Nearly every computer RPG owes its roots to the pencil and paper Dungeons and Dragons game. Unfortunately, D&D has not always fared as well when brought into the digital realm. Some versions drew critical acclaim (the Gold Box series, Baldur’s Gate, etc…) but still others were more lackluster. The newest electronic entry, Daggerdale, falls somewhere on the spectrum between the arcade dungeon romp series, Gauntlet, and the more complex (but still a dungeon romp), Diablo series. Targeted at multiplayer gaming, allowing up to four players to play at once, Daggerdale provides a fun Gauntlet type experience along with the joys of “leveling up” one’s character, however it fails to completely grasp the gripping story or depth seen in larger games like Diablo. If you come to the title looking for some lightweight fantasy gaming action, it will serve you well.
The game allows you to choose from one of four types of characters (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard) which will dictate your race and your basic fighting style in the game. Fighters obviously mix things up in the thick of things, while clerics are nearly as sturdy but have the advantage of several supporting special abilities. Rogues and wizards deal out heavy damage at close and long range respectively. However, each class has several skill “tree” options to pursue, allowing one player’s fighter to have a different play style than another.
The game plays as one would expect, find a contact, go on a quest, return when quest is completed for extra experience and gold, but due to the nature of the intellectual property, the game may feel somewhat rehashed to experienced gamers. Dungeons and Dragons has been copied and reformed so many times, that anything that incorporates the base game runs a real risk of being seen as derivative. That said, the interface and game itself seems to run well with few problems, I especially enjoyed that two players can play cooperatively on a single Xbox setup (the screen doesn’t split, so the party needs to stick together…)
My main issue with the game lies in its save system (and the associated death penalties). One’s character doesn’t get saved (gained gold and experience) until a quest is finished. This seems reasonable and avoids issues of players trying to restore save points to make a quest easier, but many quests are multi-part and can take significant (up to an hour, typically at least a half-hour) to complete. Die on the way and you have to start back over again. This is far too harsh a situation for a game that works best in a casual setting. It also means that a truism from past years of D&D gaming remains – a party without a cleric is going to have a tough time of it. Playing solo is doable, but unless you are patient or have an immense supply of healing potions, it is more likely to be a frustrating experience.
All in all, Daggerdale is pretty good for a download game, containing far more depth than many typical downloadable games. While it is set up to be a fun casual game, the save/death system can make that somewhat frustrating. Thus, I can only recommend it for the more hard-core player who doesn’t mind a challenge and has larger blocks of free time to spend on the game.
Kid Factor: Due to the difficulty of the game, I’d lean towards slightly higher end on the gaming spectrum, probably preteen. The combat functions are fairly simple, and could be run by younger gamers, but they would need to be focused and patient to progress. That said, I managed to play with an almost 5 year old with decent results by giving him the tough fighter character and following along healing him as the cleric. There isn’t much to fear (other than the expected videogame violence against small opposing monsters, etc…) in terms of age appropriate content, so the game’s difficulty would provide the primary age limit.