Based on the beloved Anne McCaffrey series of novels, this title puts the gamer in the role of a young Dragonrider named D'Knor who must find peace with both his bonded dragon companion and the passionate people of his Weyr if he is to aid in the protection of Pern, his home planet.
A strange red "star" on an elliptic orbit periodically passes close enough to Pern to drop "thread;" mindless ribbon-like entities that suck the life from any place they manage to find purchase. To keep the thread-fall from devastating the landscape, the humans and dragons of Pern have learned to form symbiotic relationships, acting as one unit to blast the thread from the sky before it can reach the planet's surface.
But there is more than the thread to threaten young D'Kor in this adventure. The community has recently lost a crucial leader and there is no apparent replacement. Safe navigation through the personal ambition, political maneuvering, and outright despair that tend to fill such a void can call for instinct and agility to rival that required for a flight through the skies of the heaviest thread-fall. D'Kor can interact with hundreds of colorful characters that help to move the story along and who may even pose strategic challenges of their own.
Dragon Riders - Chronicles of Pern, after the world-wide known novels of Anne McCaffrey, was transformed by Ubi Soft UK into a 3D adventure of epic dimensions.
The adventure takes place on the planet Pern, once settled by a progressive, human culture. They came with three huge colonist ships, which they left in the orbit. But every 200 years the "Red Star" passes the world of Pern so that parasites, living on this comet, the so-called "threads", could reach Pern and destroy all biological life they contacted. The colony was devastated and the inhabitants had to find shelter in the northern mountains. To survive, mankind created a race of enormous dragons by genetic modifications of the native fire-lizards, which possess a good defense system against the "threads". The ability of the fire-lizards to establish a mental contact with humans was an important survival factor.
Dragons select themselves their human from a set of potential candidates when hatching from the egg. Once chosen, this connection remains existing a whole life long. This mental symbiosis goes so far that the death of one of them also usually entails the death of the other one. Riders and dragons fight for the protection of the planet against the destructive force of the "threads". In the course of the time the people of Pern lost the knowledge and the technology of their ancestors - but fragments of their technology could be found on the planet in artifacts and also written traditions.
The guild of the dragon riders has a good reputation under the people of Pern, so they don't have to pay for their living costs. Everything they need is provided by the people of Pern. The leader of the clan of Fort Weyr and rider of the golden dragon, Nalaya, died and after a damp-merry celebration in her honour the remaining dragon riders must get around to find a new weyr woman. This is where the game begins. You are D'kor, the rider of the bronze dragon Zenth in search for the perfect woman to be the leader of the clan.
Though here and there considered as an action-adventure or RPG, Dragon Riders actually is an adventure game, with sporadic role-playing-elements and action-sequences. The role-playing-elements are limited to 4 attributes - health, reputation, knowledge and force -, which you could improve during the game and 8 skills the player could acquire during the game. Occasional action, like fighting with several weapons and shooting with a cross-bow is not only learned and experienced during the game in a detailed way but is also quite easy to execute.
Gamers that are not or not much experienced with action or don't like it, do not need to wince here. You die very seldom in this game - for example much less than in "The Last Express", where I personally had much more trouble to save my hero till the end.
The game is controlled by keyboard only. The control consists of few functions, which can be learned by untrained people quite easily. We are watching our hero almost always in the 3rd-person-perspective and control him with the four arrow keys through the scenes just as we would be within his body. Thus D'kor walks from his position straightforward or to the right even if it is left on the screen. That comes to meet an intuitive control system, since one thereby quite fast takes over the role of D'kor. (Personally I like this kind of control much more than a control from camera perspective, as it is possible to use in Monkey Island 4). A change of the control perspective isn't possible in the Dragon Riders game, but one can do without it.
If our hero walks slowly you can change to running with the shift key and vice versa. The escape-key calls the option menu: here you can save, load, modify game settings as graphics, sound, text speed etc. or quit the game. There are 4 normal slots for savegames, 1 slot for express save under F9 and 1 slot for the automatic save function.
The extensive inventory can be opened by the key "I" or function key F1. Moving within the inventory can be done quite simply with the arrow keys. If D'kor has the possibility, to execute an action like talking or taking objects, appropriate icons are displayed at the top center of the screen. Then one can execute the indicated action with the spacebar. Inventory items, which were selected before with the return key are activated with this key too. The use of additional keys for fights or sneaking will be learned as the game advances, usually explained by an interlocutor (which can somewhat unpleasantly bring back into reality a gamer sunk in the action and story of the game). The gamer will have time to practice these abilities before using them in real situations.
