Name: Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale
Genre: Dungeon crawler
Platform: Xbox 360 XBLA
Price: 1200 MS Points on Xbox 360 XBLA
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The Dungeons and Dragons franchise returns to consoles in the form of Daggerdale, a new dungeon crawler from Atari available as a download-only title. The genre’s had a bit of a renaissance of sorts with recent greats Torchlight and Deathspank delivering in spades while the world waits patiently for the launch of Diablo 3. So, is it worth dusting off your digital 12 sided dice for Daggerdale, or are tabletop gaming fans better off sticking to their pen and paper pursuits?
The first new Dungeons and Dragons title since 2007, Daggerdale uses the 4th Edition rule set that instructs the tabletop RPG games. Many gamers won’t notice this at all, as the hack and slash gameplay on offer here on the surface seems more akin to a button-bashing brawler, but the reality is that behind the scenes there is a fair bit of number crunching deciding the damage dealt by your sword blows.
After opening with a generic story outlining the world of Daggerdale being threatened by a suitably evil force, you then choose from one of four classes (Halfling Wizard, Elven Rogue, Human Fighter or Dwarven Cleric), assign a few initial skills that are mapped to the controller’s trigger and face buttons, and head on out into the world.
Anyone who has played a dungeon crawler before will find Daggerdale instantly familiar. Too familiar in fact; the rote mission structure of defeating hordes of baddies, casting spells, collecting loot, levelling up and improving skills is a path well trodden. This would be totally fine were Daggerdale to deliver a polished experience, with the mindless grind and loot hoarding actually part of the appeal of dungeon crawlers. But this download-only title is anything but polished.
It’s been a while since I’ve played a title with as many game-breaking bugs as Daggerdale. Take this particular quest for example, found quite early on in the game; a distraught dwarf asked me to take out a wave of nasty undead foes in a mine, and return to him for a reward when 10 had been killed. I set off to follow the map marker and find the first five baddies and slay them, Gimli style. I then wait for the map marker to update and show me the next location for the rest of my targets. They never appeared. I ran around for 45 minutes searching for the remaining foes to realise that the game had failed to spawn them and that a full restart was needed.
This was just one of many problems. Using the Halfling Wizard’s transportation-like “Blink” power often left me stuck in environmental scenery, or strangely fused with passing goblin foes; screen tearing happens at almost every turn, as does characters getting stuck out of sight thanks to the appalling camera; textures pop in and out, and the frame rate chugs at a pace slower than a half-cut ogre’s wit. Graphically its a passable effort, with textures and level design at best inoffensive and at worst completely bland, while audio design features some totally bizarre choices; no-one wants to equip a weapon that creates a continuous, brain-numbing humming noise, no matter how magical it is, do they?
If any real fun is to be had with Daggerdale, it’s with its co-operative modes. Up to four players can quest together online, while local 2-player co-op, so often omitted in these days of online play, is a welcome inclusion. Playing with pals adds some life to the uninspired quest and level design, and it’s always a laugh to have a pal at hand to share in the fun of ripping on a game that’s often laughably bad.
Despite having the full force of the Dungeons and Dragons name behind it, Daggerdale falls at almost every hurdle. Riddled with more bugs than an unwashed dwarf’s beard, its one saving grace is the half-decent co-operative multiplayer options. Both Torchlight and the Deathspank series do what’s on offer here far better. Grab those instead if you’re in need of a dungeon crawling fix on consoles, though PC owners would do much better simply by biding their time for Diablo 3.