Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale Xbox 360

Professional software development can be a difficult process. Aside from the practical difficulties of co-ordinating teams, managing your asset pipelines, and getting the Friday lunchtime kebab order right, there are external factors that can encroach on your Gantt chart like a milestone-producing tumour. I say this not to excuse Dungeon & Dragons: Daggerdale’s problems, but simply to explain why it might be released it in such a buggy, unpolished state. I would like to hope that Atari saw their Xbox Live release deadline coming up and leaned on Bedlam Games to hand it over before it passed beta testing, because no professional project manager would seriously consider a game like this to be finished.

Character stats are sometimes transferred between players, ability points are sometimes lost to the void with no explanation, enemies sometimes space out and pace the room placidly while you axe them in the face, while combat continues to roll during cut-scenes and may kill you if you don’t keep drinking health potions in the background. I’ve even managed to work myself into the situation where my dwarf can fire throwing hammers using the crossbow animation – which makes him looks awesome, by the way. Needless to say, a ‘patch’ (which I assume is a euphemism for ‘the final few months of development’) has already been announced for both the PC and Xbox 360 releases; presumably the delayed PS3 version will include these updates at launch to spare further embarrassment. We shall see.

Needless to say I would not recommend buying this game in its current state. That said, once you put all the bugs to one side – and for what it’s worth, none of the glitches I experienced in the single player game were very intrusive – it is a passable stab at a hack-and-slash adventure, and shouldn’t be written off completely. The rest of this review will focus exclusively on what I assume to be the intended content of the game.

Man, this game is dull! Three chapters set entirely in earth-brown mines and stone-grey vaults, in which you will spend six hours running from quest-giver A to quest objective B and back again again and again. The simplistic quest scripting is almost self-regulating, in the sense that bored players can often just run past all the enemies, pick up the objective and run back to wrap things up quickly, but ticking off boxes for its own sake does not make for an engaging game. It’s always been clear that this would be more of a beat-em-up than an RPG, so I could forgive the simple quests and hackneyed writing, but it pains me to say that it isn’t a very good beat-em-up either.

The four classes in the game are very distinct, each possessing a unique but potent set of abilities – I’m genuinely impressed by the way they are all equally feasible choices in both single and multiplayer modes. There’s potential for a good degree of tactical play, if you keep moving round and using your powers wisely; the problem – in single player mode at least – is that there’s little incentive to do so. Having finished the game as a cleric, I found myself repeating the same attack patterns in every encounter: round up my enemies into a tight group, blast them with area damage moves until the grunts are all dead, then batter the remaining high-level characters while healing regularly. Very little reactive play is required, which is what a good fighting game needs. The only times you’ll need to think about what you’re doing are during the end-of-chapter boss battles, which are no more tactically advanced but at least make for interesting set-pieces.

Co-op mode is arguably Daggerdale’s strongest point, promising a quick knockabout adventure with your fellow internerds. As with most online games, I would imagine it’s far more fun playing with friends than strangers; unfortunately I can’t test this theory as none of my friends have bought the game. Having spent some time joining random parties online, I can report that everyone seems to be playing exclusively on the final chapter and nobody cares much for the Fighter class. Combat does seem much more interesting when you have a party to work with – your allies introduce human variability into the proceedings, shaking up your usual routines – but it’s no way to enjoy the story, such as it is. I can see this being a passable way to grind experience and search for particular magic items, but ‘potential for grind’ is a weak selling point.

Ultimately Daggerdale holds a lot of potential as a roaming beat-em-up – a modern successor to Capcom’s classic Tower of Doom and the absolutely stunning Shadows Over Mystara – but is let down by its uninspiring combat. What’s makes it worse is that many of the best elements of Dungeons & Dragons have been overlooked in favour of unnecessary mechanical gubbins – players have no input to the game narrative, but each character has access to at least a dozen abilities that no player would ever want. The real deal-breaker is the plethora of bugs and glitches that need to be patched up if this game is ever to be taken seriously. Still, it’s a worthwhile proposition if you want something to play with friends, and hopefully they will make a sequel that corrects its flaws without ruining its strengths.

This is a game that could have been a lot better than it is. But it is not better. It is exactly as good as it is, and that is not good. It is, in fact, bad.

4 out of 10