I have always been fascinated by stories surrounding the mystique of the occult. I will even take hours to research topics related to voodoo, paganism, Masonic history, and Egyptian mysteries in my spare time, just for the sake of personal enjoyment. When I first saw Mystery of the Druids, I felt impulsively drawn to its box, which bears the image of a psychopathic-looking, white-haired Druid. I soon discovered, however, that the image on the box is all the interest I would have in the game. Mystery of the Druids has mystery and it has druids, but it has little intelligence.
I am not going to preach and say that I always want a game that flows completely logically from point A to point B: I love many quirky games that always seem to lack logic in an adorable, almost innocent way, such as Beyond Atlantis and Egypt II. Mystery of the Druids, unfortunately, ignores its roots as a quirky adventure and aims, instead, to be seen as a captivating and intelligent thriller. The game opens with an intriguing and promising FMV sequence featuring a Druidic ritual, and then introduces present day London. You play as a Scotland Yard detective named Brent Halligan, who is harassed into investigating a series of murders, gently labeled the “skeleton murders.” Along the way you eventually encounter a professor named Melanie Turner, who becomes your ally and second controllable character. Although the pairing is similar to other famous paranormal investigative partnerships such as Scully and Mulder from the X-Files, George and Nico from Broken Sword and Gabriel and Grace from Gabriel Knight, Melanie and Brent have no charm as a couple.
This point & click adventure utilizes 3D character models that roam over 2D backgrounds, which is seen quite frequently in adventure titles like Syberia. Unlike Syberia, however, the actual character design and animation in MOTD is lackluster, utilizing sharply contrasting colors that make characters look quite unrealistic. As the game progresses, more 2D-backdrop beauty is revealed in the outdoor nature scenes that appear to be quite similar to those found in Black Mirror: a bit foggy, but detailed. These fine-looking backdrops, however, only help to further emphasize what COULD have been done to improve upon the textures of the 3D character models who trample all over the spiffy environments.
While running around, Brent and Melanie encounter many characters whom they must interact with to move the linear plot along. In paranormal investigation games such as Gabriel Knight, character dialogue often helps to reveal key mysteries, and these revelations help to pull in the players, making them a part of the discovery and, hence, adventure process. Mystery of the Druids, however, tends to push players away by making Brent and Melanie converse with irritating and, often, easily irritable characters. I want to save the world in Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon because I care about those inhabiting it. In MOTD, I thought the world might be better off if no one tried to save it; maybe the Druids could do a better job populating it. No such luck, however, since I had to follow through and speak to every odd and mean-spirited NPC.
To make matters even more frustrating, many arbitrary dialogue trees act as puzzles. For example, in order to get a ship captain to take you to a destination, you must repeat line after line of dialogue in an attempt to follow the correct dialogue tree. When you finally select the correct combination, the pompous captain calls you aboard. Most players will be able to solve this riddle through trial and error, and then forgive the game for pulling this stunt once. However, by the second, third, and fourth time a similar dialogue puzzle surfaces, players are bound to speed through the audio, ignoring anything any character says during the frustrating conversation.
While the dialogue tree jumps out as being among the most awkward, many puzzles in this game seem illogical and rather roundabout. I stole my philosophy for solving the puzzles in this game from Nike: Just try it. Just try an item. Just try this line of dialogue. Just try doing the same action again…and maybe even just try doing it a third time. The puzzles in Mystery of the Druids feel forced and arbitrary. Players are bound to ask themselves, “Why did I have to shove that in the gutter? Couldn’t I just shove that other thing in the gutter?” While logic has not always been a friend of many adventure game puzzles, the lack of logic at various points in MOTD makes the main characters appear brainless, lacking the ability to think and problem-solve like most normal human beings. When a player distances him or herself from the adventure game world and no longer relates to the characters or situations, difficult puzzles (whether original or not) prove to be just plain annoying.
I was even upset with the crudeness of one of these forced puzzles. Without revealing the solution, I can only say that you must manipulate a homeless man and steal from him. Look, the main character has a job, clothes and a home, and there is no need, in a game that parades itself as a serious adventure, to stoop so low. Players are bound to outthink this game, its characters and puzzles, and they are often going to find themselves shaking their heads in the process. Brent Halligan is a dislikeable character with peculiar motives and odd behaviors. Not many adventure gamers will be excited to explore the mysteries of London with a detective who keeps dampening players’ spirits.
To be sure, your tolerance for the game’s idiosyncrasies will most likely affect the length of MOTD. On average, the game may take about 15 hours to complete, mostly due to repeated dialogue and more obscure puzzles. But if you speed through dialogue trees and rely on trial and error, the game could run significantly shorter.
In Mystery of the Druids, you go back in time, you explore old ruins and jump into a paranormal mystery that contains blood and mayhem. Some puzzles involving alchemy symbols and rituals can even stimulate the mature mind. But I’d rather play a decent children’s adventure game because at least it knows who its target audience is. Mystery of the Druids is certainly not the worst adventure game I have ever played, and, I reluctantly admit, that I even found myself wanting to play the game at times. To be honest, this desire extends more from my addiction to odd mysteries and less from my enjoyment of MOTD’s gameplay and story. So, unless you must play this game to satiate your fiendish craving for a mysterious occult adventure, I suggest you save your money and your sanity.
It should be noted that House of Tales, the team that debuted with Mystery of the Druids, is in the process of developing a new adventure, The Moment of Silence. Set in the future, The Moment of Silence will allow players to explore a dark “big brother” society. Martin Gantefohr promises to improve upon the team’s previous adventure game by revamping the dialogue system and puzzle design. In his interview with Adventure Gamers, Martin Gantefohr clearly states that the designers must “deal with reviewers in a professional, balanced way: Send them death threats, but take their valid points to heart for the next time around.” If the previously mentioned points are remedied by the release of The Moment of Silence, adventure gamers may have a House of Tales treat on the way. But before the release of this more promising title, House of Tales only offers the gaming community Mystery of the Druids, a sub-par adventure marred by its unlikable characters and illogical puzzles.