"Even with several more coats of polish, though, you'd still have a spectacularly uninspired game that totally squanders the potential of its license."
Prior to actually turning it on, the only thing I knew about Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale was that it was based on D&D rules and that it was a hack-and-slash title. I sat down to play the game, and was shocked to discover that it is both a relatively shallow experience and an absolute waste of the D&D license. The core hack-and-slash action is fine, but every single aspect around it is either broken or feels haphazardly dashed together.
At the outset, you are presented with your choice of four character classes: warrior, wizard, rogue, and cleric. Each class has access to both a melee and a ranged weapon, a handful of skills and talents, and a unique defensive ability. You are not, however, given your choice of gender or race. If you're a wizard, you're a diminutive halfling with cornrows. Want to be a rogue? You're a female elf.
After choosing your class, you distribute your skills and feats. Each character class has access to a modest number of abilities, but they are each fairly unique and offer three levels of power. It ultimately doesn't matter what skills you select, though, because in the end you'll have gained enough points to learn and master basically all of them. What's more, the pace at which you unlock new skills ensures that you will only have around one or two skills at any time to choose from.
While feats are, a great idea in theory, and there are indeed a few special traits that are useful, such as using your intelligence score to determine attack damage (invaluable for the wizard), the list is so full of essentially useless or totally redundant choices that by third level or so, none of them really make any difference at all to your character. Lastly, every few levels you are allowed to distribute points to your core statistics, but this is yet another choice that is much less important than it seems. Statistics like charisma are all but useless in a game that contains absolutely no branching dialogue or opportunities to parlay with NPCs for information or a free drink at the pub – its only impact is to slightly (and a I do mean slightly) reduce prices in shops. Really, the only logical choice is to pick your class' main statistic and pump it up.
After creating your character, you'll be dropped into the world and almost immediately become aware of one of the game's most amusing flaws: the dialogue. Every single character is a walking cliche, and their comments are utterly inane and overly verbose. A several-line chunk of dialogue full of cheese and, in some cases, grammatical errors, will often accompany your "go outside town and stab a couple guys" quest. The plot is completely thrown by the wayside and is never anything more than "go kill that mean guy." You are never given the option to actually talk or make any decisions in dialogue, other than "accept quest" or "refuse quest."
The cutscenes, outside of the very nicely drawn chapter introduction videos, are laughably bad, replete with poorly executed melodrama and awful animations. While the game genuinely tries to present its story as interesting and exciting, the delivery is so hilariously bad in every regard that it never amounts to much. Of particular note is the finale, which is supposed to be epic and full of heart-wrenching twists as your friends all line up to sacrifice themselves in your honor – and then you find yourself laughing at their absurdly choreographed actions and the awful animation accompanying it. Cap this all off with a grossly out of place God of War-style quick time sequence, and you've got a recipe for a game that doesn't just fail to hide its shortcomings, it flaunts them.
Completing quests is the main way you drive the game forward, and in this regard, the game offers a functional yet pedestrian system. Quests (be they the main ones or any of the very few number of side quests) are all of the "go here, click on something, and then fight a bunch of bad dudes" variety. They are usually designed to force a player into running as far from the quest giver as possible and then running back. Some of the late-game quests are particularly obnoxious in this regard due to the design of the final area. The rewards are always a modest amount of gold and some experience, and occasionally more of the aforementioned goofball cutscenes.
The hack and slash gameplay is passable, and leveling up your skills to earn higher levels of power gives a definite sense of growth – charging my chain lightning spell to full power and blasting tons of enemies into oblivion was definitely satisfying. The game automatically targets the nearest enemy, and for melee characters it does a sufficient job. For ranged characters, however, crowded fights and boss battles could be very frustrating, as the targeting frequently resulted in my mage firing off his spell at the half-dead skeleton in the corner of the room, rather than the deadly mage hurling fire down my throat from inches away.
One important thing to note, however, is that the numerous glitches in the game definitely detract from the experience; I encountered a game-freezing glitch no fewer than three times throughout my playthrough, and erratic animation and combat was the norm. One of the most severe problems came from using the mage's teleport "escape" skill. Each class has its own unique dodge move (the rogue, for example, has a roll). I can't say that my co-op partner had much trouble with the roll, but the wizard's teleport is essentially broken – it has no vertical movement at all, meaning if you try to teleport on a hill, uneven surface, staircase, or anything other than completely flat land, it will catch on the environment and you won't move anywhere. Your cooldown, however, will have activated, so you won't be able to use it again for a while.
When it comes to visuals, Daggerdale doesn't have much to offer, especially given the high quality of other, similarly priced downloadable titles. I'm not of the opinion that all underground, dwarven mine-cities are obliged to look like a smudge of brown and gray; numerous other games have managed to make these settings visually appealing. At no point does any area in Daggerdale make any impression other than "new generic place to slaughter goblins." There is a copious amount of screen tearing, and the camera likes to place itself in ridiculous positions – especially in couch cooperative, where it will frequently get stuck behind pieces of the ceiling environment until you press the camera reset button. There are tons of visual gliches, sometimes so egregious that it raises the question of whether or not the game was tested enough before being released.
The audio is without a doubt the game's weakest aspect. The few songs in the game are uninspired and completely forgettable – and that's if they even play properly. I regularly encountered instances where the track would reset, stop, skip several beats, or just otherwise malfunction. Sound effects could glitch and happen out of sync with their actions, though they were at least fairly varied. As mentioned earlier, the game lacks voice acting outside of the major cutscenes, but the characters do grunt (unintentionally humorously) when their dialogue pops up.
In the end, Daggerdale is a passable hack and slash that seems like it needed another few months in the oven before release. The ubiquitous glitches, atrocious sound design, and bland graphics come off as nothing more than lazy, made all the more unforgivable given the extremely high quality seen in other games in this price range. Even with several more coats of polish, though, you'd still have a spectacularly uninspired game that totally squanders the potential of its license.