Eventually, you know, all games are going to meet in the middle. You can see if happening, even now. Already we’ve got from the world of ‘your imagination is the limit’ to FPS, RTS, RPG, MMO… The huge burst of creative design that the first few decades of the videogame industry has settled into an orderly pattern of tried-and-tested sequels with very little that is really new. Indie developers are still bravely standing against the tide, but how many of them do you see in the play.com bestsellers list?
One day, we’ll all be playing the same social MMO FPS RPG where we co-operatively fight WW2 cyborg orc zombies with swords and tanks, at Wembley stadium, all the while levelling up our DPS and artillery abilities. Actually, that does sound like a pretty good game. But you get my point.
So much for videogames. But there are plenty of other games out there. Card games like Magic: The Gathering are growing in popularity and there’s still a loyal core of old-school tabletop RPG gamers who do much the same as you WoW players, only sat around a dinner table off-line.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that these games are growing inexorably closer to videogames, trapped in the same gravitational field that brings them all spiralling and shrinking down toward an entertainment singularity. This nothing new, of course: videogames and tabletop RPGs have a storied history that stretches back further than any of today young’uns may realise. Levelling up to get a better gun in Battlefield: Bad Company 2? Guess where that concept came from, eh?
All of which is an incredibly long, cranky-old-guy rant to introduce the latest RPG, Daggerdale. It has the D&D logo on the cover, so if ever a videogame deserves the title ‘RPG’, it’s this. Put out by the very people who write the granddaddy of all RPGs.
Now. First things first. The opening cinematic (delivered in essentially still-frame graphics) introduces several concepts, places and organisations which are glossed over at speed, leaving two types of players: those who are new to D&D, who will have no idea what just happened, and D&D fans (specifically Forgotten Realms fans) who will feel at home with many of the in-world references.
So it looks like the target audience is the latter group. HOWEVER, from there on in, the D&D system (which is so important to the fans) is generally ignored, perhaps at best used as a kind of coathanger upon which the game is hung. Abilities work in different ways to the ways they play out in the tabletop game, treasure is gathered through breaking an interminable series of crates, barrels and chests, and combat consists of pressing the attack button repeatedly until all around you are sufficiently maimed. This is not D&D.
OK, grandpa, I can hear you say. So they’ve ignored your beloved gaming system in favour of, oh, I dunno, actually writing a videogame. Is that so awful? And how’s the game?
Fine. So the D&D side of things is just a label on the cover and the odd mumbled reference to places from the fiction and a few markers in the combat system to add verisimilitude. So how’s the game, you ask?
Well, it’s bad, I’m afraid. Daggerdale is a third-person dungeon crawl that can be played co-op. Players ‘create’ characters (essentially picking one of four pregenerated characters and point-buying a couple of abilities) and storm off into a big dungeon to kill a bad guy and his progressively-stronger minions. I played the Xbox 360 version, so graphics might be better on high-end PCs, but the version I saw looked horribly out of date. There is practically no in-game speech – characters you meet are one-dimensional and spout the odd line or two of text at you, most of which consists of them sending you to the next marker on the confusing-as-hell map to fight a bunch more monsters. Co-op keeps the game tolerable for a while, but some major gameplay flaws and the lack of anything really new cause Daggerdale to never quite get off the ground. The game itself is pretty short, but still manages to pack in a fair number of bugs and balance issues.
I feel that I have to say something good for it here. It’s only fair, after all. As an action-based RPG, there are a couple of redeeming features. The central idea behind the game is a solid loot mechanic, to give you that nice pavlovian jingle when you find a slightly more awesome magical gewgaw. There is plenty of loot and some thought has gone into making the treasure work for you. Admittedly, not in particularly interesting ways, but for casual action-RPG fans, there’s something to enjoy here. Also, the price is pretty low, so if you’re getting your old D&D group back together and your cat ate all the dice, Daggerdale could be a cheap way of getting an hour or so watered-down RPG fun. Providing your mates don’t forget to bring their controllers over with them.