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Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics Preview

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Strategy 
T Contains Blood, Fantasy Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Party to go.

Tell a friend that you play(ed) Dungeons & Dragons and they instantly imagine you sitting in a dark, smelly room, hopped up on sugar, dressed as a wood elf while screaming at other geeks about rings of protection and saving throws with the kind of passionate disconnect rarely seen outside of the Ren Faire. They picture you as the classic closet nerd, the early 80’s kind, the guy who feels more at home tinkering with his juvenile fantasy than fixing his lonely reality.
click to enlargeFar be it from me to fully distance myself from such a pleasant vision, but the truth of the matter is that most people who dabble in D&D do it more for the brilliant strategy than the escapist stereotype suggests. We don’t obsess over cosplay or practice our jousting at the park. We simply like the way the game works. We’re just like you, only with more sides to our dice.
And with more interest in great turn-based strategy, which is really what D&D has always been about. Unlike the current crop of real-time, hack n’ slash console crawlers, authentic D&D is all about plotting out your steps, weighing your options, considering the consequences and hoping the dice come up in your favor. It’s not a button-masher or a twitch competition. It’s the definition of deep, tactical gaming.
Leave it to an old guard like Atari to remember this. In the tradition of great PC series like Gateway to the Savage Frontier and Champions of Krynn comes the bluntly named Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics for the PSP. If the recent press showing is any indication, this love letter to geek past proves that gaming beauty is indeed in the many eyes of the Beholder.
Eschewing the popular design theory that PSP games should be built for brief, twenty-minute play sessions, D&D: Tactics is as deep a tactical strategy game as you’ll find anywhere. It’s based on the 3.5 ruleset, allowing you to create a party of six to take through over forty tactical missions spanning about one hundred (!) hours of gameplay. The plot details are currently a bit fuzzy - you're caught between two dragons vying for godhood, or something - but suffice it to say you’re out to stop something bad from happening to good people.
click to enlargeOr perhaps the opposite, because the guys at Kuju have woven alignment into the fabric of the title. That means the single-player plot will vary based on your moral choices, and we have it on good authority that such path splintering will lead to multiple endings. Chaotic Neutrals, rejoice!
Would-be paladins, rangers, magic-users, thieves and clerics should applaud as well, because D&D: Tactics doles out a whopping eleven character classes. Two of those, the Psion and the Psychic Warrior, are brand new and make use of the often overlooked Psionic system favored by such classic, nefarious beasts as mind flayers, brain devourers and Uri Geller. That’s pretty awesome, though we sincerely hope they’re not including a bard. *shudder*
They are, however, including all the abilities and mechanics you’d expect from a fully-realized D&D game. Over 650 unique items provide plenty of fodder for those who enjoy playing Barbarian Barbie, while the Feats system give characters all kinds of cool maneuvers. Class and race specific abilities are here, too, so outdoorsy types will enjoy the companionship of brutal animal buddies and elves will attack the darkness with their inherent Nightvision. Most impressive is a monstrous tome of over 200 spells culled from a variety of D&D sources. Magic Missile? Of course, but how about Polymorph Self, Mordankainen’s Disjunction or Bigby’s Crushing Grasp? And can someone please remove the wedgie from my ass?
A disturbing image, I know, but D&D: Tactics should make up for that with its colorful palette and sumptuous 3D beasties. Though the build I saw was still pretty rough around the edges, it showed some promise with impressive dragons and some nifty effects. Torch light, for instance, is rendered in real time and actually determines your visual range. Cool.  
click to enlargeThe nerdiest of nerds will weep sugary tears when they find out that D&D: Tactics is without Infrastructure mode, but don’t think the devs forgot about the roots of party play. Deathmatch variants give the impatient a nice way to show off their uber mages, but more importantly is the ability to co-op through the single-player via Ad-Hoc mode with everyone playing a different character. Save that data to one memory stick and it’s just like being at the back of a creepy comic shop, only without the waft of sweat, candy bars and shattered social lives. Downloadable content in the form of new modules gives the game endless potential and replayability, provided the developers treat this half as kindly as Bioware did Neverwinter Nights.
And currently, they’re being pretty damn generous. Despite its lilliputian vessel, Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics looks to be the biggest thing in D&D since the Queen of the Demonweb Pits. If that made any sense to you, then start prepping for some ungodly wedgies come February 2007.

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