- Solid and very hard Puzzles
- Good story, well written and researched.
- Great atmosphere.
- Clear improvement over its predecessors.
- Beautiful visuals.
- Includes the entire Dracula novel.
- The trial and death by error puzzles.
- Flat NPCs.
- Some lip-synching issues.
Dracula 3 is the last game in the Dracula Trilogy bundle I bought off GoG.com and the best in the series so far. While at first I was a bit apprehensive about playing it, after disliking most of what Dracula 2 offered, I was quickly engrossed by its rich story and addicting gameplay.
Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon was released in 2008, eight years after the previous games, and developed by Kheops Studio and published my Microïds, and featuring a new storyline, characters, setting and mythology, something I very much agreed with considering how terrible the story was on the previous games in the series.
The game is set in 1920, with Father Arno Moriani of the Sacred Congregation of Rites dispatched to the small town of Vladoviste, in Romania, to investigate a sainthood candidate, local doctor Martha Calugarul, who since her death, months before the beginning of her story, has been “healing” those that pray to her near her tomb. After meeting the handful of locals, like Ozana the Innkeeper, Ionel the street kid, the beautiful Maria Florescu, the local doctor and Martha Calugarul’s successor, Stephane Luca the reporter and Martha’s friend, and the archaeologist Janos Pekmester; and asking and looking around, it becomes increasingly clear there’s something weird about the town and the “saintly” doctor Calugarul, who you discover early on has been involved in pagan rituals meant to ward off Vampires. After turning in your report, the Vatican assigns Arno a new one, to hunt down the source of the legends of Vampires and put a stop to it. Arno’s investigation into History and local legends draws his attention to Vlad III aka “Tepes” (The Impaler) Dracula and the mysterious Path of the Dragon, a series of trials Dracula himself followed, supposedly testing you on the way to becoming a Vampire.
The story is quite good, though the ending left a bit to be desired, and draws heavily from Romanian history, especially from the life of Vlad The Impaler, whose actions and experiences are at the heart of the plot and the Path. Many clues, both to puzzles and plot elements, are hidden in biographical documents and artworks. The lines of history and fiction blur as the game presents the theory the novel Dracula is based on real events, with certain details changed of course; and in fact the early sections of the game, at the start of Arno’s investigation into vampire lore, deal with the novel and people’s impressions of it, as well as the true sources of the story, which remain relevant up until the end. Bram Stoker’s “friend”, Professor Von Bergen, the inspiration for Van Helsing according to the plot, and his ties to the Golden Dawn and its successor the Thule society, adds another layer of historical sources and conspiracies to the plot. Better yet, the game actually includes the entire novel for your reading pleasure and that gives it plenty of points in my book.
On the character side, Arno is a very good protagonist, both relatable and likeable, as are Maria Florescu and Janos. The rest of the NPCs however, are rather flat, something I understand for a couple of them, but not on all, leaving me wanting a bit more character development.
Visually speaking it’s a considerable step up from its predecessors, favoring 3d models of environment and characters over cinematic conversations and flat screenshots to explore. While the graphics may not be top of the line even for 2008, the visual style fits the game perfectly, being both dark and colorful and bringing the scenery to life, a clear upgrade from the drab and dark environments in the first two games in the series.
As with the other two, Dracula 3 boasts a fantastic atmosphere and this time it keeps you engaged up to the end, with not only the clever use of sound effects the franchise has been good at since the beginning, but also with a strong musical score, and sharp turns in melodies will have you jumping in your seat and expecting the worst. Voice acting is very good and Arno is a very vocal character, not limited to speaking during conversations with other characters, but you can also hear him at every turn, like his reactions to the different events or his state of mind or thoughts on a particular situation, thus enforcing the immersion. If Arno’s scared at any point, there’s a fair chance you’ll be too.
On the audio side, the only problem is the lip-synching is a bit off for most conversations, but nothing major.
On the gameplay side, things have changed since the previous games, and once again for the better. First, there’s item descriptions, something that helps out a lot during gameplay. Your inventory screen now also holds records of every conversation you’ve had, so even if you miss something you can check it out again. There’s also a Documents tab holding every piece of paper or art you’ve collected, including the entire Dracula novel as I mentioned before; something that is key to plenty of the puzzles.
The controls remain the same. You move in place with your mouse, moving from locale to locale when the cursor changes to an arrow; you pick up things when your cursor is a hand, look more closely when it’s a magnifying glass, talk to people when it’s a mouth, look when it’s an eye and interact when it’s a cog. Items picked up aren’t placed in the inventory immediately instead put into the “current item” box and can be either transferred manually to the inventory or by clicking the “Auto” button, in which case the game transfers them for you. You can stack multiple items in the “current item” box, in case you need to use them in a sequential manner, removing the need to jump into the inventory to look for each of them.
As this is a Point & Click adventure game, the one thing you want to know the most is how the puzzles are, and I’m happy to say the general level of difficulty is pretty high, some of puzzles bordering on sadistic. Of course, in this regard, the game does have a few faults, with more than a few puzzles relying on plenty of retries, the blood analysis puzzles being the worst of them, especially the second, where your “results” can vary constantly, making it a bit of guesswork and forcing you to retry until you get the real result, meaning hours lost on tedious “rinse & repeat”, quite literal in fact, considering you’re washing out blood samples from test tubes. The same happens with one of the last puzzles, the one with the “If you look behind you, you’ll die” message, a Japanese tile puzzle. While you can work out the solution, it’s much easier to look behind you and look at it, jot it down, turn back around, die and do it again until you’ve seen all possible puzzle combinations; and then it’s just a matter of working out which one it is. In fact, this is the other fault, with more than a few trial and death by error puzzles. Eventually you solve them by simply discarding all the wrong choices, instead of using logic to find the real solution. The rest of the puzzles however, are all solvable by using logic, your documents and more than a bit of ingenuity; but be assured, your brain will be on the edge of melting more than a few times.
My favorite puzzle is the “Green Truth” puzzle, involving a text in Latin, a thumbtack and a bit of string.
The puzzle difficulty is the highest of all the franchise’s titles so far (including Dracula 4 which I’ve already played through), and to be perfectly honest, if you manage to go through the entire game without seeking “external” help at least once, which I did on that 2nd infernal blood test puzzle, you’re ready to work as a professional code-breaker in real life (there’s an actual code-breaking puzzle…it’s hard-core).
Even if, like me, you were disappointed on how much the first games in the series butchered Stoker’s Dracula, you’ll find this a superior game that also pays homage to that classic work of fiction. The story is set against real historical sources and works of art, mixed together in an intriguing plot that’ll keep you glued to your seats when the creepy atmosphere isn’t making you squirm and jump out of it. Combine all that with the very good, solid and sometimes infuriatingly hard puzzles, and Dracula 3: Path of the Dragon is a fantastic game for both Dracula fans and Adventure Gamers.
The Mental Attic Score: BUY IT NOW! You can find it with the Dracula Trilogy bundle on GoG.com for $9, and just this game alone makes the bundle worthwhile.