The haunting track that plays over Draugen's opening will immediately give you the feeling that you're not in for a typical adventure game experience, and you're not. The year is 1923 and you play as Edward Harden, a reserved, bookish man from Hanover, Massachusetts. He's traveled to Graavik, an isolated fishing village on the shores of a Norwegian fjord, with his teen-aged ward, Lissie, in search of his sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth works as a reporter for the New York Times, and has gone missing while investigating a story in Graavik. Edward and Lissie arrive at the village by rowboat only to find the village deserted, as is the home of the family who has offered to host Edward while he searches for his missing sister.
While the game's location and circumstances may seem like the perfect setup for a horror game, that's not what Draugen is. It's a mystery game in which Edward and Lissie try to piece together what happened to both Elizabeth and the villagers from the few clues that were left behind. It does this more as an interactive story than a mystery adventure game - there are no items to collect or puzzles to solve. The game carefully controls the overall narrative by allowing you to discover clues or enter new locations only at the appropriate times in the story. You'll be given the freedom to explore the area within these confines, but you'll only be able to move the story forward in the way that's intended. There is some freedom of interaction in the conversations that you have with Lissie, often after uncovering a new piece of evidence and talking through its significance with her. You'll be presented with a few optional responses at certain points in the conversations, and the direction that the dialog will take from there will be driven by the choice you make.
The conversations in the game are interesting, driven by the interplay between Edward's caution and reason and Lissie's adventurousness and compassion. Lissie is also very much a teenager, and it's entertaining in a way to hear her use the lingo and phrases of 1920s teens when she interacts with Edward. Her face is quite expressive when you're talking to her, which enhances the natural feel of the conversations. I looked away to enjoy the scenery during one conversation, and then she demanded that I look at her while she was speaking to me and wouldn't continue talking until I did.
I think that I can be forgiven for taking a moment to enjoy the scenery, though. The game's setting is really a beautiful place, with imposing cliffs and mountains cut by waterfalls and opening to the fjord below. It's an idyllic location, but also a foreboding one. The mountains and water form an imposing barrier, making you feel trapped and isolated in a place beset by tragedy. Isolation is the central theme of the game, physical, societal, and psychological, and the way that the game deals with this theme is intriguing. However, the game's approach to this means that a number of the questions that it raises are deliberately left open-ended. If you want your stories neatly wrapped up at the end, you're going to be disappointed when you reach the end of the game. If you're the kind of person who enjoys a game that will make you think, and that will have you thinking about it after you're done playing it, then you'll probably enjoy Draugen.
Draugen is really a story-driven game; you're not so much a player as you are a character in the story. The game hooked me in the same way that an interesting book does - I found myself playing for a little longer than intended each time because I wanted to turn the page to see what happens next. If you approach Draugen in the same way that you would a book, you'll find it an interesting diversion. If you're looking for a more traditional adventure game in which you're interacting with everything in the game's world and solving puzzles, you should look elsewhere.
Final Rating: 84% - A haunting game that will haunt you for a while after you finish it.