As most of you are probably aware, Tuesday saw the release of Dungeons & Dragons Daggerdale for the Xbox 360′s Xbox Live Arcade and the PC. In case you are unfamiliar, Daggerdale is a video game that is based on the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition rules which you can either play alone or with up to three friends via Xbox Live. Once it was released I purchased and downloaded it for the 360 as soon as I could and jumped into playing it. I’ve played both solo and multiplayer.
So, how does it stack up? Sadly, not as well as I’d have liked but one has to remember that this is a $15 game not a $60 full-fledged release. That said, there are things that are severely irksome about the game. The bottom line is that while, yes it is definitely a flawed game, it’s still a fun game in a basic way.
As a side note, for the purposes of this review I’m going to attempt to avoid the fact that it is extremely loosely based on the D&D 4e rules. Very, very, very loosely. You’ll recognize a lot of the terminology, but that’s about as far as it goes. For example, to reach level 2 you need 10,000 XP. Characters cap out at 10th level.
Graphically, the game looks good for a $15 game, some display glitches aside. There are no fully animated and voiced cut scenes that I’ve encountered, only words spoken over still shots.
Gameplay-wise, it’s similar to other action-based hack-and-slash games out there; you point your character in the general direction of the enemy that you want to hit and button mash away. You have ranged and melee basic attacks as well as a selection of powers and equipment you can map to buttons. Each power has three levels, and once you use one there is a cool down period before you can use it again. It’s a workable system, but nothing too innovative. Sometimes the game can get rather difficult, especially if you’re playing solo. Sadly, the AI is not very impressive; creatures will spam you with ranged or melee attacks as appropriate and leader types will occasionally heal or raise from the dead one of their allies. There’s not much difference between fighting burning Skeletons, Goblins, or mad Dwarves aside from how many hits it takes to bring one down. Point and button mash. The game tries to spice it up by giving different creatures weaknesses and resistances but in the end it comes down to just hitting them often enough with your attacks. There’s no cover and very little in the way of tactical maneuvering save maybe for flanking.
Creatures have roles familiar to those who play the tabletop game, such as “Elite Brutes”, and this gives you a good indication of what the creature’s going to do. Brutes and Skirmishers will get up in your grill and hack at you, artillery will stand back and pop caps at you and so on. However, again, other than visually and some slight modifications in damage dealt for various elemental type attacks, it still feels like you’re fighting the same creature of the same type. Oh, and minions often take 2 hits to take down; just sayin’.
Options for “creating” your character boils down to “pick a Human Fighter, Dwarven Cleric, Elven Rogue or Halfling Wizard then apply some points to powers and feats.” At each level you can add more points to your powers, pick feats and upgrade ability scores. As I mentioned before, there’s only a handful of powers, each of which has three levels and each level of a single power is slightly better than the previous. Feats, obviously, are limited to ones that provide mechanical combat-related benefit.
Roleplaying-wise, the game doesn’t have any. Talk to an NPC with an exclamation point over their head and get a quest. There are a handful of optional quests that you can actually choose to follow or not, and you are given the illusion of choice for the mainline quests. Talk to NPCs with a bag of gold over their head and you can buy and sell equipment. Talk to a handful of other NPCs and you’ll get some half-hearted comment or (in the case of the dwarven cleric just hanging out early in the game) some healing. However, do talk to the Dwarven Cooper as he has something funny to say.
Oh, and you’ll be smashing a ton of barrels.
The NPCs that give you quests are not voiced and that’s a problem, not because I was expecting full voice overs in a $15 downloadable title but because they decided that rather than make the NPCs silent when you talk to them they make a noise. It’s very annoying as it ends up making every NPC you converse with sound mentally deficient with their grunts and occasional groans. I almost dread talking to NPCs.
But, you’re asking, what about the story? Well, it’s decent enough I suppose. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory too much but it’s full of cheesy cliches such as a mysterious stranger mysteriously calling you all together and then claiming that she can’t help you for mysterious reasons. It’s all quite mysterious. The story deals with a bad guy that has built a tower inside of a Dwarven mine in secret but that everyone knows about … lolwhut? And you get your standard array of fetch-quests, assassin-quests and even the dreaded escort-quest. Of course, you can’t advance through certain points in the game until you finish certain quests because, somehow, visiting a merchant allows the Dwarves to bust through a wall they’ve been drilling through.
The game is more fun in multiplayer, just because there’s something a little more interesting going on with the game’s dynamics than “bad guy runs up and tries to stab you in the face.” Instead, the bad guys are forced to pick who they’re going to run up to and stab in the face.
I know this sounds like an overall negative review and, I suppose it is. But do I enjoy playing it? Yes, if I want to turn my mind off and just beat on some goblins without worrying overly much about tactics and story or if I want to do so with a group of friends.
Overall, I give it a 2 out of 5. I wanted to give it a higher score, but in the words of any of the NPCs in the game, “Urgh. Aaahr. Ooooh.” There is no question that this game had a tremendous opportunity to be something great. Unfortunately, there is no question that this is an opportunity missed. I’ve played much better $15 games in a similar vein such as Dungeon Hunters Alliance for the PS3, Torchlight for the 360 and PC, and even Deathspank.