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Thursday, 2nd June, 2011, 02:04 AM #1
Defender (Lvl 8)
Review of Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale by Atari
For almost as long as Dungeons & Dragons has been around as a paper-and-pencil format, there has been a video game version out there trying to capture the essence of the most famed fantasy role-playing game ever created! My first experience with a D&D video game was back in the late 80s, playing Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds with my fellow enthusiasts from our college gaming club. Sneaking computer games into the university computer lab was strictly forbidden and always presented a challenge. But eventually, we were lucky enough to have a gamer on the inside, and could grab a dozen PCs during our buddy’s late evening shift as moderator – so long as we remembered to bring a copy for him to play!
Over the years, the D&D video game play evolved as editions came and went, with a wide range of game experiences. But whether the video game was set in world of the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Eberron, Mystara, or even Spelljammer, the D&D community quickly learned that some play experiences more authentic than others – as anyone who has played Westwood Studio’s Eye of the Beholder can attest, as they sidestepped their phalanx of 6 characters, all joined at the hip, around illithids, driders, and well, yes, beholders!
But now D&D players have an opportunity to play the first video game written under the new 4E rules. Atari, using Steam as a distributor, have a new D&D video game experience for owners of both PC and XBLA - Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale!
Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale
- Publisher: Atari
- Distribution: Steam
- Year: 2011
- Media: PC & XBLA
- Cost: $14.99 (from [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Dungeons-Dragons-Daggerdale-Pc/dp/B002I0JLEQ"]Amazon.com[/ame])
Installing Daggerdale was not as smooth as I would have expected, and was actually a bit of a trial overall. As I don’t have an XBLA, please note that my game play experience was all on a PC, so maybe Xbox gamers have an easier time of installation than I experienced. I got a couple copies of Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale over the Memorial Day weekend, and started loading them onto my PC and my buddy Tizzbin’s machine, both of which are pretty spiffed up and designed to handle a full-blown WoW raid without so much as a hiccup.
The first surprise was how long it took to install the game from DVD. For a game that is supposed to be about 10-12 hours of game play in total, it took at least over 45 minutes just to get the files off the DVD. I’m not sure exactly how long it took, because after 40 minutes,Tizzbin and I got bored watching the bar slowly fill as we flipped through the enclosed 17-page instruction booklet, and we went out to the Chinese buffet for lunch. Thankfully, when we got back, the game had completed installation.
But after that installation, I had to go through another 20 minute installation of signing up for and then downloading the Steam Client files. If you have a Steam account already, you don’t have to go through this process – Tizzbin already had Steam, lucky for him – but that adds even more onto the installation process time.
Then because we wanted to try the cooperative play mode, we both had to sign up for GameSpy accounts, in order to use their servers to duo on. Daggerdale supports parties of up to three players at a time, but you cannot play the game locally, even on networked machines, unless you have game controllers. [FYI: Keyboards, apparently, do not count as a game controller.]
Daggerdale Character Creation
Finally we were ready to play - we got all the game loaded, our Steam accounts setup, and joined GameSpy to enter cooperative play mode. But sadly, the troubles weren’t over yet! The ‘Join Game’ interface to get our duo going was all one color - including the cursor – so it took several minutes of clicking around on the screen to finally find the box to fill in the name of the game to join! By this point, I must admit I was already frustrated with the Daggerdale experience, and I had not even started ACTUALLY playing the game yet!
But getting into the game, and getting the graphics setting squared away, Daggerdale started looking pretty good – until it got around to character generation anyways. In Daggerdale, you can select from four pre-generated characters: a male halfing Wizard, a female elven Rogue, a male Human Fighter, and a male dwarf Cleric. Once you click on your selection, you go to a screen to select powers and feats and a character name. That’s about all the optimization you’re allowed, as you cannot change the race/class combination, character appearance, equipment, stats, or anything else.
Powers are selected by adding “points” into a power to make it more powerful. Fighters get three points, all other classes get two, and you can add more than one point into a power, although frankly, I never figured out what significance that made. Here are the breakdown of powers each class can start with in Daggerdale:
- Wizard: (2 points) – Magic Missile; Fireball – Class Power: Teleport
- Rogue: (2 points) – Blinding Barrage; Compel the Craven – Class Power: Rogue Dodge
- Fighter: (3 points) – Shield Bash; Knee Breaker; Battle Stance – Class Power: Block
- Cleric: (2 points) – Shield of the Gods; Daunting Light – Class Power: Healing Word
But even Character creation was marred with frustration, because the interface was so poorly designed. The characters name box overlapped the race class information, and the feat selection list had tons of overlapping text in it the farther down one scrolled, which made me wonder if we were playing a beta version of the game.
And some of the feats listed made no sense for the class to which it was offered. For instance, the Fighter could select a feat to make me attack using my INT instead of my STR, thereby gimping my character completely. Since the characters are pre-rolls anyway, I would have expected that the feat list would have been pared down to make sure that a gamer didn’t accidentally nerf their own character.
