Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics - updated impressions

Early next year, PSP owners will get the opportunity to take D&D on the road, without having to schlep a big-ass rulebook around with them. Actually, that's half true. Dungeons and Dragons: Tactics will arrive on shelves in February, promising to be as faithful as possible to the game, going so far as cramming in about 13 rulebooks of dungeon-crawlin' and magic missile-firing goodness.

Atari stopped by to demo an Alpha-build of the new strategy game. The game plays much like the table-top version. Build a party of 4-6 characters, each of varying classes such as ranger or physic, and fight your way through 40 or so dungeons. At your disposal are between 220-230 spells as you tackle all sorts of beasties from a giant skull with tentacles jutting out the sides to an undead dragon composed entirely of its skeleton.

The first thing you'll notice about this game is how amazing the lighting is. It's gorgeous. Tactics uses dynamic lighting, meaning every character and object will cast shadows in real-time. Watching the way light beamed and reflected from a torch as one character crossed from a cramped passageway and into an open cave area was nothing short of dazzling - especially because early screens of the game looked awful. It's better now. Big relief.

During the action, menu commands appear in the form of an easy-to-follow spinner menu. When your turn comes, a menu enables you to issue commands such as Ready, Attack and Defend. If you select an item or magic spell, a submenu appears to the right, enabling you to quickly scroll through the list of available options. It's done well and appears simple enough to appeal to non-D&D fans.

At any time, you have the option to zoom in and out on your characters to get a better look, or scan the battlefield. This is both helpful and not. For one, the levels are huge. It's great being able to see where you want to go. The downside is that you often won't be able to see all your enemies. In true D&D fashion, they won't appear unless in your line of sight. That gigantic green dragon ready to bite your torso off? He's behind you, so he's not visible onscreen.