Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey Review
Reviewed on PC
Sharp quips and wit are almost intrinsic elements of the adventure genre, with examples ranging from classics such as Monkey Island's resident dread(ful) pirate Guybrush Threepwood, Broken Sword's George Stobbart or The Longest Journey's April Ryan, right through to more current snappy quip-ers like The Blackwell Legacy's Rosa Blackwell or Life is Strange: Before the Storm's Chloe Price. Joining that ilk in short order is the titular Fey, a talking dog who rapidly establishes her needling, dominant relationship with her partner Du Lac by raining withering comments on him. At once, the strong qualities of the voice acting and script jump out during the introductory moments of Dance of Death: Du Lac and Fey, but equally so, technical issues niggle and pull attention.
In most respects, Du Lac & Fey is a standard point and click adventure in it's approach to gameplay. You click to move your character around their environment, click on things to provoke a little description or reaction and you click on things to pick them up or interact in some way. It's archaic as far as gameplay goes and as a result ought to be a polished and considered example of the genre considering it's release in the wake of so many exemplary and genre defining rivals, but Du Lac & Fey struggles with almost everything outside of it's narrative intent and vocal performance.
The most irritating misstep in terms of design comes from not knowing what you can click on without moving your slow moving avatar right next to it. The result is that each new location provokes an initial phase of rubbing Du Lac, Fey or later a third protagonist named Mary against each wall and surface in turn, hoping for a golden, hovering eye symbol to indicate some potential interaction. Compounding this is the relatively limited selection of locations leading to repeated visits, sometimes with new things to click on, each time necessitating some measure of the same slow, surface scouring process. Watching Du Lac's lackadaisical walking animation slowly trundle between locations became grating quickly, at times getting worse thanks to confusing pathfinding and even provoking a laugh when Du Lac began pushing the models of the NPCs around when brushing up against them, as though they were stood on ice.
The gameplay that exists outside of navigating areas and finding things to click on is limited indeed and does nothing to enhance the whole package. Combat, the few times that you find yourself in it, is a simple timing mini-game, with the grand challenge being to stop a slow moving marker on the right part of a bar, very much akin to the lock picking games in older Assassin's Creed titles. The same simple animation plays out a few times before the narrative picks back up and the standoff ends with little impact.
There are things like newspapers to pick up and check out, but there's no ability to zoom in and read the text on the items themselves so you're instead reliant on a large text box at the bottom of the screen. A couple of other simple puzzles struggle from presentation decisions, with one type involving the combination of chemicals being peppered with the sounds of Fey barking endlessly in one instance and the line "My you are gifted!" in another. Each time conversation might pique interest and provoke wonder at what's to come, some element of the game's design and execution undermines potential.
Graphically, Dance of Death: Du Lac and Fey is a mixed bag of well designed characters as well as reasonably polished textures and lighting that are pulled down by wonky execution. Characters are distinct, but are sharply animated, with mouths snapping open and shut as they speak. Shadows move and play inexplicably across distant surfaces as you wander around rooms and character models teleport during scene transitions for split seconds, moving from one side of the screen to the other as camera angles quickly change and the janky transition from gameplay to cutscene occurs. Opening the option screen and pressing escape to close it instead of mouse clicking it closed will leave the option screen open but returns control of the characters to you. At times I found myself having to laugh in exasperation at the constant stream of frustrations and distractions from the story being told, there were so many and they were so glaring.
What saves Dance of Death: Du Lac and Fey somewhat is it's story and voice acting, but I'd be hard pressed to say that the conclusion of the game was satisfying. Things begin with allusion to Arthurian legend, of the protagonists being the mythical characters Lancelot du Lac and Morgan le Fay and that the legendary wizard Merlin is their quarry. The pair have been tracking demons in an effort to return Fey to human form, and they interrogate one in order to pick up the magician's trail in London. What follows never pays off this initial narrative hook, instead opting to focus on a different story within London itself, leading eventually to something of a cliffhanger regarding the whereabouts of Merlin by the time the credits roll. It felt like a bait and switch at worst or a concession to a lack of focused intent toward the Arthurian aspects of the story on the writer's part at best. There was the hint of a solid, satisfying take on Arthurian legend being teased and leaned upon but never paying off.
There is a well acted tale of murder and magic told within London itself, but when all's said and done there's little character development for the titular duo nor enough context given to their plight to provoke me to want to find out more or long for a follow up. Considering the truly legendary quality of the source material, it's hard not to feel some disappointment at missed potential and wonder at how much recently touted financial issues at Salix Games hampered each unpolished aspect of Dance of Death: Du Lac and Fey in the lead up to it's stumbling release. Given the finished product, the answer seems clear to me.