Adventure Gamers Awards
I’m a big fan of the heroic tales of antiquity like Robin Hood and the tales of Camelot. When I discovered in the prologue of Salix Games’ Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey that the title characters are in fact Sir Lancelot Du Lac and Morgana le Fay – immortals now living in Victorian England – I was intrigued. When I learned they were a pair of demon hunters, I was excited. But when it turned out they’d be tracking down Jack the Ripper in 1888, I was apprehensive, as solving the Ripper murders has proven notoriously hard to dramatize in interactive form. Still, I was game and hoped for the best. Sadly, for a variety of reasons unrelated to the legend-blending lore, the game never lives up to the potential initially displayed.
Du Lac is something of a good natured if mildly bumbling dandy. Fey is a clever, perspicacious witch who was once cursed by Merlin to forever be a dog, albeit a slender and beautiful one with floppy ears and different coloured eyes. Very early on it’s established that there’s a mystical bond between Du Lac and Fey, and the exploration of their connection and history together forms a strong subplot within the overall narrative. Other characters are also revealed to have magical abilities as the game progresses, and collectively they are known as the Arcane.
It soon becomes apparent that the protagonists have been together for too long. (Several centuries!) They snipe at and tease one another, and generally get on each other’s nerves. But bicker as they may, they do so in a way that only deeply bonded friends ever could, always there to support one another when the chips are down. This complex relationship is conveyed in no small part due to the excellent vocal performances for this pair. It’s a nuanced and charming partnership of the kind that is seldom seen in interactive storytelling, and I found it easily the most enjoyable, satisfying aspect of Dance of Death.
The playable prologue in snowy rural Norway has Du Lac and Fey summoned by nearby villagers to investigate a grisly murder that turns out to be the result of supernatural forces. In this case it’s a demon that must be destroyed, which entails a brief action sequence with a slider moving back and forth along a marked scale. Clicking the mouse when the slider is in the correct range will strike the demon successfully. Several such blows win the battle and it’s very easy to accomplish, but for those who don’t enjoy such action elements, allowing the demon to attack Du Lac several times sees Fey come to the rescue automatically. A couple more sequences like this appear throughout the game and can be similarly bypassed.
Upon the demon’s defeat, Du Lac and Fey are shown a series of images that hint at the whereabouts of Merlin. It seems he too is still alive and continuing to work his magic to keep Fey trapped in her canine form. The visions lead the pair to London, where the game proper starts and they soon get swept up in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.
Despite its obviously fictional premise, Dance of Death is well researched and based on the actual events of the Ripper case. While this is admirable it also worried me, because while the police worked hard to stop the gruesome killings, one of the key problems with this mystery is that that there wasn’t any real evidence trail to follow. Put another way, in terms of gameplay, it’s very hard to create something out of nothing. This is an issue that plagued Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper as well, with the great detective being given a number of asinine tasks not worthy of his mettle as there wasn’t anything else for him to do.
In an attempt to remedy this, a few fantasy elements come into play here, as Du Lac and Fey believe a mystical motivation drives the infamous killer. Sadly, even with this magical bent the usual problem afflicts Dance of Death. By the time our heroes reach London, several deaths have already occurred. The protagonists do get to inspect a number of crime scenes, but I never really got the feeling that I was doing anything meaningful or getting closer to the Ripper through any actions of my own.
If the game had remained focused on Du Lac and Fey’s search for the macabre murderer – or for Merlin, who is largely thrust into the background for long stretches – it might have been able to stay afloat based solely on the charm of the two leads. However, a third playable character is introduced, one Mary Jane Kelly. I’m not sure if she actually has more play time than the title characters or if it just feels that way, but I found her inclusion to be problematic.
Plucked from the real cast of characters involved in the Ripper case, Mary is the clichéd prostitute with a heart of gold. She looks out for the children of Whitechapel and teaches other women how to read. Unfortunately, we learn very little about Mary’s background or who she is. It’s not so much that she’s a bad character; it’s just that she significantly pales in comparison to the immortal Sir Lancelot and Morgana of Arthurian legend. It doesn’t help that during her gameplay segments she’s given trivial make-work projects to do, such as walking from scene to scene to distribute flyers to pedestrians. Every time the game switched to Mary, I really wanted to be back with Du Lac and Fey instead.
Ultimately the three characters come to work together. Mary gets paired with Fey on a couple of occasions, and the cunning hound does help elevate these sections a little bit. Even so, there are still parts that feel like filler. After Mary herself receives a vision of the next Ripper victim, she and Fey start to look for the woman only to end up…at the local brothel getting drunk while playing a 19th century version of Truth or Dare with the other working girls there. It’s an odd, boringly extended interlude, during which even Fey questions the reason for being there.
Overall, the story is patchy at best. There are moments that are really quite enjoyable, but the rest of the time is rather dull. Not poorly written by any means, just not particularly engaging. Even the ending, which I reached after seven hours of play, left me cold as it’s rushed through surprisingly quickly while trying to tie up all the loose ends. In the dénouement, even though Du Lac and Fey see the Ripper case through to the finish, they feel like they really haven’t accomplished anything towards their own eternal pursuit. Having guided them to that point, I shared that same feeling, as the ending is more intent on setting up the prospect of a sequel than providing much closure to this one.
Of course, there’s more to Dance of Death than just a story, although not much. The game generally plays like a typical 2.5D point-and-click adventure. 3D characters are rendered over top of hand-painted backgrounds. A button in the top-right corner allows for toggling between whichever playable characters are currently available, though there's rarely any need to do so. A few standard genre elements are conspicuous by their absence, however, such as an inventory or any real puzzles. The closest the game comes are a couple of potion crafting tasks involving clicking various chemical ingredients to add them together. General insights about the types of ingredients appear on-screen, but these are too vague to be any help. I found it easier to simply choose at random until the potion turned the right colour, indicating it was created correctly.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey
Posted by My Dune on Apr 9, 2019
Good game, but too broken
I'm so sad and angry at the same time. The game is pretty well made, but has a huge flaw that makes me angry in every game that should have been great! The story is good, graphics look very nice. The voice acting and music I have nothing to complain about....