"When the D&D movie feels longer and more fleshed out, you're doing it wrong."
During my 365//365 video game review project, I took on a full week of action RPG reviews. This particular genre is a particular weakness for me; even the most mundane entries in the genre could captivate me for hours on end, especially if a new weapon found has a cheesy particle effect. While the story to most action RPG titles could be a complete throwaway, the addictive loot collection and character advancement could captivate me more than any flimsily constructed storyline. To this day, I feel the console watermark for the genre is Champions of Norrath on the PlayStation 2. With or without extensive knowledge of the Everquest lore, Champions of Norrath was easily accessible to fans of the genre, and offered a myriad of reasons to keep returning to this alternate take of Norrath.
With this generation of consoles, there hasn’t really been a standout title in the action RPG genre. Sacred 2 is arguably the most well known release thus far, and was met with numerous bugs and some absurd backtracking. While the overall game was worth spending some time with, there hasn’t been anything else that has made any sort of impact. Enter Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale, an Xbox Live Arcade release met with little press before its release. Perhaps Dunegons & Dragons: Daggerdale (DDD) would surprise gamers and become the Champions of Norrath of this current console generation?
As the first installment of a planned trilogy of games, DDD’s story will leave you not really caring one bit about what goes on. As one of the four character/class combos (dwarven cleric, elven rogue, halfling wizard and human fighter) you’re chosen to halt a worshipper of Bane named Rezlus, who wants to take over Daggerdale in the name of his God, thanks to his Tower of Void, or something like that I dunno. It’s somewhat incoherent and mostly forgettable. Even if I’m not fully versed in the Forgotten Realms mythos or D&D rulesets, there’s nothing that tries to incorporate my care and attention to it. Out of the gate and after the credits, it was only about the gameplay, loot and character development, nothing else.
With the focus so much upon these aspects, does DDD manage to captivate? It does….for about twenty minutes. During the early portion of the game, it’s mostly just the hack and slash aspects, where you’ll quickly realize that this is about the most generic experience with the genre that gamers will experience. It’s graphically bland, sporting near second generation PS2 textures. The audio is just as meager, with nothing really shining through. But the biggest kick in the shin guards is the gameplay in general. While most games within the genre have a predictable, yet steady pacing of its hack and slash action, DDD is given a three hit combo-type action. Taking the example of Champions of Norrath once again, dual wielding attacks depending on the weapons themselves, are usually a “one-two” affair, with a slight delay between the final hit and the ability to unleash another predictable, yet effective “one-two punch” of attacks. With DDD, you have a staggered three hit combo of sorts, with each succeeding attack being slower than the last. While the spread of each attacks can cover enough area in front of the character, the tepid nature gives the general gameplay a very dull impression. Characters can gain special attacks with each level, but they themselves are as marred with slowdown as the regular attacks are. Even with an area effect to some of them, players will find that their slow motion main attack combo would not only come out faster, but defeat enemies faster as well.
The gear acquired throughout the journey to the Tower of Void are not necessarily uninspiring, but nothing that pushes the genre forward either. From the usual weapon builds to weapon effects, DDD shares a lot of similarities to previous action RPG’s with no real change in the formula. By the end of this six to eight hour adventure, each avatar doesn’t look that much more powerful from their initial appearance. The glowing armor reflecting elemental enhancements is an appreciated touch, but at no time does it feel like the players character looks like a formidable advesary to the final boss. This might have to do with the level ten cap placed on DDD, with the cap raising ten levels with each proceeding release in the trilogy, but even still, there’s little to show in the way of power, character development and intimidation, from either the characters look or skill tree.
Then there’s enemy variety. Nearly half of the game takes place in a dwarven cave area, with nothing but goblins, some skeletons and a rare crazed dwarf here and there. While there are the typical classes of enemies that pop up (shaman, archers, etc) the variety feels lacking. Mix that lack of variety with the lack of enemy models and classes, and DDD suffers from even more repetition. As for traditional bosses, I can only remember two standing out: a skeleton boss near the middle of the game, and the broken final battle that took me an hour to complete.
There are some bugs within DDD that’s sours the experience even further. There are occasions where killing an enemy will not throw them into a death animation, leaving them frozen in place, Backtracking through certain areas, players could easily mistake these as living minions from afar. The issue can be so prevalent, that a whole section could be blanketed with this glitch. It doesn’t outright break the game, but it’s sloppy, and can lead to plenty of double takes. On a somewhat similar level, there are some enemies that won’t even flinch if you range attack them. In most cases, these are the “elite” class monsters, which have a lot more health and deal a lot more damage. Being able to peg them from a bit out of melee distance away, without and repercussions, is plain lazy programming. Finally, the issue mentioned earlier about the final boss segment. There’s a point in which the main antagonist, Rezlus, summons a dragon and hides behind the massive behemoth. Players are then required to systematically incapacitate its head and front two claws in order for the dragon to lift its tail and reveal Rezlus to initiate the final scripted portion for that battle. There’s a point where my character got hit and totally removed the ability to move them. Attacks and abilities were not nullified, but the character him/herself was not able to move via left analog stick. This was not a stun or root spell of any kind, as this would happen at random points of the battle. Similar melee attacks from the dragon didn’t always glitch my character either, but when the bug hit, it literally lasted from five seconds to five minutes. The only way to advance from one claw to another was mashing the attack button, which moves the character forward. It took thirty tries in about an hours worth of effort for me to finally break through and finish Rezlus off. One of the most frustrating glitches I’ve come across in years.
As with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale is an installment in a planned series of games that needs to be taken back to formula. Nothing is outstanding, and just about everything ranges from underwhelming, to busted. Even the multiplayer dimension adds nothing of value to this title. With a short campaign, short-sighted gameplay and short attention span bug testing, the future of this trilogy might be uncertain. If you’re desperate for some action RPG action on your Xbox 360, track down a copy of either Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance game, or hell, pick up Sacred 2, which should be only $5 more than Daggerdale, and has less dinks in its armor.