I cast Magic Missile!
As I expressed earlier in my preview for Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale, I've always been surprised that there isn't a more high-profile aggressively marketed Dungeons & Dragons title on the console market when developers like BioWare and Bethesda owe much of their success to their D&D forefathers. I can easily imagine a short, succinct, easy-to-follow D&D tabletop campaign transformed into an action RPG similar to Baldur's Gate or Diablo, especially with the new D&D 4.0 rules that are partially inspired by the MMORPG. Maybe Wizards of the Coast felt it just wasn't worth the trouble all these years, since there are already so many incredible video game interpretations of their ruleset, but now is a time of change.
[image1](Not so) shockingly, Daggerdale isn't too far from what I imagined: four archetypal heroes battling through dungeons full of skeletons and goblins and purging the land of whatever darkness that has befallen it. After selecting between the human fighter, dwarven cleric, halfling wizard, and elven rogue, you are charged with expunging Daggerdale of Rezlus, a conjurer and follower of the evil god Bane who has been building his strength and his Zhent army as he watches from his tower. Think Saruman, except Rezlus was never meant to be good and his skin is as ghoulishly pale as Quan Chi's.
Immediately after selecting your hero of choice, it becomes clear that this is indeed a D&D title with you checking feats, ability scores, and weapon specializations before ever sitting foot in the world. The four characters differ as you would expect of their class, from their attributes to their special skill: the wizard can teleport, the rogue can dodge, the cleric can heal (very useful), and the fighter
has been given the shaft can block. From there, it's familiar territory for a third-person action RPG: destroying barrels for gold, killing goblins with swords, spells, and special abilities, saving helpless dwarves, opening chests, and drinking a probably unhealthy amount of health potions.
Combat in Daggerdale falls somewhere between Gauntlet Legends and Baldur's Gate, sometimes awkwardly so. Special techniques recharge blisteringly fast, so there comes a point when using the standard melee attack doesn't make sense, unless you're fighting with a weapon that has an extra fast attack speed. Characters also have an infinite number of throwing weapons or arrows; in the case of the fighter, it's a throwing axe with automatic knockback, otherwise known as spam. So if you're patient enough, you will win every one-on-one fight. It's a strategy that's almost necessary; getting flanked by a horde is never good and potions don't heal a lot.
[image2]That said, playing Daggerdale in multiplayer, up to two locally or up to four online, is the best way to go and fills the void that multiplayer fantasy action RPGs have strangely left behind on the console. It's more difficult to employ the patient one-on-one ranged attack strategy with more than one person, but the benefit of having a party makes dungeon crawling swifter and easier, as long as you've got enough potions or at least one dwarven cleric (having four dwarven clerics simply owns all).
Where the game falters, though, is in the lack of polish and production. The soundtrack is mind-numbingly boring, with drone-like loops that I quickly muted. None of the dialogue is voice-acted, which would have been tolerable if it wasn't accompanied by dwarven grunts and gurgles. The rewards for quests, which are usually basic fetch-all-this, escort-all-that, or kill-all-those missions, are paltry, and the respawn rate for enemies is high enough that backtracking usually means facing the same enemy groups twice. There are also a few all-around flaws here and there, like when the game sells an item you didn't select or being disoriented after a tutorial cut-scene.
But for a $15 downloadable title, Daggerdale is a fine example of why we need more multiplayer action RPGs and, really, more Dungeons & Dragons. Though it may not be a technical powerhouse or gain any marks for innovation, it's a decent, party-friendly adventure that lasts a good 12 hours for one playthrough and it will likely be patched within the first week (so stay away if you can't stand minor glitches). The only thing you might really miss is the sound of rolling dodecahedrons.