Ever since Dungeons & Dragons brought a Lord of the Rings-like fantasy world to tablegames, there have been several fantasy copycats inspired by it. The Dark Eye is yet another franchise filled with orcs, elves, dwarves, and halflings in a magical setting, and this one is apparently bigger in Germany than D&D.
The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes is an RPG game in the truest sense of the word. You choose a character’s race, class, background, life mission, appearance, etc and set out into the world. Instead of an overarching arch and plot, each character gets to choose one out of eight storylines and work towards it through a series of small adventures and single-missions, encouraging replayability.
I’m not familiar with the tabletop game, but unlike most modern RPG videogames, Book of Heroes seems to make few modifications with its adaptation to an electronic medium – everything from status effects and combat mechanics feels lifted from a tabletop rule book. As if the smaller-scope character-based main quest system itself wasn’t enough to lend that tabletop credibility, combat involves you right-clicking an enemy and literally seeing dice rolls appear on screen. Likewise, the game does a good job of teaching you the basics, but you will need to dig into the in-game manual to understand what the many effects like Raptured or Pain really are and what they do.
The game starts in the Black Boar Inn, located in the (horribly named) continent of Aventuria. There, you can recruit companions, forge weapons and armor, dabble in alchemy, and pick missions from a notice board. Each mission offers a specific type of enemy in a specific environment, and completion of a mission grants you Adventurer Points and a special card. These cards can be used via a Fortune Teller in the inn to apply permanent boosts to your character.
As you move through missions, you find a myriad of loot in containers and enemy bodies, some of which can be sold and some of which can be used or equipped. In classic RPG ways, you get better armour and weapons as you go up into the world, allowing you to tackle harder missions. Meanwhile, you get that specific endgoal you are working towards – like killing a Necromancer that murdered a childhood friend or recovering a lost locket from a band of raiders – which are progressed via side-objectives shoved into normal missions, until it unlocks the final stage of that personal quest and wrap up that specific character’s journey.
The gameplay itself offers some very RPG-y options, such as running a Perception check every time you enter a new map tile or having the ability to Rest by setting up a camp anywhere to heal your wounds. That mechanic is weirdly balanced, as most battles require you to rest a few times over just to heal completely, and each Rest instance has a chance of either raising enemy presence in the map or spawning enemies immediately around you. This in turn leads to weird difficulty spikes where normal map mobs of 2 or 4 enemies are augmented indefinitely every time you rest to heal, which has the end result of pitting you against 20 enemies at once – a problematic situation since the game’s mechanics leave you few options besides “use an item or ability as you watch your character swing a hammer” helplessly. The end result is an unexpected insurmountable fight that discourages new players by ruining a half-hour mission that had been going great so far.
The amount of enjoyment you will take from this whole ordeal is highly dependent on your personal stand on tabletop game adaptations. Personally, I find the idea of right-clicking an enemy and watching for a few seconds as my character continually swings and misses until he lucks out a hit extremely boring. It is uninvolved and detached, and not the reason I play games for – I had issues with that sort gameplay when Diablo came out in 1997, and I still have issues with it two decades later. Of course, some people are less bothered by that, and they will find this adaptation much more interesting.
Go big or go home
It must be said, however, that the setting is extremely generic. I plowed through games like KotOR, Diablo II, and Dragon Age: Origins, because the universe was genuinely interesting, but that is not the case with The Dark Eye. While Dungeons & Dragons seems slightly more epic, with its huge wizard towers and power gauntlets and, well, awesome dragons, The Dark Eye feels like one of a million other D&D-like franchises out there, and like them, focuses more on the small guy doing the small thing in a small place – which personally, bugs the hell out of me. Go big or go home.
Aside from that, the game is capable in doing what it sets out to do. It must be warned that I encountered a fair amount of bugs, including late-game characters becoming unplayable, rest menus getting stuck on the screen until I restarted the game, sleepwalking characters that would spawn out of bounds, and a very unusual bug which for reasons I can’t pinpoint, made every single one of my player-characters lose their hair styles. These bugs range from “nuisance” to “campaign ending”, so be aware that your experience may not be wholly smooth after a few hours.
If you are a fan of old-school RPGs or a fan of The Dark Eye, Book of Heroes should be right up your alley. The mechanics are complex enough to require you to know the rule book, the world is expansive enough to have a few playthroughs, and the scope is small enough to make it manageable. However, if you have no intense interest on old-school game design or the franchise itself, I recommend you stay away – the focus on maths instead of heart and soul makes this the kind of niche game that would feel dated 10 years ago, and the end result in modern times ends up being extremely boring.
THE DARK EYE : BOOK OF HEROES VERDICT
A seemingly faithful adaptation of a German RPG franchise that may be too detached and boring for modern players.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Creating a character, because the nice card animations and number of options masked how ordinary everything else would be.
Very complex old RPG design
Multiple options when creating a character, including eight storylines
RPG-sheet thingy looks *really* nice
Gameplay is more dated than a Pharaoh
Watching a dice go up as your character tries to hit enemies for minutes on end is extremely boring
Virtually no proper interaction outside "go to this place and kill stuff"
About Marcello Perricone
Passionate, handsome, and just a tiny bit cocky, our resident Time Lord loves history, science, and all things that fall from the sky.