If there is one kind of gaming here at The Escapist that stands a chance of rivaling our love for video games, it’s tabletop rpgs. At the time of writing this there are at least three campaigns being run in the office: two 4th edition D&D games run during lunch hours and a long running Basic/Expert campaign that will be transitioning into Oriental Adventures after capping off over two years of play. So when Bedlam Games announced Dungeon & Dragons: Daggerdale, we were intrigued, and while Dungeon & Dragons: Daggerdale isn’t going to set the world on fire, it can still be fun to set goblins ablaze.

The game is typical fantasy adventure fare. Rezlus, the main big baddy, has constructed the Tower of Void in the Mines of Tethyamar in hopes of conquering the Dalelands for his dark god Bane. Obviously the story is hardly breaking any new ground, but luckily a mysterious woman defies fate to bring four adventurers to put a stop to this evil. Of course instead of getting anyone that might actually be able to solve the issue right away, she summons, among others, a first level warrior wearing cloth armor. It might be risky that the whole realm is being defended by fighter in a little more than a t-shirt and blue jeans but Rezlus has graciously left a slowly increasing progression of challenges in the way.

Daggerdale is actually the first videogame to use the 4th edition rule set, which has often been criticized or embraced partly for its more video game feel. So if you are looking for a replacement for pens, paper, dice, Cheetos, Mountain Dew and a DM, well you actually probably need to keep looking. Daggerdale leaves most of the roleplaying at the door and is pretty firmly in the hack and slash and loot category. The Dungeons & Dragons rule set has then only loosely been applied over it all. Powers, stats, race, classes and feats are all there, but it’s all been boiled down, and not in the refining the goodness kind of way. Classes and races come in four predetermined combos (human fighter, dwarven cleric, halfing wizard and elven rogue). You are given stats and can upgrade them at certain levels, but they are set allocations from the start and there is no apparent benefit to not simply upgrading constitution and the stat most closely associated with your class. Feats make an appearance, but they also feel restrictive. Only a handful do something more than +1 attack or +1 damage to X specific weapon type. So ultimately characters of the same class really don’t distinguish themselves.

You do get a wider room for customization with your powers and equipment. Every level you are given points to invest in your various powers, but because you only have a limited number of buttons, you’ll ultimately end up favoring a few and defining your character. My primary was a two-handed weapons specced fighter and I gravitated to powers like Bladestorm, which let me clear out huge swaths of minions. Those that didn’t die outright got to suffer the effects of my Fiery Greataxe of Pestilence, specifically fire damage and being poisoned. You could however choose to run a fighter using powers that slowed, stunned or knock backed enemies, thus keeping them away from squishier team mates.

The loot is where the most character depth and fun really come in. I think the developers rather smartly avoided the Longsword of +4 Dexterity trappings. Wailing on a big pack of monsters with a sword that has a chance to stun, wearing a suit of armor that causes freezing and slowing ice damage with a helmet that causes ongoing fire damage and all while hitting them with an attack that causes fear is simply endlessly fun. It also provides a good deal of much needed depth. A few more points of damage might not actually be worth upgrading from a powerful effect or a weapon that swings faster.

Sadly all of this crazy effect spamming leads to my biggest problem with this game. It’s just way too damn easy. The only time I died in the entire game was failing a Quick Time Event at the end. See, I’m the kind of gamer that will go explore every nook and cranny, breaking all the barrels and all while completing the side quests before coming back to the main storyline, and in Daggerdale that means I quickly became too powerful. Because of my persistence I had enough potions and gear in the final fight to repeat the boss over three times while I figured out what I precisely needed to do to trigger the end. And that’s playing as a fighter; the cleric’s class ability is a heal power on a short cooldown. I imagine the cleric could retire comfortably and open a well-stocked potion store after the conclusion of the game.

The game isn’t without some other issues either. Unless your setup puts you rather close to your TV, expect some squinting to read some of the smaller text. This probably won’t be a problem for those playing on the PC. Various graphic issues also popped up: monsters not transitioning to their dead animation states, occasional screen tearing, and some clipping with the environment or equipment models. I also encountered two specific problems with a certain item, a necklace that regenerated hit points. The first, though more of an annoyance, was that the item had this continual sound effect associated with it (sort of sounded like the wom wom wom of the Star Trek warp engines). Needless to say, it gets really tiresome after more than a few seconds. The other problem with this item was that I discovered it would continue to heal me from the character screens. So if for some reason I drank through my 50 odd potions, all I had to do was bring up the map and walk away from the game for a bit. Lastly, while I personally never experienced anything this bad, someone from the office was telling me about how they fell through the world and respawned at level 1 with none of their gear. Luckily they were able to quit before the game saved and reload with their old characters.

I don’t want to make it sound completely bleak and broken, because the game really shines most through multiplayer. Enemies’ spawns are ramped up accordingly to the size of the group, which promotes a greater challenge and requirement to play somewhat as a team. The game supports both online and local multiplayer, which is especially entertaining. Nostalgia for Gauntlet Legends and kin may ensue as you and some friends crowd into your living room.

Bottom Line: At one point I put the game down and was planning on going to bed, but I soon realized I wasn’t as tired as I thought and opted to tackle another quest or two.

Recommendation: At only $15, there is enough to love here if you are willing to put up with its problems, especially if you have a few friends on hand.

[rating=3]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

What our review scores mean.

Justin Clouse hopes that the devs can roll a natural 20 on the next game.

Game: Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale
Genre: RPG
Developer: Bedlam Games
Publisher: Atari
Platform(s): PC, XBLA, PSN
Available from: Amazon(US)

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