Saturday, October 1, 2011

dungeons & dragons: daggerdale

I know I said I would review Bastion for you, but something more pressing came up. Right now XBLA is advertising Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale by Atari for download at a discounted rate. Let me save you some microsoft points. Do not buy it. The game is broken. I did some research on the issue and it looks like Atari has no intentions of releasing a patch to fix a long list of known issues, or at least no intention of doing so anytime soon. Don't waste your time or money on major frustration.

D&D: Daggerdale is your basic action RPG based on the popular Wizards of the Coast license. I think it's based on 4e rules but I'm not completely sure. You have the choose of 4 class / race combinations: a human fighter, a dwarf cleric, an elven rogue, or a halfling wizard. As you gain levels, you can spend points to improve your base attributes, buy and rank up special attacks & spells (about 6 per character), and purchase abilities. Each character also has a special ability based on class triggered with RB (fighter-block, cleric-Healing Word, rogue-dodge, wizard-teleport). There's enough choices to make things interesting but not enough that you can really customize your character.

Play time clocks in at about 6 hours if you run most of the side questions in addition to the main story quests for the 4 chapters. I wasn't a big fan of the dialogue screens which felt clunky and slow. And there's very little voice acting so you have to read the dialogue if you want to follow the story.

This is an action RPG so you probably want to hear about the combat and loot. It's a basic 4 button map (melee, range, potions, and interact) with your special attacks accessibly by holding the LT and pressing one of the 4 main buttons. Apparently if you press and hold, you can also charge those special attacks. I only learned about this feature after reading about it on the internet. No tutorial that I saw in the opening level pointed this feature out to me.

Loot drops are fairly regular but like most games of this ilk, a lot of the items aren't usable by your class. There are merchants distributed fairly evenly across the 4 levels. BUT you don't have to visit the merchant to sell your loot. The game gives you the option from the inventory screen to convert unequipped stuff to gold from anywhere in the level. And I don't think there's a major penalty for doing so but I may be wrong.

Besides potions (health, temporary resistance or stat bonuses), the major loot builds upon a fairly simple formula: item type + descriptive adjectives for enchantments + any magical bonus to attack or defense. The adjectives let you know what kind of bonuses you will get. And higher level items tends to have several adjectives because of all the bonuses.
Example: you may get 2 longswords, one a venomous longsword +1 and the other a blazing longsword +1. Both have the same base stats (for longsword) and magical bonus (+1) but one does poison damage and the other fire damage.
There is also a loot rarity system based on color with purple (or possibly blue, I'm colorblind) representing the most rare. Unique named items are also available by drop or by purchase from the merchants.

So what's wrong with D&D: Daggerdale? Two major issues in order of importance.

First, it's broken. Majorly so. And they're bad enough to severely negative the fun. The one I ran into is the deletion of one of your special skills when moving from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3. I played the dwarf cleric on my first (and likely only play-through without a patch). Shield of the Gods is a key special attack and one of the first ones you can unlock. It's major effect is to push enemies away from you (knockback) in addition to doing damage. When you start Chapter 3, all of your equipment and special skills are stripped away for plot reasons. After solving those, I found all of my points (4 total, or 2 full character levels) in Shield of the Gods had disappeared. What's worse, the game recognized I had already purchased it and so wouldn't let me spend newly earned points to reactivate it.

This became a major hassle later in the level because of an undead mini-boss that likes to stick with you and pin you. Under normal circumstances, I would have expected Shield of the Gods would have let me push it away to heal and attack from range. Instead, I had to keep running around the level, accidentally pulling the re-spawning mobs, and desperately burning through health potions because they don't make you pause midstride like Healing Word. Not being able to push back mobs was also a major annoyance. Thankfully healing potion drops were plentiful. Even burning through them like crazy due to Shield of the Gods disapparating mid-way through the game, I had somewhere around 130 in stock after finishing the game. But with Healing World, my cleric had a non-resource taxing way to heal so YMMV.

Atari forums indicate this is a known issue effecting all classes. Too bad they haven't patched it yet. It makes the game seriously less fun.

Second, the game has some serious balance issues after the second, and longest, Chapter. By this time, I had accumulated a substantial war chest and mostly purple equipment. It didn't require any extra work to purchase the few upgraded items available in Chapter 3 (Chapter 4 is just thef final boss battle against Rezlus and his dragon ally). This meant getting through the rest of the game was mostly a slog through repetitive, non-challenging mobs and bosses instead of a ramping up of the difficulty level as you progress through the game. Even the remaining special attack unlocks didn't seem to change the strategy all that much or add any novel mechanics to break the monotony. Perhaps a different character class would offer sustained interest throughout but the cleric build was severely lacking.

The graphics aren't terrible for the price if a bit boring and subdued. You spend most of your time either in dwarven mines or a fortress so there's tons of greys and browns on the palette. The character designs are pretty basic and all the NPCs look the same. Enemies aren't awful to look at but there's a real lack of variety. The level bosses, on the other hand, are pretty interesting. I really liked the Skull Lord, a 3 headed undead wizard that blocks your entry into the Tower. Not AAA quality but what do you expect for a $15 download? In terms of visuals, D&D: Daggerdale definitely lacks any original style or personality.

There's coop available for both local play (split screen?) or online. I didn't try it and from what I've read, all kinds of new bugs creep into the multiplayer to make it un-fun and unplayable in its own way.

The story isn't much to write home about, either. It's a pretty generic fantasy story about stopping an evil cleric who wants to take over the kingdom. Most of the quests are of the fetch variety (go find this person / thing) but at least you're only made to collect X number of items dropped by enemies once. At the end, I felt like I was playing Dragon Age: Origins with all the plot choices and deep character-building mechanics stripped out. Especially when the various factions you've helped as you make your way through the plot show up to lend a hand in battling Rezlus, the final boss, on top of the tower. The arrival of Incendius, his dragon ally, further drove this feeling home.

If Atari patches it to fix the many known issues, D&D: Daggerdale would still be a generic action RPG with balance issues plaguing the last quarter of the game. With so many better games out there on XBLA (Bastion), I wouldn't make this one a priority to play. Still, I might have pushed through it another 3 times to experience the other classes and grab the achievements for multiplayer and getting all 4 classes up to level 10. But without a patch, it's a definite miss. Bland graphics, repetitive combat, and boring story are unforgivable when combined with gameplay breaking bugs.

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