The name Dungeons & Dragons has been synonymous with co-op for many years. Whether it’s the property’s roots as a pen and paper role playing game or to the dozens of video games set in its universe - D&D has had plenty of cooperative elements. The Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance series on the console is perhaps one of the most loved of these, providing a combined action and role playing game for the masses. So with that, we had high hopes for Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale - a downloadable title from developer Bedlam games. Promising four player online co-op play with that familiar isometric action/rpg experience, it was hard not to yearn for the next great game.
In Daggerdale, players are summoned by a mage to defend their home as an evil cleric named Rezlus looks to bring the power of the Black Lord Bane to the world. Whatever that means is entirely unclear as the story progress through a series of forgettable cut scenes in the game and the quests are forged through characters who grunt one syllable for an entire sentence of dialogue. There’s even a sequence where you get captured and lose all your items - talk about an RPG cliche. Thankfully the story doesn’t ruin things and really, its not the game’s focus -it’s all about your character, equipment and your stats.
Players can choose from a Human Fighter, an Elven Rogue, a Dwarven Cleric, or a Halfling Wizard. Characters are limited to 10 levels in this game with each level allowing you to unlock powers and upgrade stats. Powers can range from weapon proficiencies in the form of feats to special attacks - and while each character is distinctly different - they all pretty much play the same. Every character has a melee attack and a ranged attack, though you can customize your buttons so you only specialize in one or the other. I played my campaign as a Dwarven Cleric who has a special ability to heal himself and others. These abilities require only a cooldown time to use and are unique to each character - others include teleportation by the halfling and a dodge maneuver by the rogue. There are a handful of special attacks to unlock on each character and each one can be charged up for greater effect by holding down the corresponding button.
The loot in Daggerdale is obviously a huge part of the gameplay experience and luckily there is plenty of it being dropped. Special items get the random name treatment which means you’ll see the likes of Fiery Leather Armor of Pestilence 1 and Noxious Elven Light Shield of Stoutness 1. While you can’t outfit every appendage on your body you can find armor, helms, shields and weapons. Everything you equip does change the look of your character - a nice graphical touch.
Graphically, Daggerdale is solid though a bit uninspired. Your quests never take you into any sort of outside world so expect plenty of caverns, caves, and castle walls. Still, as a downloadable title there’s plenty of great effects through spells and items and for the most part, it feels like a Dungeons & Dragons game. Still, the graphics is where we begin to see some of the game’s technical problems. Characters get stuck in animations, textures don’t load, or in some cases character models don’t appear at all - while playing co-op my partner was completely invisible for a good 2 minutes. There are also random pauses while playing and just odd little bugs here and there. We didn’t hit any that were game breaking, but its just little things like not being able to determine which menu selection I’m on that make it an annoyance.
On the co-op side of things you have a pretty solid experience with up to four players online or two players locally. While you can’t play local with online, both experiences are a lot of fun. On the local side of things the camera does a surprisingly good job of watching the action, though it can get dizzying at times. Only one character of each type is allowed in a co-op game, so if you have a group of folks to play with make sure you each have unique characters. Its probably better to play with the same group of folks anyway as joining a game as a lower level character won’t get you credit for completed quests if you skip part of the story. You’ll all need to be on the same page. Not to worry though - you’ll still get plenty of loot, gold and experience (gold and XP are split amongst the group). It was difficult to tell just how the game scaled the battles for co-op, enemies seemed tougher, but there didn’t necessarily seemed to be that many more of them.
There are several nice touches for co-op - for instance as a cleric I was able to heal my partners and gain experience for doing such a task. The game almost forces players to specialize in a role as each enemy has specific weaknesses which are denoted by icons over their head. So while I might be able to damage the goblins well over here with my axe, my co-op partner who is playing a ranged character does more damage to the skeletons that are mixed into the fray. This provides a bit of back and forth during battle that can be very satisfying.
The journey is a fairly meaty affair, especially if you decide to take on all the side quests it can easily be a 10 hour romp, which is quite a bit of value in a $15 game. If you can look past some of the technical issues, Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale there is a fun co-op experience to be had. While we may have set unfair expectations for the game to live up to its pedigree, what is there stands on its own.