Draugen is a game that’s flown under the radar the past few weeks and that’s a crying shame.
For one, it’s made by the incredible Red Thread Games who worked on the excellent Dreamfall Chapters, spearheaded by the incomparable Ragnar Tørnquist.
For another, it paints a surprisingly vivid picture of the strains of loneliness and isolation. Explaining how does venture into spoiler territory, but, I mean, wow, even if you see it coming the game still packs a punch.
On the surface, that’s probably not what you’re expecting from a game centred around Norwegian ghost folklore. Draugen quickly builds an atmosphere in its opening moments with the enigmatic Graavik and its supernatural aura.
Yet the game, in essence, is a detective mystery set in the 1920s. The game’s lead character, Edward Harden, has travelled the Fjords of Norway to find his missing sister, Betty, and is accompanied, somewhat begrudgingly, by young Lissie.
In Edward’s mind, the mysteries of Graavik are less important than staying on Betty’s trail and reuniting with her. Lissie, on the other hand, wants to learn more about her surroundings, doing cartwheels and climbing trees while she does it.
And it’s often this clash of personalities and objectives which drives the majority of the story. Set over the course of six days, you’ll really start to see how these two very different, often well-written characters view and see the world.
Edward really doesn’t want to cause trouble, refusing to outstay his welcome and trespass where he isn’t wanted. While Lissie is all about pushing the envelope and taking risks, invigorated with a real sense of adventure.
You can see how they’re going to get along famously.
Most of the game is examining objects, making conversation, and pressing X to ‘Jason’ – or, in this case, Lissie. But there are some optional things to do, like drawing the absolutely stunning landscape Red Thread have built or by following various leads off the beaten path.
Most of your time probably will be spent admiring the scenery, listening to the music, scrutinising everything to get the full story, and laughing at the silly jokes and banter between Lissie and Edward.
For the most part, I enjoyed their exchanges. Especially the way both voice actors – Skye Bennett and Nicholas Boulton – portray their characters. They have a natural chemistry which translates incredibly well onto the screen and keeps the player hooked even when they’re not really sure what’s going on.
The thing is, there’s almost too much build up to that point in what’s a relatively short game. Draugen spends a bit too much time pottering around to get to its own point and when everything finally hits the fan, it quite abruptly ends.
Red Thread started out with a very well paced game but by its conclusion, it all felt a tad rushed, especially when we’re told during the credits that the characters will be back for another adventure. Out of everything, this was the part that surprised me most.
Draugen isn’t really a game with many multiple choice situations or varied outcomes, therefore not really lending itself to a second runthrough. There is a cool 1923 mode which lets you play it all in black and white, a really refreshing aesthetical touch that doesn’t drastically alter things too much.
That said, narrative-wise, the key plot points of Draugen stand out. I had an in-depth discussion with my partner about the twist and actually found myself mentally revisiting the main beats days after finishing the game. That happens less than you might think.
So, yes, if Edward and Lissie are truly coming back for more then I am already invested and very keen to see what comes next. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Tørnquist games over the year, the best may be yet to come!
Draugen is now available on PC.
Review code kindly provided by Terminals