Jack the Ripper and Morgana Le Fey. As a dog.
So if there’s one thing I like, it’s grimdark settings. If there’s another thing I like, it’s historical fiction, and it never hurts to throw some fantasy in there, so I jumped at the chance to give Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey a go, prior to its release on PC next month. It’s a point and click adventure game, set in the foreboding era of Victorian London, at the start of Jack the Ripper’s reign, and you’re handed the reins of Sir Lancelot and Morgana Le Fey, who are trying to stop the killer before he strikes again. Morgana Le Fey is also a dog, for reasons I’m not quite sure, and she’d like to be turned back, so we’re also tracking down the wizard Merlin.
It’s definitely an intriguing mix, especially as we’re teaming up with Mary Kelly (yes, that Mary Kelly) to explore London and bring the killer to justice. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s got an interesting premise with a lot of potential, but presentation and gameplay leave a lot to be desired.
Now, I do want to preface this by saying that I was given an early preview build of the game, which may explain some of the issues, and these may well have been resolved by now. The core gameplay aspect, which is the point and clicking, I have no problems with, as the voice actors are actually very good, but the exploration part was somewhat more difficult. There’s no markers anywhere until you get very close to them, so unless it’s incredibly obvious, you end up wandering all over the map to try and figure out where to go. I did like, however, that the game offers a handful of characters to choose from, even in the early chapters, allowing you to switch between them, as you can sometimes only move the plot forward by using a certain character (Morgana talking to a horse to find out about a murder, for example).
The stages themselves are pretty, if not a little sparse – static scenes, littered with NPCs, in a watercolour style. The only trouble is, the NPCs just stand still, and only a handful can be interacted with at certain points, so the world feels lifeless rather than a bustling London street, though, to its credit, the characters you can talk to feel wonderfully lifelike and fleshed out, with a lot of varying accents for characters from all walks of life. To explore, you click to where your character wants to go, but letting them amble is painfully slow, so if you want them to speed up, you have to click rapidly until you get to where you need to, which as you can imagine, gets old fast.
The preview did also show off a couple of other gameplay segments, a battle and a something that was trying to be a puzzle, in brewing a potion. The potion was clicking along to what the shopkeeper was saying, and honestly wasn’t all that difficult, and the fighting portion, which was stopping a moving bar in the correct spot, became incredibly tedious after doing it over and over again for more than a couple of minutes.
The other things I do want to touch on are the graphics, and the glitches. While I do appreciate that is something with a fantasy leaning and isn’t exactly going to be photo realistic, the models take a sharp dive into the uncanny valley, and this doesn’t seem to let up. There’s also a lot of weird lighting choices, including one where they seem to like throwing the faces into a harsh green light for no apparent reason. The models as a whole just look unpolished, with little to no lip sync in some of the cutscenes. Don’t get me wrong – the backgrounds look nice and totally fine, but the models do stand out, and unfortunately not in a good way.
There’s also the matter of the glitches – and again, please bear in mind that this was an early preview build – but they were so prevalent, they were worth mentioning. Loading chapter one, for example, and advancing quickly through the dialogue, meant that the journal wouldn’t load (or at least be visible for me to click), so I was stuck without anything to interact with, and had to exit the game and reload. A side effect of debug mode, perhaps, but since I had no other way of getting to the chapter other than replaying the whole preview, it wasn’t great. There was a newspaper that loaded over a cutscene (though this may have been my fault, because I’m not sure if I clicked it before the scene played), but either way, there was no way to close it, and I could only hear the audio. Chapter two seems to be the worst offender, since I went upstairs at the inn when I wasn’t supposed to, and there was nothing to interact with, forcing me to restart. Then. later on, I was meant to go up there and talk to Du Lac, only to have my character not appear on screen, and not be able to do anything, prompting yet another restart.
Overall, Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey has a lot of promise, with an intriguing storyline and set up, but the final game would need a lot more polish before it drew me in to play the full thing. It’s slated for a PEGI 18 rating with a lot of historical