefully this review will.
Coined as a fjord noir mystery game, Draugen takes players to the picturesque 1920s Norwegian fjord-bordered village of Graavik. You play as Edward Harden, a quiet and sombre recluse who has journeyed all the way from his home in Hannover, Massachusetts in search of his missing sister Betty (Elizabeth) after receiving a letter that pinpointed her location to the coastal village.
Mr. Edward Charles Harden
Joining Edward on his investigation is his ward Lissie, an energetic, chatty and sociable young woman who loves to push Edward’s buttons in a jovial way. She is everything that Edward is not, and despite the stark difference in their personalities they are as close as father and child, completing one another in a truly unique way.
As the story unfolds it becomes obvious that Edward is a man who is battling many internal demons, and while Edward and Lissie work together to piece together the puzzle of Betty’s disappearance, the pair will slowly uncover a dark and sinister secret that consumed the now desolate village.
The repartee and dialogue between the two is by far one of the game’s highlights. Lissie will frequently refer to Edward by a host of nicknames, including teddy bear and old fruit, ruffling Edward’s feathers at the same time, while Edward will constantly have to warn Lissie to take care or to educate her about things she’s still not sure of. The more you start to discover about the oddball duo the more you realise why they are close. It’s a testament to the exceptional writing of Tørnquist and the voice acting of Nicholas Boulton (Edward) and Skye Deva Bennett (Lissie) that they were able to bring the characters to life with such emotion and authenticity. There have been some remarkably written and performed games this year and Draugen deserves to be mentioned in those discussions.
The perfect Airbnb
It’s a testament to the exceptional writing of Tørnquist and the voice acting of Nicholas Boulton (Edward) and Skye Deva Bennett (Lissie) that they were able to bring the characters to life with such emotion and authenticity
Like any good interactive story (walking simulator), the gameplay plays second fiddle to the game’s narrative. Edward’s main task will be to find clues as to the whereabouts of Betty; he’ll interact with and inspect items, find keys to unlock doors, scribble notes in his diary and be forced to commit the odd break in. It’s all stock-standard storytelling gameplay that never feels mundane or basic.
The town of Graavik and its surroundings are truly a thing of beauty. The vibrant colours of the sky and treetops against the game’s fjord and mountain backdrop are more than postcard-worthy, and I’d be lying if I didn’t curse the lack of a photo mode every now and again. The level of detail in the world is very impressive for a non-AAA game, even if some areas of Graavik have received more love than others.
Complementing the game’s story and visuals is a remarkable soundscape that helps take the narrative to a whole new level. Whether it was the string or piano compositions of Simon Poole or the game’s environmental sound effects (seriously I could fall asleep to the sound of the wind), the game’s poignant story beats and tense moments were perfectly scored, elevating the immersion as a result.
The only slight knock to the game is that the lip-syncing and facial animations can be a bit off. While for me it doesn’t hinder the narrative’s impact, it’s one of those minor issues that may be an annoyance for some.
In today’s gaming landscape there are games whose worth isn’t defined by how many hours you can sink into it but by the impact it leaves on the player. For anyone who has a remote interest in interactive stories such as Firewatch or What Remains of Edith Finch, Draugen is a must-play. The campaign clocks in at around three and a half hours, but despite its brevity it’s the kind of experience that will stay with you for a long time after completion.
Reviewed on Windows // Review code supplied by publisher