Growing up, I read a lot of books over many different subjects. Given all the sci-fi and fantasy I had around me, it was inevitable I’d be getting into Arthurian legend. And given the amount of history books around, not to mention collections of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, it was equally inevitable I’d grow interested in the case files of Jack the Ripper. So you can imagine how I might have been excited by the premise of mixing the two together. And you can also imagine the crushing disappointment at what was presented in Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death.

Du Lac & Fey puts a twist on Arthurian legend, where Morgana Le Fey and Lancelot Du Lac are partnered up for all time, ostensibly from a curse gone wrong at the hands of Merlin. Fey has been turned into a dog, while Lancelot is resurrected after falling in battle, both of them now immortal and making their way across the centuries as monster slayers. They find themselves drawn to Victorian London by a vision and get caught up in the “Autumn of Terror” as Jack the Ripper conducts his grisly work. Joining forces with them is Mary Kelly, a local resident who appears to have the gift of foresight, yet she’s unable to see where her own destiny will lead her. Taking control of all three characters at various points, players move around the streets of Whitechapel and various crime scenes as they try to track down “Leather Apron,” whom Fey believes is none other than Merlin.

Lucky dragon…

Visually, Du Lac & Fey is a hot mess. First off, there’s a decided lack of polish in all of the character models. Compared to various Telltale Games titles, these feel considerably more blocky and poorly textured. Worse, at various points, a character may be speaking yet their mouth is not moving. And that’s assuming that the facial features are showing any sort of emotion consistent with the tone of the dialogue or the situation, which does not happen nearly as often as it should. Compounding the sense of low quality are visual inconsistencies. You’ll have fully modeled characters standing around, being incapable of interaction, while 2D “cartoon” type characters will be interactive. The user interface is visually consistent, but also frustrating given that you have no cursor to highlight objects. You basically have to walk near something and hope that you’ll get the prompt. This is made worse by the fact that certain “hot spots” are very close together and trying to maneuver your character to the right one is often a pain.

Various newspapers and “penny dreadful” pages can be picked up and read, but they occupy only a small portion of the screen when you try to read them, prompting a lot of scrolling. Moreover, in some instances, the hot spots for newspapers are inconsistent with the text presented. Visual effects are present, but they’re very subdued. The backgrounds are fairly well done, certainly hinting at Victorian London, but not quite conveying the right sense of gloom and gaslight one would expect when dealing with anything related to the Ripper murders. Overall, it’s not a great effort.

“Blimey, even Harry Potter didn’t have this much trouble.”

If there are any redeeming qualities to Du Lac & Fey, it’s in the audio, and even there players will probably wish there was more. Gareth David-Lloyd (Dragon Age: Inquisition) and Perdita Weeks (Ready Player One, Magnum P.I.) star as the titular duo, respectively. From an audio perspective, they’re clear in their enunciation, they emote well, and they build their characters as well as the script will let them. The rest of the voice cast is equally proficient at their work and just as hobbled by the limitations of the script they’re working from. The soundtrack is fairly minimal but not bad. You’ll hear a number of the voice actors singing a capella and they’re really quite good, as one would expect for working actors. Beyond that, other audio elements are lacking in any obvious presence good or bad.

There’s really no good way of putting it: Du Lac & Fey has all the hallmarks of a bad port. Originally released in 2019 on PC, it’s making its way on to consoles, and the process has either been completely bungled or it was just as bad on PC but console controls bring out its shortcomings more sharply. There’s no other explanation for the completely terrible gameplay and ham-handed storytelling. The character movement is not fluid, nor is it effortless. The game camera lags behind when panning to one side, and the “rails” which define the space a character can move in sometimes allow the player to move completely off-screen. Rather than a free floating cursor you can move to highlight a desired target, you have to move the character close to an NPC or an item in order to have the opportunity to interact with it. And once you do, if there are multiple hot spots, there’s only one real order to them. You have to move back and forth along whatever the developers thought was the “right” sequence. This makes reading certain newspaper collectibles more difficult than they have to be. To make things more intolerable, there are insultingly simplistic QTEs for fight sequences and a potion making mini-game that only shows up twice and is wasted both times it appears.

“No, constable, no trouble here. Just out walking my dog. Definitely not the serial killer every rag in town is spilling ink about.”

As was mentioned earlier, the script and writing for Du Lac & Fey proves to be a serious impediment, and not just for the actors. To its credit, since there’s never been a positively confirmed identity regarding Jack the Ripper, the final reveal has the virtue of being novel. The problem, however, is that it’s completely unearned. There’s no hints, no clues, nothing to give players any indication of what to expect. Yet at the same time, they’re expected to remember small details about minor characters for certain conversation sequences. Moreover, there’s a ridiculous expectation that you’ll be hanging around, talking to everybody until the conversation option isn’t available anymore, and engaging in tedious fetch quests across the length of the story which do nothing to actually advance the plot or develop the characters.

Those who are familiar with the real life case will already know that Mary Kelly is doomed to die (being the final known Ripper victim). Given the fantasy elements in the story, though, one could hold out hope for magic to be more useful than what we’re shown, or at least give a nod and wink to Alan Moore’s From Hell (which had her surviving due to mistaken identity). It wouldn’t be any less ridiculous than the passing reference to Bram Stoker’s Dracula made towards the end of the game. No such luck, though. Meanwhile, fans of Arthurian legend aren’t going to find a particularly coherent retelling of the stories, or the interpretation for what “really” happened to the Round Table. There are so many loose ends, badly explained motivations, and instances of inexcusable “plot stupidity” that it’s kind of a miracle anybody got their lines out with a straight face.

It’s never a good sign when you envy a corpse in a murder mystery.

The final insult is that you have no means of going back to a given chapter or performing a manual save. You have no good way of trying to figure out what you missed, and there’s no handy narrative diagram like one would find in As Dusk Falls or Detroit: Become Human. The lack of a save system worked in Pentiment because there were plenty of different options which could influence your course through the story, and a lot of those options had very obvious effects. But here, it’s a fun killer precisely because the story is so godawful. It’s difficult to picture somebody willing to subject themselves to it a second time. Not even the most avid completionist is that masochistic.

It’s difficult to say what the motivation for the console release of Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death was. As shameless cash grabs go, it’s not worth the money one could theoretically spend on it. As an artistic effort which tries to reach a broader audience, it’s one which squanders the work of good actors with terrible design choices and deeply unsatisfying narrative structure. If ever a game deserved to be described as a “poor unfortunate,” it’s this one. Pass this by and let it stand in the London fog by its lonesome.

“Maybe some laudanum and fly amantia caps will help make the pain less intolerable.”

Axel reviewed Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher.  It is currently out for PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.

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