Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale Hands-On Impressions

In the past I’ve teased Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale for its silly name, but I have to say, of Atari’s suite of upcoming downloadable games (including Yar’s Revenge and Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime), Daggerdale is the most promising. This 4-player hack and slash game is reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, but with a closer camera perspective.

Daggerdale references the D&D Fourth Edition rules, pulling in skills, spells, settings, and characters from the tabletop game. You’ll play as one of four character types – a halfling mage, elven rogue, human fighter, or dwarven battlepriest. Each character has a unique set of attacks and skills, making it so each player has to focus on their strengths in combat. In 4-player games, each player must use one of the four heroes, so you won’t be able to double up with a certain class.

The game mixes fast-paced combat with loot gathering and leveling up. Players will gain power points and feat points as they level up, allowing them to unlock new skills that they can assign to the face buttons on the controller. The elven rogue, for example – the character I got to play with in the demo – has a ranged spread shot that can hit multiple enemies and do extra damage. The human fighter will have defensive parries and the mage will have several spells, to name a few more examples.

Combat is simple and fast – anyone with a trigger finger on the evade button will catch on quickly. My time with the rogue showed that while she was better at range, she was no slouch at close range either, most likely because you have to be able to play this game solo as well as co-op. The game tossed a good amount of enemies at me, and they telegraphed their attacks well enough that skilled players will be able to cleverly run circles around them without taking damage. Still, there is always that Dungeons & Dragons dice roll in play – all attacks have a damage range rather than a static number, something you’ll have to take into account when you’re fighting as well as when you’re choosing weapons.

Enemies in the demo dropped loot and gold, and a shop gave me a place to buy and sell new weapons and armor. Erik Reynolds, the Atari representative giving the demo, provided some insight on the loot philosophy in Daggerdale: “The old adage of dropping a lot of trash so you can money-grind is something that’s always going to be there, but [Bedlam Games] is really leaning towards balancing that out so you just get money. [The result is] that the items you do get are more varied and unique.”

I saw this uniqueness in the stats for various weapons. You’ll have to choose between weapons with different damage spreads, so you may have one weapon that does between 1-9 points of damage, or another that does 4-6 – the former has more damage potential, but the latter might end up being more consistently powerful in the end.

The demo had me traveling through a dwarven mine, and subsequently talking to a lot of dwarves for quests. The quests follow a pretty simple model that at least during the demo, allowed me to follow the mini-map and mostly ignore the character dialogue. It’s a bit too simplistic, but it may be for the best when you’re rushing through environments with your impatient buddies. In fact, the philosophy of the game seems to be to keep things moving for multiplayer – gold is automatically collected, loot is taken by whoever can grab it first, and any players screwing around in the menus too long are likely to be left behind by the rest of their party.

What’s still to be seen with Daggerdale is how much depth it will provide. The skill menus gave me the impression there was plenty of customization, but players can only level up to level 10. That, along with the welcome, but uncharacteristic $10 price tag, tells me that Daggerdale may be a fun weekend romp, rather than something you’ll lose days to. Either way, it’s fun, and the demo didn’t even have multiplayer available – it’ll probably be even better with friends.

The only hesitation I have is for players who plan to get together on the couch with their buddies. Atari wasn’t able to show me the single-screen multiplayer, but they did inform me that it’ll be a split-screen affair. While the graphics weren’t final, with the look of the game and the on-screen stats, I just can’t see this game minimized to a half or quarter of the screen.

Potential issues aside, Daggerdale looks like exactly what you’d want out of a $10, co-op, dungeon-crawling romp. There’s just enough depth in the character progression and loot gathering to sate the D&D crowd and enough action to entertain the arcade co-op crowd. Daggerdale is currently expected to hit in the Spring on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and PC.