PS3 Preview – Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale

Usually, I like to give games the benefit of the doubt when I’m playing early builds. I assume that the developers are planning on reading the previews released, looking for common complaints, and addressing problems before the final version is released. However, with only a few months left before the supposed launch, I have a hard time believing there’s any chance that Bedlam Games can redeem Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale.

The downloadable title, due for release this spring, is said to be based on the D&D 4th Edition ruleset. 4th Edition has been both acclaimed and criticized for its streamlined gameplay, which always seemed perfectly primed for implementation in video games. After a few hours of wandering caves and killing goblins in Daggerdale, I’ve seen very little 4th Edition about the game. In fact, with few exceptions, it’s hardly D&D.

While the simplistic leveling rings reminiscent of Wizards of the Coast’s RPG, the gameplay has more in common with Gauntlet than it does Dungeons & Dragons. Combat is simplistic hack-and-slash with a frustrating camera that constantly found itself stuck behind objects. I built my elf Rogue to focus on ranged attacks, which apparently means that I’m to spend all of my time spamming the same button to fire arrows from a distance. There’s no stealth to speak of, no traps to disarm or tactics to employ, just a few boring special moves that did very little to make things more interesting.

This generic gameplay was pushed forward by an uninteresting, forgettable story that has little chance of evolving into anything even remotely memorable. With exception to a smattering of cutscenes, most of the game is voiceless, with the absolutely atrocious character models grunting and groaning while text appears above their heads. It’s remarkable that the presentation manages to be even more disappointing than the gameplay, with muddy, unappealing character models, bland environments, and nonstop glitches and bugs. Enemies often disappear mid-battle and corpses will occasionally stand in-place once their thread of life has been severed. Invisible walls blocking projectiles, objects that can’t be picked up, framerate jitters—it’s an absolute mess. The prospect of finding loot was an enticing one, as it is in any game where enemies explode into goodies when slain, but the absolutely laughable appearance of most items (and the general shoddiness of the gameplay) makes sure that the glee in finding a new item is short-lived.

As a D&D fan I went in with a predisposition to want to like Daggerdale. I’ve enjoyed most other D&D games over the years, and figured a downloadable release would be perfect to introduce players to the new ruleset. Obviously, I was wrong, and Bedlam is going to have to cast some absurdly high-level spells to turn this catastrophe into something worth paying attention to.