2009's European import CRPG "Drakensang" was the kind of game I like to call a "slow burn" title. By that, I mean it started out moderately fun and as time went by I found it to be more and more compelling and addictive the longer I continued to play it. While it didn't have the non-linearity of Dragon Age or the visual fidelity of Germany's own Risen, Drakensang did have something very few RPGs seem to want to include nowadays: Complex rules and challenging tactical combat. It was these inclusions to the rapidly aging CRPG formula that kept me glued to my monitor long enough to go through the game three times and eventually led me to track down its sequel, the much improved and brilliantly written "River of Time".
Though River of Time is actually a prequel it's hard to believe it when you look at how much of the game has been changed for the better. With the English translation cleaned up (No more confusing 1W numbers instead of 1D), the game's combat being better balanced in the early levels, the experience points doled out in larger chunks and the story paced much slower than the previous game it's hard to really find fault with what Radon Labs has done here. The original Drakensang was one of the best CRPGs I had played in the past five years and besides a few tweaks and more variety in the locations/quests/monsters you encountered I didn't see much wrong with it. The characters were memorable, the combat was fantastic and the rules were the perfect antidote to the watered down 3rd edition D&D I had grown sick and tired of.
Yet Radon Labs managed to somehow shave some extra fat off of this already slender game and dress it up even prettier than it already was.
For those who enjoyed the original Drakensang there is really no reason why you would dislike the sequel. Much of its shortcomings (Such as fighting stereotypical low-level beasts like rats and wolves nonstop in the early levels) have been dealt with and what you're left with in this prequel is a much cleaner, more refined CRPG. The only drawback that I noticed was that the game seems to put a much tighter rein on leveling since even after my 2nd trip whereupon I used an FAQ to maximize my experience gains I was still unable to get past level 12. This was slightly disappointing when you consider that the first game let you leap all the way to level 17 before the last boss fight was even unlocked.
I also noticed that the economy seemed a bit out of whack since even though my characters were swimming in gold ducats I still had to spend hours selectively buying and selling things just to get the equipment that I needed to survive. This constant obsessing over money and equipment caught up to me in the end after I completed a quest that opened up a 999 ducat helmet that I couldn't afford no matter what I sold or traded. It irked me that I couldn't buy it and left me bitter as I went on to the game's final area 728 ducats short of being able to afford it.
Overall however, River of Time is considerably better than its predecessor and the only faults you'll find with it are, as I've said, small gripes that can be easily ignored.
To make up for these small missteps River of Time manages to give you a little bit of non-linearity in your adventure, something the first game completely lacked. Though this non-linearity is basically just a couple optional boss fights and a hunting reserve with a few quests tucked away within it, it's still nice to see that Radon Labs was listening to the fans when they cried out for some optional "challenge" areas.
As a matter of fact one of those challenging optional areas is so hard that it contains the best CRPG boss fight I've seen since the battle with Kangax in Baldur's Gate 2. Not to spoil the surprise, but if you find yourself in an underwater temple and you've just solved a floor tile puzzle to open a door you had better make sure you've bought or found end game equipment because you're going to need it. The amount of micro-managing and aggro-distribution I had to do in the boss fight below that temple nearly drove me insane