D&D Daggerdale is the newest D&D video game release from Atari, available for download on PC, Playstation Network, and Xbox Live. We played the Xbox version, using review copies provided from the publisher. A “hack and slash” style game (in the same genre as Diablo, World of Warcraft, and to a lesser extent older D&D games like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate), the game is touted as the first game to use the D&D 4e ruleset (though the connection is loose, as we’ll discuss) and set in the Forgotten Realms. The game features single-player, local 2 player, and online up to 4 player modes. Both Bartoneus and I played a bit of single player before joining up later on for a 2 player online game. Collectively, we played probably about an hour and a half of actual game play, leveling up to 2nd level before calling it quits for the night, covering the same ground multiple times for reasons I’ll discuss.
Welcome to the D&D World
Start by choosing your character from 4 different archetypes: male halfling wizard, female elven rogue, male human fighter, and male dwarven cleric. You can customize your character’s abilities to a certain extent, with some feats and powers that vaguely resemble 4e options (expertise still gives you a bonus to hit, focus a bonus to damage, and for whatever reason, you can select melee training for any stat, instead of it just selecting your highest stat). You don’t get too many options- for example, the rogue can only be an archer rogue to start, but classes like the cleric have some more wiggle room. The powers and abilities are also somewhat familiar if you’ve played 4e, but don’t expect the comparisons to go too far: some conversions were necessary to fit the style (no encounter or daily powers, just powers with various cooldowns), some were tweaked to fit the nature of the game (elven accuracy doesn’t reroll a die but it has the same feel) and others were just tweaks to the game, like as a 1st level fighter, I didn’t have any kind of mark (maybe I’m a Slayer?)
Likewise, during gameplay, don’t expect to be able to take a short rest and spend some healing surges: if you don’t have a cleric, you’re going to be chugging healing potions, or hoping that you’ll jump into cutscenes that will heal you.
I found the graphics to be fine, the character designs are solid enough, and the background designs and layout all are clean and easy to play in, which I count as big pluses towards it.
Now Begins the Killing, Followed By Light Salad
Your journey begins as your party is summoned by Mysterious Woman to stop a Dark Lord in his Tower of Evil. She can’t help you because of her “ties to the dark Zhentarim” but, like many old Forgotten Realms adventures, there’s no apparent reason that she called on four random 1st level characters instead of all the other adventuring parties, or, say, Elminster.
OK, I’m being a bit harsh here, just don’t expect a gripping story from the get-go, which might improve at later levels. Soon into the game you get to talk to some dwarven NPCs, who are stiffly animated, jumping, and make grunting noises and gestures that look a bit like, well, nevermind. We also see my favorite video game RPG cliche in action: “Thanks for saving us, we owe you our lives! Now go purchase from our merchant at full price.” You also receive quests from those NPCs (with exclamation points above their heads no less), with tasks like rescue 3 dwarves, or collapse 8 goblin mines.
Of course, all that is secondary to the goblin-killing and skeleton-smashing hack and slash gameplay, which is where the game is the most fun. The game uses controls in a similar way to the combat I associate with Dragon Age, which was very easy to pick up and manage while hacking down hordes of goblins. Your cool powers beyond your basic melee and ranged attacks recharge quickly, enabling you to juggle between them easily. For 4e fans, the monster type appears above the monster, so you know you’re fighting a Minion, Artillery, Elite Controller, etc. (though the minions have slightly more than 1 hit point.) The synergy between different classes when playing multiplayer adds a lot to the game too, especially when you’re dealing with goblin hordes coming from both directions, leading Bartoneus and I to conclude that it’s probably the most fun when you have 4 players.
Also, expect to smash about as many barrels as you do bad guys, though in a clever bit of lampshading, you do meet the dwarven cooper who has been putting them there.
It’s Dangerous To Go Alone
None of the negatives would be enough to stop me from recommending the game if you’re a fan of the gameplay style, especially since it’s a $15 game and the core hack and slash stuff is fun, especially with friends. Unfortunately, I also need to state that the game is pretty buggy. Basic stuff like the initial menu select screens are screwed up, forcing some backing up and re-selecting in order to start multiplayer game (compounded by unclear UI design, but definitely a bug.) Gameplay runs into bugs sometime too: Bartoneus’s halfling lost his leg animation when moving around at one point, and my fighter lost his ability to move at all, forcing me to reload (those goblin poisons are powerful stuff!) Hopefully they’ll patch things up quickly, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more and more of it as the game goes along at the moment.
Speaking of reloading, you have a Save Game option, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t do anything. The game saves you automatically at certain points when you complete quests (like checkpoints), and if you die or have to leave the game (like if your legs stop working), you go back to where the game last saved you, equipment, level and all, and not where you last saved. This can be a big disappointment if you’ve made some significant progress to have to go way back and fight the same goblins and do the same quest.
And along those lines, if you’re playing single player and are not a cleric, you might have a tough time of things. It’s definitely a much richer multiplayer experience.
That pretty much covers it- if you enjoy Diablo-ish hack and slash style games, don’t mind a weak story or a few bugs, and want something with D&Dish mechanics (but don’t care about it being that close to 4e mechanics), D&D Daggerdale might be up your alley. Just be sure that you’ve talked 3 of your friends into it first.
I sent a few questions to the folks at Bedlam Games before the game was released and received back the answers yesterday. Obviously, I’d ask other questions after playing the game, but here it is:
Critical Hits: How closely does Daggerdale stick to the D&D 4e mechanics?
Bedlam: All of the RPG systems, from character development to combat math, are rooted in the 4th edition rule set. We then worked from that point to tune the systems to match an action oriented combat experience.
Were there any challenges in adapting the D&D rules to an action-centric video game?
There were a number of gameplay challenges for sure. Although the 4th edition rules lends itself to video games very well, the difficulty is in balancing the player characters’ abilities vs. the enemies vs. character development (levelling). We wanted a softer curve to the character development so that it ramps up for players as they get into the more powerful levels.
How inspired was Daggerdale by some of the classic D&D video games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights?
We were definitely inspired by those great titles, but Daggerdale was more inspired by the genre. Our goal was to take the deep character development system in D&D 4E and fuse them with intense moment-to-moment action. The net result is an action RPG experience that is fun to play in short burst, when you just want to hack and slash at monsters, or during long stretches when you are looking to level and customize your characters.
What kind of monsters can we expect in the game- classic D&D monsters only, or are there some surprising new ones as well?
There is quite the plethora of evil creatures to fight in the game. Some will be immediately recognizable, while for some others this will be their first time being realized in full 3D. The bosses are also impressive as well with one being so large, he can’t fit onto one screen. All the creatures in Daggerdale are from the Forgotten Realms.
Can we expect any cameos from any famous dwellers of the Forgotten Realms?
We wanted to keep the focus tight on this one and all the characters introduced in Daggerdale are new to the game. The story (history and events) in the game however, are all tied to Forgotten Realms mythos.