Plenty of great games built on tabletop RPGs have graced us over the years with Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights being among some of the best to use the Dungeon & Dragons rulesets. When you consider that even the cult classic Vampire: The Masquerade was built upon the World of Darkness ruleset, it’s clear to see that tabletop RPGs can provide the foundation for some really fantastic games.
One tabletop RPG outshone D&D in Germany, outselling it well and recently (as in 2016) received full English translation. I am of course talking about The Dark Eye. We’ve already seen a couple of video games using the ruleset with titles like Blackguards and Chains of Satinav, but today we’re taking a look at a new inclusion to the universe in The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes.
The adventure takes place on the continent of Aventuria which is filled with magic, creatures and plenty of adventure. An event called ‘The Starfall’ takes place in the year 1039 which foretells a cataclysmic event to come and this is cemented further by the rise of the Cult of the Nameless One who seek to wreak havoc upon the Middenrealm, the area in which the game is set. So it is that the mightiest of heroes gather at the Black Boar Inn to stem the oncoming tide of darkness and destruction.
Before we start our adventure and as with all RPGs of this magnitude, the first thing to tick off the list is character creation. What follows is a series of choices of cards that will determine your characters base stats and skills, and boy is it robust. The four races you can choose to play are represented in Dwarves, Elves, Half-Elves and Humans. Each has distinctive skills and stats that can play a part in what type of character you want to play. For example, Elves are naturally pre-disposition to magic use and Humans are your jack-of-all-trades. There is an option to completely randomise your pick too if you’d like to go in absolutely blind, though I prefer to have full control over character creation.
After race selection you’ll choose a class and subsequently a profession linked to that class. There are a number of typical RPG-esque classes to choose from (warrior, scoundrel, guild mage and blessed one), and three professions per class varying through It’s a masterful inclusion that gives so much choice that it’s hard not to spend absolutely ages arguing with yourself about what to pick. Don’t take this as a criticism though, the sheer depth is very welcome.
After you’ve spent the first couple of hours finally deciding what class you want to choose (just joking, it was closer to twenty minutes), you’ll have the opportunity to pick an origin and twist of fate card. These determine what your character started out as before becoming an adventurer, as well as providing a fateful drawback for said character. It’s a meaningful stab at balancing because as we know, heroes have flaws too.
Choosing origins and twists of fates presents you a selection of three random cards that vary each time you pick. Don’t panic too much though, because if you don’t quite get the cards that you want you have the option to redraw the cards, allowing you to draw until you get the origins and twists that fit your character. Finally, you’ll move onto choosing an ideal and a mission which affects how you gain ability points (more on their use later) and an overarching personal quest that you’ll work towards throughout your adventure. There’s a plethora of choices to be had so you won’t be short on building a story for your character. Once your done and dusted, you’ll be presented with your character sheet which will outline your skills and stats which can seem a little overwhelming at first. Stick with it because despite its complexity, the system is reasonably easy to understand.
You’ll round out this session with choosing your characters gender, hair, facial hair and eye colour. You’ll also have the opportunity to set a name for your budding hero and add a portrait that will haunt you for the rest of your time playing.
Ten hours in and I’d finally decided who I wanted to be, time to start the adventure.
The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes base gameplay is a top-down isometric RPG. You start out in the Black Boar Inn with a handy tutorial that will explain some of the title’s base concepts. Your first task is speaking to the innkeeper and clearing out the inn’s cellar. Yep. You know what’s coming.
RATS! Of course, it would be rats. Innkeepers in RPGs obviously have massive rat infestation issues. That said, it does give a nice little run through of what you can expect while adventuring including an introduction to some of the puzzling you may come across using pressure plates and moveable statues. It’s nice to see a bit more than just a point and destroy ethic, and I for one love a bit of variety in my dungeoneering. Making it through the tutorial will provide you with your first set of ability points, some coin and a distaste for furry trash eaters.
At the end of each adventure you’ll receive something called a progression card. Again, you have the option to choose from three random cards that may increase a stat, give a new useable skill or increase your base skills. You then have to visit the fortune teller at the inn, who will allow you to redeem the card through use of ability points. The cost of redeeming your progression cards varies, so it’s important to do some AP saving too. Progression cards can also be upgraded once using coin, giving increases in other areas with the drawback of costing more AP. I liked this system in comparison to the standard levelling you normally get in RPGs simply because it almost feels more organic growth wise and forces you to be smarter with your decision making.
The inn is your quintessential hub for your adventures. You have access to a trader that you can sell loot to, as well as make purchases of much needed weapons, armour and items. There’s also a chap who’ll allow you to hire henchmen to join you in your adventures. Unlike most RPGs, Henchmen are fully autonomous in The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes. It’s a nice change not to have to micromanage beyond your own hero, but equally they each have personalities that plays part in how they act. Whilst this was an interesting change to the typical thoroughfare, I did find the inability to control the henchmen a touch frustrating at times with the AI being a little bit all over the place.