D'kor moves fluidly and is quite easy to control, as long as he is visible. During his moves or turns camera perspective and camera angle change quite often. That's naturally dispersing the game substantially and gives it a movie-touch. But sometimes our leading actor disappears offstage and you have to control him blindly with the arrow keys to get him back out. D'kor moves freely in the large 3D scenarios of Pern. The exploration possibilities and the walking quota of our hero are enormous. And he has to be led into each corner not to overlook a hidden object.
When D'kor comes near an object, his little companion, a fire-lizard, flies to this place and an appropriate hand-icon appears in the upper screen area. The object can first be taken with the spacebar to take a closer look at it and its text description, before it disappears with a new click in one compartment of the extensive inventory.
The middle area of the inventory consists of different compartments, in which usable and exchangeable objects are arranged. Left beside it there are 5 compartments for weapons, which must all be found during the game except the naked fists. In the course of the game the added weapons can be additionally armed in their strength. A blacksmith keeps ready to do that in return for artifacts.
If you cautionary want to hold your weapon or another usable object ready for use, you have to click on it with the return key once and it will appear in a little circle in the right upper corner of the screen and can be used without renewed opening the inventory.
During his explorations D'kor collects a lot of of herbs, food and healing potions, which can strengthen his health. On the left side of the inventory this is indicated in the circular health display (red). Additionally D'kor can increase his other attributes in the course of the game - as there are reputation, knowledge and strength - by his actions and interactions with others. If you click on one of the colored circles you get a detailed overview of the respective attribute with scoring, the level and the distance to the next higher level in points. D'kor can execute many actions not until he achieved a certain level. He can move a stuck lever not until he became very strong. D'kor achieves strength in fights or if he works physically, e.g. climbing or shifting rocks. He attains knowledge by talking to the other inhabitants, he achieves reputation each time, he completes something for others. In addition our hero can learn more (8 additional) abilities, also indicated by a round Icon within the left lower corner of the inventory.
On the right side of the inventory we can find more important aids: first there are different clothes, which can be changed, in order not to be detected. Then different icons: D'kor's diary, where he enters all highlights and tasks and which during the game becomes very voluminous. However he first must learn the ability of writing, in order to get access to the diary. All maps, which he receives can be found behind the map icon and there is also a main map about visitable places in Pern. If D'kor wants to communicate with Zenth, his dragon, with whom he constantly is in telepathic connection, click the dragon icon. Here he can tell Zenth also, if he wants to fly to another place. This icons can also be directly attained through function keys.
At the beginning D'kor barely has any attributes and abilities. Therefore he first starts out to explore the native Weyrs, tries to collect as much objects as possible and talks to all people. When asked for help or doing a favour he should never reject this task, since this is the only way to increase his abilities. After he managed to gather the other dragon riders to a meeting, he and the other riders were ordered to look for potential Weyr woman which want to attend at the hatching ceremony.
Dialogues, mostly shown in close-ups, either run automatically or D'kor has some options to choose from. Conversations with that over 200 non-player-characters must be led especially at the beginning frequently and in detail.
This conversations take, particularly at the beginning, the biggest part. We not only get information here and can increase knowledge and reputation, but also receive our tasks, which lead to a large number of subplots. In the dialogue close-ups we can watch speech that runs downright lip-synchronously and the voices of the speakers fit the alive faces of the many characters.
Contrary to many presentations in adventures of other French publishers lip movements and mimic of the actors are very close-to-reality, very alive - up to pulling up the brow - and profit from the very variable features. Unfortunately it occurs several times that the characters visibly move their mouths and also the speech text is displayed however no tone comes from the loudspeakers.
At the beginning the quantity of characters to talk with, their strange names and their requests may confuse the gamer a bit. But reading the entries in the diary will give you a good overview and you will soon feel perfectly included into this complex story. Almost all coversations insert a small piece into the mosaic of this extremely attracting and exciting story.
And together with D'kor you experience ever more about connections and background. What do e.g. missing ore supplies have to do with the disappearing of some inhabitants and a mysterious illness? Is someone behind this all - whom can you still trust now? The more reputation D'kor achieves, the more he is trusted by the inhabitants and gets more information and items. If his knowledge status increases he is better prepared to solve tasks.
The tasks can be concerned and solved in different order. The game isn't linear, however certain subplots must be completed, in order to be able to make a large step further.
