Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
I must confess, I do own a great many dice. Most consist of your common-or-garden six-sided breed but I have been known to dabble with the odd d20 in the past. What I have never used them for however is Dungeons & Dragons. Although I have partaken in a couple of pen and paper RPGs in my time, the lure of smiting various Greenskins with a “Bow of Forboding +1” has never grabbed me. And yet somehow I gained many hours of enjoyment running around in Oblivion seeing off the evils that lurked in its woods. Discuss.
With Daggerdale, Dungeon & Dragons attempts to return to its previous prominence, but this time on a digital platform. And before the sneers begin, it’s worth pointing out that this particular RPG adventure is only being up front with you about its roots whilst others have hidden the dice rolling from view.
Just as with Fallout and Elder Scrolls, your hero’s stat sheet is nothing more than a giant bag of numbers used to determine the ultimate success of your actions. It’s just that here the success is based upon the D&D’s 4th edition rulebook. Hit points, agility, defensive and offensive skill, all are taken into account when you start doing battle in the depths of the Dwarven mines.
Unlike Fallout, however, it seems that for the most part your actual attacks are exempt from the sway of Lady Luck. In the middle of the Capital Wastelands there was nothing more annoying than the unreliability of your primary defence. So launch a melee strike or fire an arrow at close enough range and your target will feel the force of your blow, with the damage itself being the only factor rolled for.
Although it’s best not to get bogged down too heavily with comparisons, as everything happens in real-time; first and foremost this is a third-person RPG, with heavy emphasis on combat. Taking my Elfen rogue through the underground caverns saw frantic battles against goblins and the undead hordes as I fought to keep my distance so as to maximise my prowess with a bow before leaping in to scythe the stragglers down.
If pointy ears aren’t your thing, a Halfling wizards, Human warriors and Dwarven clerics are also available. Each, as you’d expect, differs in their approach to combat, with the warrior keen to get in and start hacking, whilst the wizard has the ability to control the flow of battle with his mastery of the arcane.
That’s not to say that each only have skills in one area. My rogue has magic of a sort herself. Drawing from the pages of D&D, levelling up gave me access to talents that gifted me the ability to fire a veritable hail of arrows in one go, or inflict fear and blindness on my target. The loot recovered further adds to your options as poisoned attacks and bolts of electricity can be yours if only you find the right hat.
All this initially takes place in the Dwarven mine of Tethyamar, a once prosperous place that has since been overrun by goblins, skeletons and the forces of the dark god Bane. Arriving at the mine’s heart, the remaining Dwarves persuade you to rid its depths of the evil that lurk there.
Early quests have you escorting battered miners away from trouble, rescuing tools and family heirlooms, cleansing the mine’s water supply and generally sticking it to the dark forces. The whole underground network where you quest is not gated either, and not a single loading screen will be found. Doors do block your way, but the slight inconvenience of pulling a trigger is nothing compared to the sense of flow that you gain from being able to investigate the tunnels without interruption.
The confined space does have a tendency to negatively affect the camera when winding through the tight passageways, but this is barely more than a niggle. For me it is the UI that is more of a concern with simple things such as the inability to manually move the map when waypoints are offscreen, or being unable to equip/unequip items whilst shopping are aspects that are more likely to grate long-term, although but both are easily fixed.
Where Daggerdale may unfortunately stumble is in a similar manner to the forthcoming Space Marine. This is the original source for RPGs, and yet somehow, no matter the skills, weaponry and enemies, many will believe that when it comes to handling a joypad the material’s been covered enough already.
The counter to this is multiplayer co-op, where up to four players can experience the campaign. Everything is always better with multiplayer, but the thought of a mixed group wandering through the mines, slaying anything that moves, is an intriguing one. Individually each character has distinct benefits but these come to the fore when used as part of a team. And given the frantic and relentless flow of enemies when questing alone, the promise of yet more being thrown at your group in co-op is almost a frightening prospect.
From our early experiences, Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale is a promising and compelling dungeon crawler. Though initially restricted to the mines, we have seen hints of an outside world and larger variety of monsters, and combined with the powers that your character will earn the trek to free the kingdom from Bane looks a journey worth taking. Be it alone or with friends.