There’s a nice big trunk that represents your stash for storing stuff in the back of the inn, as well as a furnace for metal working and an alchemy table for making potions. Naturally, use of these is heavily dependent on whether your character has the skills to do so, but if your looking to save some coin in making traps and potions, this is the best place to do it.
You’ll spend most of your time adventuring so the notice board is where the real magic happens. Clicking on it opens up to a map with several adventures to begin with varying from beating up some bandits and saving a captive in the forest to teaching a necromancer that its not nice to bring peoples loved ones back from the dead. Each adventure shows a reward, threat level and number of completions. Threat level obviously outlays how likely your hero and the party are to meet a gruesome end. Completions is important in the sense that it adds to your total tally in unlocking further adventures on the map. It’s pretty straightforward and a welcome sight amidst the more complex facets of the title.
You also have a personal quest to follow that you set at character creation when you were choosing your mission. For example, I chose unseating a governor who was being a bit nasty to the people of the realm and being generally inconsiderate by taking bribes and stocking his own coffers with gold. One of the first missions I had was to find a ledger of said bribes in a goblin besieged wagon. It added a nice little bit of flair to round out my hero in the personality department and I enjoyed having a goal beyond just ‘adventuring’.
The adventures themselves can be played solo with henchmen, or with up to three other players online. Each map is set through a mixture of tile like placements that intersect in certain areas. Each tile varies in design make for some interesting run throughs and keeping the repetition low by varying the environments and enemy set up. Adventure maps can be quite big, so I suggest you get use to using the map when tackling quests. The aim for each adventure is to complete the quest and make it to the exit, but you’ll also have the opportunity to encounter particular events as well as come across some NPCs that may or may not offer you mysterious pouch for 250 coins. I wonder what’s in there…
Combat is your typical RPG foray of dice rolls and the like, though I must admit that this is a bit more involved in The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes. You have an action bar at the bottom of the screen that contains your set skills and consumables. Naturally, each skill has a benefit and potentially may have a drawback. They are pretty easy to use, requiring a simple click in most cases and a click and target in others. Anything that is magic-like requires use of your magic pool. This doesn’t replenish without resting so its important to be strategic about which spells you use against which enemies.
Combat can be challenging if you don’t know how to position your character based on their individual strengths. A mage will naturally get cut down in straight combat, whilst a warrior will take more hits but may need to move to find better ground. This is where the disengage system comes in. With a swift click on disengage button that shows up whilst your character is in combat, a body control (skill) roll is done and if successful, your character will disengage from combat and will be movable once more. It’s nice to see that the combat in particular has had some tactical consideration and I enjoyed learning the nuances of the system through trial and error.
Healing up requires using potions amid battle or taking a rest through use of the rest button. If you or your companions become incapacitated fear not, they can be revived as long as one member of your troupe is alive and kicking. Most areas in the adventure maps aren’t safe, so if you risk resting in an unsafe area you may be randomly attacked. The havens by which you can rest safely will have an unlit campfire and will provide a section to replenish your health and magic. Don’t be overly worried if you fall to your enemies though, as you can just restart the adventure again without any penalties (from what I could tell). It does help to alleviate the tension of combat difficulty, though losing any run that you’ve spent twenty minutes on is annoying either way.
In terms of trawling the adventures there’s very little in the way of flaws but it does have one or two. I’ve already mentioned that henchmen can be frustrating, but scenery can sometimes be equally taxing. When zooming in, some parts of the environment will fade to allow you to close in on the action whilst some parts will straight up refuse to. It can be particularly damning when you can’t tell if a character has been surrounded. It’s not a massive drawback but does take away that element of control which is crucial when dealing with a combat system that needs your attention.
Visually the game is beautiful, with the environments really playing a part in setting the scene. Equally, the music fits the bill, being wonderfully fantasy and well matched with the environments to really drive the adventuring immersion. There’s enough variety in the environments and music to stop the adventure going stale too quickly, and I really enjoyed the exploratory element of the game.
The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes has plenty of staying power and length to it. With the multitude of character options on offer and various adventures to hack through, you’ll never be short of characters, builds and parties to try. I’ve no doubt the solo would likely get a little repetitive after some time, but with the inclusion of the multiplayer aspect, journeying with your friends would no doubt lengthen the experience.
The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes is a great representation of the quality you can achieve when taking an excellent tabletop ruleset and building a video game around it. It stays true to its source material whilst not being afraid to bring some new concepts to the table that we haven’t seen in other RPGs.
It does have some minor drawbacks and frustrations in both the graphical and AI departments, but I can’t say that either of these is enough to take away from how polished and fun the game is.
The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes is a fantastic RPG with plenty to offer any budding adventure!