Dungeons & Dragons Daggerdale hands-on preview

Delving deep into the darkness of dwarven mines

The wait for Diablo seems like it will never end, and numerous dungeon-crawlers have sprung up to take advantage of gamers’ anticipation. We love a good smash ‘n’ loot fare, and we also love D&D, so with the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons Daggerdale we have a promising console-friendly crawler to pass the time. It’s no point-and-click affair, but rather closer to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance in its sticking-and-moving action. At least that’s the case with the console version we played – although there will be a PC downloadable version as well. The big draw will be the four-player online, two-player local drop-in drop-out co-op.

While the combat is fairly fast-paced, we imagine that the overall game flow might be hindered in co-op because the character management is not shallow – you’ll spend points on many spells, choose from a huge list of feats, and rummage through insane varieties of loot to find that perfect magic weapon or piece of armor. So we’re picturing the game grinding to a halt when players need to fumble through menus while teammates whine at them to hurry up, so if you plan to play with friends, get people who can flip through character sheets swiftly.

Assuming you’re willing to wait for friends to get their equipment just right, Daggerdale looks like it will be a deep, addictive RPG (for a small download title, anyway). You choose from four possible characters: A Human Fighter, an Elf Rogue, a Dwarf Cleric, or a Halfling Wizard. Normally we’re drawn to mages, but we also hate wimpy-ass Halflings, so we decided to go against our usual class choice and pick the Cleric. Initially each class begins with three powers (two of which you can distribute points in right at the start) and one feat to pick. Our dwarf had an AOE healing power that also healed himself (so plenty handy even playing solo), a ranged light-from-heaven magic blast that luckily didn’t only affect undead, and a short-ranged shockwave stunning strike that could bowl through multiple enemies once upgraded.

You’re not limited by magic points, so you only need to manage the cooldowns of each power, and we found right at the start you can spam your powers continuously if you simply alternate them. In fact, so far we’re not sure exactly why normal melee attacks are needed at all when you always have a cooldown finished, but perhaps that will become clear later on in the game. Each character also has an unlimited supply of throwing weapons, so you can play the game like Gauntlet if you so choose (and you can equip various magic weapons as your throwing attack, so for instance we found a poison axe that was handy for peppering and softening up several foes before wading into melee).

At first the action felt a bit mindless but as we got further into the game we saw how things like positioning began to matter greatly: our shockwave attack became more effective if we could circle around until multiple enemies were lined up in front of us, and we learned a new spell where we could lay a damage-over-time fire trap on the ground and lure orcs into it. We also encountered groups of orcs that had a Shaman watching over them who would buff them with haste spells and even resurrect them endlessly, meaning we had to risk diving through the meat shields to get at the Shaman and take him out first. It will be interesting to see how the game scales up its difficulty as the story progresses, as well as in relation to how many players you have (or perhaps it doesn’t scale to player number?).

We have to say that the game so far is pretty addictive. We had access to a full build, so we had to tear ourselves away from the game so we could write this preview, instead of doing “just one more quest” which is what we wanted to do. The combat is weighty and visceral, and as our character reached higher levels the gameplay began to get more and more interesting, so we have hopes that the game will be at its best further into its obviously meaty length (after a couple of hours we were only level 3 with clearly a ton of more powers and feats to unlock). Although the game is meant to be played with four people, we were having plenty of fun alone, so we don’t think its worth will be dependent upon co-op play. The current plan for release is in late May on XBLA, PSN, and PC.

May 3, 2011

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