So I just downloaded the most recent incarnation of digital Dungeons & Dragons. It comes via XBOX LIVE Arcade (or PC download) in the new game from Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale. The game is set in the Forgotten Realms setting and is developed by Bedlam Games. It’s published by Atari, holder of the D&D license for some years now. It pits 4 archetypal heroes against Rezlus, a cleric of Bane who now occupies the evil ediface known as The Tower of the Void. You work your way through underground caverns and mines and eventually through the tower itself, on the the journey to defeat Rezlus and save Daggerdale from his heinous scheme.
The game is a spiritual descendant of last-gen hack-n-slashers such as Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance and Everquest spinoff series Champions of Norrath. The gameplay is very similar to those games if a bit less polished. You smash barrels and kill baddies to get loot. You work to upgrade your powers, weapons and defenses by exploring a linear series of quests. The formula is well-trodden but functional. I was a big fan of both the BG:DA series and the Champions game, so this game was a pretty highly anticipated title. Combine that with my obvious affinity for the subject matter and you’ve got pretty much the target audience for this type of game. So clearly, I’m likely to have a bit of bias in favor of this and other games like it. I liked the previously mentioned games more than they probably deserved based on their mostly mediocre review scores.
Your initial options are simple. You can be a Halfling Wizard, an Elven Rogue, a Human Fighter or the iconic Dwarven Cleric. Looking through the basic builds, all four appear to be valid options. Simple enough to grasp quickly, yet diverse enough that different choices will have a meaningful impact on the game experience. I first chose the Human Fighter, assuming it was the baseline and likely the simplest of the four. Startup was quick and easy with a couple of points to spend on powers and feats, much like 4E D&D. The powers listed will sound familiar and make sense to any 4E player, even though they are not verbatim from 4E character creation. If you play D&D, this game will make sense to you as it should.
Getting into gameplay, its definitely a classic hack-n-slash. Like games of this ilk, you have basic melee and ranged attacks that can be used alternatively with “specials” that have various cooldown times. The cooldown times are VERY short so you can generally use them a lot. The basic attacks are also effective so even when you’re in cooldown, you’re not helpless, which is nice. The story seems simple and is told through text based cut scenes, some in game realtime and some with cartoonish panels appearing on screen. Its simple and works but gives a feel of low budget games.
Speaking of budget, I’m guessing this game could have used a bigger one, and more time in the oven. The game is buggy and lacks polish we’ve come to expect from D&D branded products. One of my biggest gripes about the game is when quest dialog with NPCs is triggered. In most cases, it triggers when you are still far away from the NPC. This might not seem like a big deal, but when it triggers, there is a jump. Your PC is moved in relation to the NPC and then when the cutscene ends, you’re not standing where you were a moment ago and you’re facing a different direction. Its jarring and disorienting and more than once it resulted in me then heading in the wrong direction. This is sloppy but may be a simple patchable fix.
Unfortunately, I’ve not finished with the game yet, so I’ll stop here with my observations. I hope to write a more comprensive post on this game once I’ve finished. I’ve seen a few early reviews and they are generally very negative. I can understand the complaints in those reviews but in my opinion, they are overstating the weaknesses. If you like D&D and are looking for a hack-n-slash game in the vein of games past, you have very little for choices. Games like this simply aren’t made anymore. You can come close with games like Torchlight, Fate, etc but this is slightly different and hard to quantify. If you like those games, you could certainly do worse that D&D Daggerdale.