Daedalic have stepped up to be the face of the European point-and-click adventure game scene in the past few years and the frequency of their releases is beginning to make it feel like it's the early '90s all over again. The German developer's track record has been somewhat hit and miss (their most recent effort being the disappointing The Night of the Rabbit) but we were given the opportunity to preview Memoria and it looks to be a step back in the right direction.
Memoria is a deep fantasy story set in the world of The Dark Eye, which has been Germany's equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons for a long time although it may not be familiar to the rest of us. This is a sequel to Daedalic's previous 2012 adventure game The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav and it's immediately obvious that this is a rich universe with its own history, lore, magic and creatures. Indeed, without knowledge of the world and without having played Chains of Satinav we found ourselves quite lost and confused as the game throws you in with no real explanation or even an introduction.
You play Geron, a young man wandering through the woods at night with a talking crow. As it happens, this crow is actually your girlfriend Nuri, a faery who has been cursed and transformed into a bird. Geron is looking for a means to turn her back and has sought out a wizard travelling through the woods. The wizard presents Geron with a riddle and tells him he has three days to solve it and if he can then he will help him. This riddle allows the game to split off into a completely different narrative as we flashback to a different time and play as a completely different character, a princess named Sadja who lived hundreds of years before and was on a quest of her own.
The two story threads provide a welcome contrast, and throughout the preview we skipped back and forth between them for varying amounts of time. The game dictates when this will happen and you don't get to select this at will. This makes sense given the heavy focus on storytelling on display here. Geron and Sadja are two very different people with different personalities, although they both appear very driven towards their goals. Geron comes across as a kind soul whereas Sadja is much more forthright and sometimes devious. Sadja's story provide the clues to the riddle that Geron needs to solve and it will be very interesting to see how the two narratives eventually link up. The story became more engrossing and involving the further we played.
There is a lot more going on as Geron gets involved in a larger mystery. A problem which was immediately apparent for us as players new to this world was that it was very difficult to know what was going on without knowledge of the universe or the previous game. Weird names are thrown about regularly along with references to things which happened before. The early stages here are downright confusing and it takes a while for the game to eventually begin to provide explanations and fill you in on backstory. There is a useful quest log of sorts which updates as you play and does give you brief nuggets of the essentials, but it could really benefit from being made much more helpful and is easy to miss altogether as the only sign it exists is a tiny icon at the bottom of the inventory.
The gorgeous hand-drawn artwork has now become a feature of Daedalic's games. Once again this must rank as one of the most beautiful adventure games ever produced. Vivid and colourful, highly detailed backgrounds stand out on every screen and they are full of subtle animations which bring everything to life. The character models aren't quite as stunning and especially when the game switches to close ups for cutscenes things can feel very stilted and papery although the animations weren't quite finalised for this preview. At this point the game hasn't been fully converted into English so we had spoken German dialogue with English subtitles.
This plays like an old-school adventure game and Daedalic make no apologies for this. Left click to tell your character where to move or to interact with objects. Right clicking will examine items. Your inventory appears at the bottom of the screen along with a number of spells which you accumulate throughout the game. The word which springs to mind to describe the puzzle difficulty here is vicious. Brutally vicious, even. This is not an easy adventure game by any means and the puzzle solutions are often convoluted and confusing. Some players may love this as it will genuinely tax your logical thinking and you may relish the challenge, while other players will likely find themselves Googling a walkthrough within a few minutes of playing.
Daedalic have managed to whet our appetites with a genuinely interesting story and fascinating world. We want to know what the outcome of Geron and Sadja's stories will be and look forward to finding out when Memoria gets its UK release at the end of August.