This was not the only place I had a problem with the interface. A situation arose later when I tried to sell some dungeon “junk” magic items that were apparently cursed (more on that later). When clicking the down arrow key to scroll through my list of items, it actually caused me to sell an item, which could not be bought back – another example which made me again wonder if I was playing a beta version of this game.
As with all video games, Daggerdale opens with an introduction to get the player into the right mood. In an age where companies like Blizzard are creating intro movies to games, complete with orchestral and choral scores – the opening to Wrath of the Lich King still gives me goosebumps to watch it – it was disappointing to see Atari offer up a intro to Daggerdale consisting of no animation whatsoever: just still pictures moving across a screen in layers with a voice over. Frankly, I’ve seen better fantasy flash animation on some sites, so I found the intro here pretty lackluster.
Once you get into the game, the characters look and move smoothly, and have some pretty nifty animations to their powers and attacks. The game perspective is a Diablo-esque view, with camera angle controlled by the mouse, and movement by WASD keys. It took a bit of getting used to, learning to steer and move the camera fluidly, but presented no real problems overall. Daggerdale actually supports character collisions, which makes it possible for the Fighter to interpose himself and keep monsters from getting to casters – although we later found out this was a terrible and losing tactic in the game, as melee combat should be avoided at all cost! The Wizard’s teleport/expeditious retreat ability makes it possible for him to move past the Fighter and even on the other side of monsters, and is the most mobile and tactical character of the four.
To add to the “role-playing” element of the game, there are cut scenes periodically to show what enemies are up to, or to converse with NPC quest givers. These cut scenes stop the action very abruptly, and are frankly jarring to the play experience, but I guess is Atari’s attempt to add that role-play feel to the game. The cut scenes consist of the same still life animation, with maybe a couple jiggles, and some strange “murph…mmmpgh…urghph” sounds to represent speech as dialogue scribes across the screen.
Frankly, it sounded awful, hearing the dwarves talk to you was like listening to gagged sea cows trying to converse underwater – not that I have actually heard such a noise, but I am pretty sure that’s what it would sound like. And in a couple cases, the cut scenes actually teleport characters from one place to another, to bring them in front of the person who is “talking” – which is really annoying if you have not “run over” all your gold yet to pick it up.
Yes, looting money is done by running over the little piles of it on the ground, although magic items and potions are picked up by standing on them to target them and clicking the F key. And the auto-targeting in the game was atrocious, with very little the player could do control what he was aiming at.
Now on the upside, the music in the game was evocative, and did enhance the gameplay experience. Moving through the dungeon, the music changed depending on foes faced, although the mines of Tethyamar got a bit repetitive in a very short time.
“D&D Comes To Life!”
Atari makes quite a few strong claims about Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale, particularly with regard to the authenticity of the experience. Per Atari’s website, Daggerdale delivers a “detailed world of the iconic Dungeons & Dragons franchise has been painstakingly recreated for a rich, complex, and thrilling game experience.” But really, there is very little here to make that claim on, other than some titles tacked onto powers and place names used in some cut scenes. Personally, I get the feeling that the programmers of Daggerdale never actually played D&D of any kind, otherwise they never would have committed so many misconceptions about what 4E was really like...
Starting 1st Level Characters have over 100 hit points: all four of the characters in Daggerdale have between 101 and 120 hit points to start their adventuring career. Also, healing surges are not a concept which the designers decided to employ, allowing the Cleric to Healing Word for 25 hit points of healing every 15 seconds or so.
Fighters start in cloth armor, just like wizards: All classes start in cloth armor, and there is no way for the Fighter to upgrade anytime soon, which makes the defender quite a liability to play early on.
It takes 10000 XP to reach 2nd Level: Thankfully, you can gain experience points pretty fast, but 10,000 is a dauntingly huge number to look at leveling up. Oddly, you also get a stat point, feat, and “power ups” for your abilities at 2nd level, which bears no real relation to D&D 4E.
Minions have lots of hit points: Minion does not mean the same thing to the designers of Daggerfall as it does to D&D 4E players – which I found out when I charged a pack of goblin minions to cleave them, and got mauled in the process. The all have far more than just the expected 1 hp you would expect when seeing a minion, and some took up to 3 attacks to drop. Packs of monsters can be quite troublesome for melee characters, and facing 6-8 monsters at a time is not unusual. And there was this weird glitch where sometimes a monster would stand back up after they die and just hang there – but these “ghost” monsters didn’t attack and were just images, but made play difficult when you would run back to attack them and find they are nothing but a “bug”. Oh, and did I mention that monsters re-spawn in an area, so if you don’t clean them out fast enough, you can find yourself being flanked by monsters from corridors you thought were empty. Run-and-gun is more the style of play than dungeon exploration in Daggerdale.
