There’s one thing this engine really doesn’t do good (a.k.a. it’s weakest point) – great, wide areas with round shapes. Especially rural areas, with mountains maybe. The performance is the worst there too.
So, where does the game start? Exactly, in a mountain village… To me it felt like an instant letdown. But whoever “survives” this, gets to experience a really great role-playing game. As soon as the locale changes to Venice, everything gets better. The weaknesses loose importance and are quickly overshadowed by all the pieces that are necessary to form a great RPG experience.

The game world consists of relatively large areas, where the next city districts are closed at first, until the player completes tasks that will unlock them. What can almost be called a specialty nowadays, is that despite that, all the areas remain accessible. It’s no problem when quests are unfinished, returning to them is always a possibility. Drakensang, on the other hand, demands that the player finishes everything before moving on, or the unfinished quests will automatically fail (one of its few flaws). The city districts also offer very different vendors and shops, along the guild halls. So this is helpful/fun for various reasons. A decent quick transit system (gondoliers wait at many canals) prevents frustrations from running the same paths all the time. Since the quests require visiting all the places many times, this is not just a gimmick.

I read in tests, that the first release was plagued by many bugs. 1.01 however, offered pretty much a carefree playthrough. I encountered some more or less nasty glitches, but never complete showstoppers like broken quests (I always perceive it as such). Approaching ladders led, in rare cases, to being stuck. Loading a savegame didn’t work, unless the game was shut down first… While it’s normal to choose answers in dialogs, I met several ghosts, which dialog trees let me select their text as well, not just my own… The rest of the glitches were already more of the “unpolished content” variety. In one quest workers promise to visit the mines, but stay at the table where they were encountered first. Although they never leave, the foreman at the mine declares the quest solved, ignorant to the fact of still being alone. People never reacting to the player-made changes around them, happens several times. At least some visible form of acknowledgment would have been nice. One game sequence shows the guards burning down a house, but visiting the house later, shows it in prime/unaltered condition – just the door is now closed.

Learning new feats requires visiting certain teachers, I chose a path where the magic abilities were of great importance, I invested most of my experience points in those. While fighting techniques had numerous teachers available everywhere, only 3 mental trainers existed in the whole game. Close to the game ending, I collected XP to spend it for powerful spells, but 2 of the 3 teachers were gone due to story development (and the game never came around to explain what happened to them!) and the third was just gone. So it became impossible to learn the last spells, since the only way to unlock them, is said teachers… I don’t know if the game designers thought everyone would just focus completely on fighting abilities and overlook this. I wouldn’t be surprised if Venetica gets a “gold edition/directors cut” etc. at some point. To remove these impressions of having some “incomplete” parts in the mix.
The last well deserved critic from the top of my head is about the vanished characters, which were major story parts. Aeris, Leon, Edmundo and Benedict for example. The game ends without giving any kind of closure what happened to them. The whole time I expected any of them to drop by again, but then the credits started rolling… Yet another rushed ending.

Now finally to some good stuff (again): The game does a lot to give the user many possibilities to discover areas and items. I already mentioned the general vast areas – in addition to that, chests sometimes contain treasure maps (that are always valid – espcially the axe giving additional XP is a fantastic booty – so don’t forget to buy a shovel!) and many hidden portals wait to be found (most roofs are accessible too and often even connected to each other, so there’s little the eye can see, that can’t be traversed).
Normally I’m not someone who learns all combos in a game, I often find them hard to master, when little time spans already trigger another (not all games do combos as good as BAA). I’m frustrated easily, when I aim for one combo, but another is executed. The combat system of Venetica works very satisfying here. It’s complex enough and delivers. Various attacks are available for all the major branches of weapons (also depending on what skills the player invests XP in), combined with an optional parry and fast evasion. The enemies make use of all these things as well, so for defeating them, the player has to learn a certain routine. Only then, the enemies are easy to defeat.

I’m still wondering if this game will see further patches, expansions or even sequels – given the “final state” of many of it’s story arcs and characters.


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