While PCs have seen a steady stream of games based on Dungeons & Dragons, especially in the Neverwinter Nights series, consoles haven’t seen a D&D game since Dungeons & Dragons: Demon Stone for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004. Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale, set deep within the Forgotten Realms stories and legends, looks to fill that void on current-gen systems with a new game based on the 4th Edition ruleset.
As a longtime fan of the pen and paper D&D, I was pretty excited to see Daggerdale head to consoles with multiplayer in tow. I’d also been a fan of Baldur’s Gate back in the day, and a chance to revisit dungeon crawling in the D&D universe sounded ideal. All I needed was a giant two liter bottle of Mountain Dew, a bag of Cheetos, and the pause button.
Diving directly into Daggerdale, you’ll immediately understand why the pen and paper version of this game will always be better, and that’s variety. Daggerdale only offers you four characters to choose from: a male Human fighter, a female Elven rogue, a male Dwarven cleric, or a male Halfling wizard. You can customize their names (or use preselected ones), but that’s about it. So the whole fun of rolling your character is taken away from you.
Granted, you can customize your characters to an extremely deep degree in the game, and each one of the above choices has race and class bonuses. It just would have been nice to see a lot more choices offered to the player right off the bat. But an hour into the game and picking different armor and weapons for my Halfling, and seeing those changes immediately reflected onscreen, helped to quiet my complaining.
Players of games like Diablo and Torchlight will immediately feel at home in Daggerdale. But rather than driving with a mouse and keyboard, you’ll move your character with the left stick and adjust the camera with the right stick. Up and down on the d-pad selects different camera modes, and the rest of the buttons are for combat. X attacks with your weapon, Square is a ranged attack, and it, along with the other two buttons, can be remapped to any skill/power/ability. Pulling L2 offers a subset of those buttons, which is also customizable.
R1 uses your unique class ability (in my case, the wizard could teleport brief distances), and R2 lets you lock on to a target. Select brings up your character menu (inventory and stats screens) and Start brings up the pause menu. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with that screen fairly quickly, because saving your game is extremely important in Daggerdale. You’ll get automatic saves at different checkpoints, or when you level up, but those moments are few and far between, and you may crawl almost the entire distance of a tunnel, only to die and have to restart the entire area all over again. Which can be extremely frustrating.
This brings us to the gameplay. Even if you choose a cleric or a wizard, you’ll soon notice that Daggerdale is a hack and slash loot fest. Every character has ranged and melee attacks, as well as powers that may be melee or ranged based in nature, or be powered by pure magic. Sure enough, the wizard has Magic Missle, a D&D staple, available to him if he chooses that power during the character creation screen. Powers take a few seconds to recharge, while melee and ranged attacks work instantaneously. For lower-level enemies, you can easily pummel your way through with minimal damage, but the game quickly ramps up, and you’ll have to be a lot more careful once you graduate past the orcs. Flaming skeletons are particularly non-friendly.
Mastering ranged attacks is definitely key, and if you select a magic user, you’ll want to learn your recharge times early and gauge your distance from foes carefully. You don’t want to get swarmed while you’re waiting on your fireball to power back up. Likewise, when you’re tanking, you’ll want to be careful how many enemies you aggro at once (some enemies summon others quickly) so you don’t get overrun. All of your foes have visible health bars so you can see how close to death they might be, but all of that information is easy to lose track of in a scrum.
Beyond combat, there’s XP and gold to collect, merchants and level ups to spend them on, and basic character upgrades and outfitting throughout the game. You’ll also find items as you quest throughout the game, with things you’re unable to use colored in red, and you can convert anything in your inventory to gold if you so desire. Equipping armor, a helmet, or a new weapon is a change you’ll see on your character immediately in the game.
Barrels are placed throughout the levels and are meant for smashing (despite one hilarious encounter with a Dwarven Cooper, who makes barrels, asking, “Why is everyone always smashing my barrels?”), but rarely contain much cash. What you’re really hoping to find is a healing potion, as those are in very short supply throughout the game. You’ll definitely want to keep as many on-hand as you possibly can.
While the game’s mechanics are most definitely based in D&D rules (critical hits are as rewarding and rare as actual D20 rolls), and it certainly looks impressive, there are some holes in Daggerdale. For one, there is a lot of dialogue in the game, but none of it is voiced. You’ll walk up to a Dwarf, hit Triangle to talk to him, and immediately be greeted by a, “Hmm?” or something similar, only to have to read walls of text.
Additionally, too many times after coming out of dialogue, my character would be at a slightly different location or have his viewpoint shifted a bit. A bit disconcerting, especially when you’re playing solo. Also, NPCs have an annoying habit of standing in one spot and never moving. You have to free Dwarfs in one quest, and once they’re free…they stay firmly rooted in place while calling out your bravery. It’s an odd touch in a game that seems to pride itself on appearances.
The wonky save system as well with have you diving into the pause menu often, which detracts from the game experience. A transparent, robust save system would improved this game greatly, especially since after having to repeat a level more than once, player fatigue will set in. That’s something that developer Bedlam hopes doesn’t happen, especially since they are building this game with a trilogy in mind, with Daggerdale being the opening story arc.
One thing to note is that Daggerdale is built for co-op, and multiplayer, but with the PlayStation Network being out during my preview, I wasn’t able to try this out. Up to four people can play online via multiplayer, and there's same-room co-op available for two players. There’s a brief window of resurrection possibility by a teammate if you or one of your buddies goes down. When playing solo, if you die you die. You'll respawn at your last save, minus some XP. In multiplayer, if another player gets to you in time, you'll be revived at 30% health. You can also organize healing, ranged attacks, tanking, and magic a lot easier when you’re in a party to bear the brunt of the blow.
The influence of Dungeons & Dragons on games like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 is immense, so it’s somewhat ironic that D&D is lagging so far behind in bringing the pen and paper experience to the virtual world. Daggerdale represents a step in the right direction, but it might have a limited appeal to fans of the original role-playing game. I’m still holding out hope to replicate the living room setup on a console somehow, with everyone playing different characters, arguing over minutia, and a Dungeon Master overseeing it all. We can only hope.
Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale will be available on PSN, Xbox Live, and PC this spring.