Advancing further in the game it will also be necessary to leave Fort Weyr to visit other places. To do that, simply call your dragon and show him your destination on the map of Pern. Zenth can only start from sufficient large places. There he fetches D'kor, who will dress himself automatically into his dragon flier suit and mounts Zenth in a beautiful animation who majestically rises - afterwards we likewise experience the arrival in an animation. Although the viewing points of the dragon animations are repeatedly changed, if you advance further in the game, or whether it is day or night - after some time you nevertheless will become impatient after watching the 20th ascent or landing of Zenth. These animations cannot be aborted or shortened nor can the dialogues. Here I can report of a small, quite funny bug: with some of Zenth's landings the developer probably forgot to insert the dragon - D'kor comes thus in his flier suit, in which he looks like Quax - the breakage pilot >from the 30s, all alone flying through the air, as if he sits on an imaginary motorcycle. If the imaginary dragon has landed, he extremely carefully scrambles down an unexisting dragon arm down to the ground. But even this funny insert begins to be boring after watching it for the 3rd time.
The graphics in Dragon Riders are not outstanding - rather moderate. Not very detailed backgrounds of the extensive scenarios are assembled from often rough textures and look somewhat clumsy blurred. Objects, which can be taken up, e.g. herbs, you therefore can detect from far away, because they are clearly silhouetted against the background. As usually in 3D-games, in which you can watch your hero, it often occurs that he walks through rocks, furniture and other persons like David Copperfield through the Chinese Wall. The constantly changing camera angle gives an exciting movie-like feeling - but it also often leads to confusion and disorientation of the player. The many characters in Dragon Riders are really fine creations and look authentic, particularly the face animations and the lip synchronicity can convince. However actually I did not really miss anything graphically, since the narration and development of this epic story much too much captivated me.
I think that who demands a high graphics quality must then also accept a larger number of storage media. It is amazing that this extensive story of 40 hours pure play time finds room on just one CD.
The few music topics, which are repeatedly played depending upon location, support the atmosphere of a far away, different mythic world. They remind me a little of pieces from Cirque du Soleil. The few sound effects in the game support the three-dimensional impression completely. Noises get more quiet or more clear, you can hear them changing infinitely variable from the left to the right, ever after D'kor moves.
So actually you are able to navigate D'kor through these noises by letting him go, where the noise becomes louder. However the importunate noise of the scavenging brooms at some places was bothering. One was almost pursued of it and heard it at places, where there was no scavenging at all.
D'kors constant helpful companion - a small fire-lizard - that always tried to hold step with him and to fly over his shoulder, reminded me from its peeping single sound repertoire of a budgie or a cockatiel.
Though the puzzles in Dragon Riders become more complex in the course of the game, but they do not belong to the heavy caliber by any means. Basically the correct characters must be addressed at the right time. If something doesn't work in the moment, yet can probably be solved when achieving a higher ability level. You can find hints about that in some dialogues. To move a certain lever you already need a very strong man. Thus you must find yourself combat partners to increase your strength or simply by climbing x-times up and down a rock will do and you also will receive sufficient points of strength. Always, when reaching the next ability level, hearing something important for the diary or finding a potential Weyr woman, this step will be displayed one the screen. Often objects must be found and given to another person. This transfer takes place automatically, if you meet the matching man or woman. However this find-and-give-puzzles are often nested. To shift the car aside I need a draught animal - which I again can get only against an alive tunnel snake - to get a tunnel snake ... etc.
Sometimes actions must be performed in a certain order to open a door for example. From time to time you need marksmanship, in order to hunt a beetle with an arrow for example. A game of dice can be won only after certain specifications. Sometimes you can only continue if you don't wear the clothes of a dragon rider. It rarely occurs that you get stuck and apparently no more possibilities are offered to go on. However there are also dead ends from which no way leads back anymore. Some of them are due to to programming errors others are intended, in order to increase the degree of difficulty.
Here I can only recommend to use the few save slots advisedly otherwise it can occur that you must repeat the game process of some hours. Actually I can only advise to copy your older savegames after some playing time into an extra directory for security reasons in order not to overwrite them.
Despite the bugs, e.g. the metal caves cannot be left when visited a second time; in jail the action icon is overlaid by the sneaking icon in such a way, so that you cannot operate a switch to get out (can be recovered on a normal keyboard with the Ins/0-key - however not on my laptop keyboard) - thus despite this bugs, despite uncomfortable small number of save slots, despite the moderate graphics and the not interruptible animations and dialogues - I had a giant fun with Dragon Riders!
The action/skill elements are rare and can be mastered by the average gamer (me too). The excellent told history of the dragon riders really spellbound me a long time by its suspense and originality. A game, I really looked forward to and which kept my thoughts busy, every time I did not play it (here I didn't have to think: "later on you "must" play again Monkey Combat!").
Possibly Ubi Soft already plans a successor - the dolphin on the island Ista made some suggestions. By the way there is a small reminiscence at Anne McCaffrey in the kitchen of the castle of Fort Hold: The kitchen girl Anne doesn't have fun stirring the porridge, but dreams about dragon riding and about writing about it. Those of you who aren't afraid of keyboard control and like an exciting story with long, long gameplay, should also try dreaming!
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