Tabletop and video games take on many different distinctions that make it difficult to transition between the two, and The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes exemplifies this in every possible way. They rely heavily on the complexities of the tabletop game The Dark Eye, yet the entirety of the game offers a simplified, automated take on these complexities. You’re left with a hollow experience that doesn’t even keep your attention through the end. This game will serve as a shining piece of evidence of why tabletop systems and mechanics don’t engage a player when translated into video game form.
Stat and character sheets are integral parts of tabletop games because you’re constantly referencing it to determine strategy, outcomes, and role-playing moments. However, when these things are automated for you, all of these stats become cumbersome and virtually meaningless to the player. The developers at Random Potion Oy fundamentally miss this. Sitting back and watching as virtual rolls are made for you and algorithms calculate the outcomes encompasses the entirety of this game. The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes gives you few actions to actually take, all of which are made by simply clicking on a spot or an enemy. While point-and-click adventures have a place in gaming, there’s no saving a game that resorts to this and gives no mental stimulation whatsoever.
Point-and-click games need to have some sort of stakes or tension in order to keep your attention. You can see this in a game as old as Grim Fandango, where you have an engaging story giving context to unique and interesting puzzles. You also find it in a game like Desperados III, which released just one week after The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes, where the constant threat of alerting enemies and being spotted keeps you on the edge of your seat. Somehow, The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes misses all of this in favor of automated gameplay and puzzles that aren’t even puzzles. Finding different stones lying around a particular area and putting them where the game tells you they belong is not a puzzle.
Naturally, this game is largely meant to be a multiplayer game in which you can adventure with your friends and clear dungeons much like in a tabletop RPG, but three other players by my side wouldn’t give the game the purpose and stakes that it needs. That needs to come from the designers, and unfortunately, they fell asleep at the wheel with this one. It’s hard to imagine that through all of the meetings they must’ve had in pre-production, nobody stood up and pointed out that the player isn’t actually doing anything throughout the game. The most entertaining part of the game is sifting through the vast number of options you can choose for your character. However, this is all rendered pointless by the inability to truly play your role. No matter what, your job is to click on an enemy until they’re dead, move onto the next room, and repeat that cycle until you find what you need to end the level.
As you do this, AI companions that supposedly have “their own personalities” wander around and do nothing but search areas for loot and attack enemies. They never say anything, they’re generic, they get bugged and end up standing in one place for long periods of time (unless this is part of what the developers call “personality”), and they don’t do much in combat beyond hitting the enemy, so few notable special abilities. Enemy AI isn’t really much better. I imagine AI in general took the least amount of work out of everything in this game, except maybe the ability checks.
Ability checks in a tabletop RPG give another sense of randomness and tension because you never know what you’re going to get. This sets you up to think on your feet in order to follow up on whatever your dice roll is. Even this feels intentionally unsatisfying and disgustingly bland. Just like everything else, ability checks happen automatically and have nothing to do with your decisions. Furthermore, the few decisions you can make for ability checks, such as trying to hear what’s on the other side of a door, mean nothing because if you fail, you can just continue to try again as many times as you like until it works. When these checks do work, it’s often presented to you in the lamest, most boring way possible. In the case of the example of listening through a door, either you hear something on the other side, or you don’t. That’s it. No clanking of metal. No heavy breathing. No cries for help. No detail at all whatsoever. In a game like this the game is essentially the dungeon master, but if my DM treated ability checks like this, I wouldn’t play.
I’d also frown upon a DM giving us a long mission with no point to it. A story should give context to your missions in just about any RPG. The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes throws that out the window as well by only giving you some missions that relate to the overarching story. All other missions are pointless and yield nothing but loot and reward cards that supposedly improve your player. Of course, the loot is repetitive, stale, and boring in every sense, and reward cards are a frail attempt at showing character progression.
I wish I could say that there’s at least something to be had from visual and technical standpoints, but anyone who has never heard of the game would look at it and tell you it’s from 2005. While an isometric view isn’t necessarily indicative of an older game, it certainly doesn’t help. The recommended specs speak to its technical and visual issues. Simply put, nobody bothered to optimize it. Models have no details, the thing looks archaic, and you can’t see other parts of the map that you’re not in, yet the developers want you to have a current-gen processor and 12 GB of RAM. 12 GB! Insanity! DOOM Eternal is one of the most hardware-intensive games ever created, and it only recommends having 8 GB. GTA V is 8 GB. You know what else recommends 12 GB? Red Dead Redemption 2! How could this sad excuse for a game possibly need 12 GB of RAM? Load times are ridiculously long on modern hardware considering how the game teleports you back fifteen years. I play Skyrim on the same PC I used to review The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes, and while Skyrim’s load times are nearly instantaneous, this game will spend thirty seconds loading.
Okay, hardware rant over. Based on what’s there, it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this game even made it into production when it did. I’ve never seen so much hard work by developers completely wasted before. I can’t think of a single redeeming quality about this experience. Take a look at the date this review was released. As of that date, this is easily the worst game I’ve ever played. Not one time did I have fun, smile, chuckle, or even say, “huh, interesting.” It’s these types of games that remind you of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the game that nearly took down the entire industry when it was still in its infancy. This one needs to be avoided at all costs.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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