Monsters and barrels explode with treasure: With a truly arcade feel, monsters explode when they die in a shower of goodies, like a piñata, which can then be collected after the area is clear. Occasionally, I was disconcerted to see a magic item or potion get stuck and hover in the air in defiance of gravity – a pretty bad glitch for a non-beta game. And the dungeon corridors are filled with barrels to break, which fling about sacks of gold and potions out of them – reminded me of Zelda, when I was wondering through the dwarven halls of my so-called NPC allies, and opening their chests and smashing their barrels to take their stuff. I guess the dwarven miner NPCs just leave these barrels around for adventurers as rewards for doing their quests.
Rogues are masters of the bow: Playing the elf rogue felt more like playing a ranger than anything else. She fired devastating shots with her bow, had no sneaking ability to speak of, and had a burst effect with her Blinding Barrage which was pretty good damage to a lot of monsters. In hand-to-hand, she was just a weak as the Fighter, quickly surrounded and mauled, despite her Rogue Dodge. Coupled with a Wizard though, and using range attacks, I’d imagine would be a fairly effective duo.
All Magic Items are cursed to maintain balance: Every so-called magic item that was dropped from a monster in the first few boards was cursed in some way. In order to get a bonus to saves or defenses, the item was less effective in some other way, as though it had to have detrimental affects to offset their benefits.
Monsters cannot cross a doorway threshold: Like vampires, all monsters were having trouble crossing some doorways, allowing the wizard or rogue-master-of-the-bow to pick them off over time while they stand there looking dumbfounded, trying to figure out how to path to the adventurers. This sort of exploit made the game experience rather sad, but given the size of the monster packs sent against 1-2 characters, I quickly got over my un-heroic play style and just fired away.
Magic spells and arrows can be side stepped: Yes, apparently, once a spell of arrow is fired, it travels in a straight line until it hits a target, but not so fast that a twitchy player can’t simply sidestep the attack! Wizards are the masters of this in Daggerdale, and are capable of taking down elites and bosses using teleport to side step damage, and then kite monsters all over the dungeon, fire magic missiles and fireballs at them until they win. Monsters apparently have no idea they can side step incoming blasts, and just sort of mindlessly wander in the most direct path to the hero – right into lots of damage!
In fact, once my Fighter had chugged his last health potion, and finally shuffled off his mortal coil – to the tune of a lot of much colorful language – I watched the Wizard (played by Tizzbin) mop up the remaining 20 or so monsters in that section of the dungeon, and came back to find my Fighter at camp.
Honestly, at this point, I just plug-pulled the game in utter disgust, and decided to watch Tizzbin play - he seemed to be well on the road to mastering the game despite my absence.
By not playing the game like D&D 4E - you know where the Fighter actually tries to get into melee and defends the party - and just treating it like a twitch-style arcade game, Tizzbin went on deeper into the dungeon with his Halfling wizard, using kiting and teleports to destroy whole groups of monsters. He got really good at exploiting tunnel geometry to hinder monsters, firing “charged up” bolts of magic missiles and fireballs at all manner of goblins and skeletons, while using teleports to get away when they got close, or when they fired a rage attack at him.
And if the Wizard takes the feat Immolate the Masses, then he heals a few hit points every time he kills a monster. This meant that when Tizzbin did slip up and take the rare hit, he’d kill a couple mobs and top off his hit points. He almost never used potions, even when facing two and three elite monsters at a time. And he also never upgraded his gear after even an hour of play, because gear means almost nothing compared with ones arcade skills.
Overall Score: 1.7 out of 5.0
Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale is not really D&D, so much as it is a weird version of Gauntlet with a few D&D names and labels tacked on. There is nothing to indicate that you are in Daggerdale, as all you see for much of the game are mines, and later the inside of a tower purported to be in Daggerdale. One could just as easily have claimed this game to be Dungeons & Dragons: Shield Lands or Dungeons & Dragons: Sharn, with a few references changed in the cut scenes in order to make the enclosed dungeon environments work in World of Greyhawk or Eberron campaign settings.
Frankly, if D&D fans want an “authentic” D&D experience, they won’t find it in Daggerdale. And I find that disappointing because I was really hoping for a game experience that would showcase how much fun D&D 4E can be. But for gamers that want a D&D play experience, they will have to look back on good old D&D Online (DDO) – which has been out for years, is still free-to-play, and does a pretty bang-up job of presenting D&D 3.5 in a video game format. Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale ends up feeling like nothing more than a twitch-play video game wearing a D&D hoodie, and is frankly an embarrassment to the D&D franchise. In the future, I would certainly hope that the next time that Hasbro/WotC decide to sell the license to programmers, that they at least try and retain a little more control of the quality and authenticity of a video game which is going to be wearing the D&D logo.
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in DVD format from which the review was written.
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 2.0
- - Gameplay: 1.5
- - Graphics: 2.0
- - Sounds & Music: 2.5
- Content: 1.0
- - Crunch: 0.5
- - Fluff: 1.5
- Value: 2.0
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