Roll a fortitude saving throw.
To play D&D Tactics on the PSP is to see that there are, at the very least, two worlds in gaming: one for the action-craving and one for the number-crunching. If ever the gap between those brought into the gaming fold by the clarion call of the console, and those drawn by the tenor of the tabletop, were made clearer than D&D Tactics, I would eat my own shoes. Which, frankly, is a good alternative over playing more of the game.
[image1]Florid prose aside, D&D Tactics underlines the difference between the console gang and the tabletop gang. Where many console gamers will expect a streamlined play experience, an original storyline, and interesting visuals, they will find a clunky user interface, a drab and predictable tale, and an antiseptic art style that does little to inspire the imagination.
The first impression the game makes is with its artwork. If you’ve ever picked up a Player’s Handbook for Dungeons and Dragons (3rd edition and onward), you will recognize the style. Many of the game’s visuals are designed to look like they were stripped straight from the handbook’s pages. Unfortunately, while the visual style of the books works well for pen-and-paper play, handing players and storytellers tools for imagination, it comes across as dull and incomplete in a video game.
Things look exactly as you would expect them to, as though the game were modeled after just about every generic fantasy novel, game, and movie. Visit an elven city, and you’ll find a forest with wooden platforms a few dozen feet in the air attached to the trees, just like every other generic elven city. Raid a long-dead king’s crypt, and you’ll find stone corridors with the occasional boringly textured sarcophagus. The entire world is painted in dull colors, basic textures, and with a curious lack of detail.
[image2]The other thing you’ll notice quickly is that the music, while quite good, is extremely short. You’ll spend an hour considering the best choices for a battle while hearing the thirty-second loop of battle music over and over. What’s worse is that there aren’t many different pieces of music. The same four chunks of music haunts you through the whole game. Not surprisingly, I muted my PSP and put my own music on. As it turns out, a mishmash of the soundtracks from Fable, Shadow of the Colossus, Kessen II, and Brahms’s Hungarian Dances works much better.
A game doesn’t live on its aesthetics alone, however, as any true gamin’ thug knows. How a game handles when the lights are off is what really makes it, y’kno’wha’m’sayin’ playa’? As any of my bruthas in the Tabletop Crew know, D&D’s got game, foo’. Combat in D&D Tactics, as it is in its underlying game, is elegant, dynamic, and highly variable. But despite how amazingly balanced the rules are, the user interface makes enjoying the game more difficult than it should be.
My dicin’ boyz know that the biggest bitch in D&D – other than the dungeon master’s girlfriend – is the bookkeeping. Figuring out how all the bonuses and penalties stack together, assigning skill points, picking feats, factoring in synergy bonuses, totaling saving throws and attack bonuses, selecting equipment, picking spells – the list goes on. Unfortunately, D&D Tactics does little to reduce this problem, and when muddled behind clunky menus and a horrid text scrolling system that frequently makes it near impossible to read the descriptions of spells and feats, character management becomes every bit as irritating on the PSP as it is on paper. And worse yet, you don’t have an eraser.
However, the game does come with an auto-complete choice for character management, so you can just run along with preset options. They’re not bad by any means, so for casual play it’s a viable choice. Alas, you WILL need to become used to the clunky menu system of D&D Tactics to play the game effectively. Many essential special abilities, such as a cleric’s ability to drop prepared spells for healing spells of the same level, are buried obtusely in the menus. More often than not, special abilities are not automatically activated at logical points, and many special abilities that can be used in clever ways – such as using a paladin’s “lay on hands” ability (still one of the dirtiest sounding abilities) against an undead opponent – are not clearly indicated in the UI or the manual. Sometimes, the UI is so close to broken that it pains the imagination to come up with reasons why it was allowed out of QA.
[image3]In terms of storyline, the plot starts bland and cliché, and grows into being hackneyed and obvious. This alone is not necessarily unexpected; most games have cliché and hackneyed plots full of contrivances. The story is just boringly presented here. Cutscenes are composed of portraits of characters imposed over various backgrounds and covered by small oceans of text that pass far too fast.
Now, I happen to enjoy reading; I prefer it to television. But D&D Tactics flings lines of text at you, and none of it is well written. There’s no effort made to provide well-developed characterization, yet there’s a lot of time wasted on excess words. Worse, the default speed passes them by so quickly that I was usually three or four words from the end of a line when it faded. This didn’t really damage my comprehension of my objectives at all, but it did create this unnecessary sense of hurry to a story that really wasn’t worth it.
Whether you can find D&D Tactics‘s many flaws tolerable or not will probably stem from whether you’re flyin’ console colors or sportin’ tabletop gear. Those of us that roll with a dice pouch can stand D&D Tactics. We understand how it be: you just gotta take it slow and easy. Most console boys, though, they’s all impatient, expectin’ some kinda instant gratification. Ahem. Sorry, I don’t know why this game prompts me to speak that way. Regardless, there is a lot to appreciate behind all to appreciate, but it will take either a diehard D&D fanaticism, or a lot of tasty shoes.