Daggerdale is a dungeon-crawling action RPG, much like the Diablo and Torchlight games. There’s loot, monsters, bosses, merchants and quests. It’s a real shame, then, that a mixture of bad design choices and numerous bugs managed to pull what was a good looking game down so far beyond what it was capable of being.
You start the game by choosing your character – one of four, a Halfling Wizard, Elven Rogue, Human Fighter or Dwarven Cleric. You then choose a name, sink some skill points into skills, choose a feat and get on your way. I immediately chose the Halfling Wizard, put one point each into both of the initially available spells (magic missile and fireball), chose the toughness feat (gain 15% more XP per level up), named my character Codric Thunderpants and was on my way.
The game starts well, with a nicely animated cutscene that outlined the initial story. However, after that the storyline’s almost entirely forgettable; whilst it seemed to tick the content boxes (dwarves, elves, betrayal, big bad boss and his underlings, a few twists), it wasn’t really told particularly well outside of the animated cutscenes. At times you’re left clueless as to why some characters did certain things, presumably they were done specifically to forward the storyline. It’s mostly delivered through text dialogue, with NPCs in-game that fall a little short of being well written. It almost feels fortunate that you’ll find yourself constantly distracted by the awkward animation on the NPC models themselves, especially on the dwarves.
Small niggles, perhaps, but this isn’t the end of where the visual presentation falls short. Screen-tearing is an omnipresent menace, and other small glitches often pull you out of the game, such as the model of an enemy immediately standing back up when you kill it or the fire on an axe not actually being on the axe, but instead floating just above the blade.
The bugs aren’t limited to the graphics either, there are a few that crop up pretty often – particularly a few problems related to my Wizard’s special ability, ‘Blink’. Having nothing to do with weeping angels, Blink teleports you a short distance, which is useful for jumping in and out of battle or to vaguely speed things up when travelling between quests. It’s great when it works, but you’ll often blink onto enemies, and then spend a few seconds in the middle of a fight bouncing on top on a goblin’s head like you’re trying to teabag him before he’s dead. Once, I blinked onto a bit of scenery mid-battle, a rope that was connected to the ceiling, and got stuck. I couldn’t get off regardless of what I did, forcing me to quit to the main menu.
Barring the graphical bugs and looking passed the screen-tearing, the environments are actually good looking most of the time. There are a few environments that you’ll go through as you progress through the story and, whilst they never really astound, they’re well textured and manage to look decent most of the time. A shame then that the environments are badly laid out from a gameplay perspective.
The quests have a bad habit of being the ‘go there, do this’ affairs you might expect from the genre, which is fine when you’ve either got a quick way of getting in the vicinity of the location (waypoints in Diablo, for example), or at least some kind of variation in what you’re doing when you’re on your way there (random monsters in random places). Daggerdale features neither, so you will find yourself eventually getting bored out of your mind as you run down the same caves fighting the exact same enemies in the exact same places until the story progresses and you get a new environment to do the same thing again.
This is to say nothing of a slightly broken quest we encountered. The quest requires you to kill 10 of a specific enemy, but it turned out there weren’t ten in existence so, after the fifth kill, the mission marker had nothing to point to, and just continued to point where the fifth had been. This left me running around hoping they’d spawn (which they would, you often see groups of enemies spawning directly in front of you) and hoping the mission marker would highlight them when they spawned, as they didn’t count otherwise. Frustrating.[drop2]Even the fighting itself is awkward. Enemies are almost always simply time consuming to defeat rather than difficult. Often they don’t really damage you, but you’re stuck hitting them over and over because they’ve got too much health. Wizards also have their own set of combat issues, with a sparsity of quarterstaffs in the game’s opening leaving you feeling impotent in a melee situation.
As mentioned earlier, there is no voice-acting in-game, but the voice acting in the animated cutscenes is pretty well done. On a more annoying note, for some reasons some items hum when you equip them, which is just terrible sound design. What possessed the person who thought a constant humming noise was a good idea is far beyond the imagination of any logical mind.
The only real saving grace here is the multiplayer, both local and cooperative. Daggerdale is pretty much the only game of its kind where you can find coop on consoles. It works well enough. The multiplayer game I joined was a little laggy but perfectly playable and I levelled up twice due to the players being a good few chunks of story ahead of me (the levelling also helped when I went back to single player). Local cooperative works reasonably well.
In single player there are two cameras you can use, a third person view (think Dragon Age Origins) or an isometric view (think Diablo). Local cooperative forces you to use the isometric view, which has a few inherent problems – it tends to get stuck behind bits of scenery and one player can often go off the edge of the screen. This can make fights quite difficult, as you’d imagine. However, this doesn’t make co-op unplayable and it marginally more fun than single player.
- Local and multiplayer cooperative works relatively well.
- Decent looking animated cutscenes.
- 10 hours of gameplay if you can bring yourself to finish it all.
- Very buggy.
- Badly laid out dungeons with quests that force you to run around them over and over.
- Combat can feel dull due to the same monsters always being in the same places and them just absorbing damage whilst not being challenging.
- Often swamped with enemies as a ‘mission’.
- Convoluted missions that are ‘run here, do this’ over and over.
Overall, despite the potential of an action RPG using a Dungeons and Dragons rule set and just how great the game should have been, Daggerdale falls short in most areas. Unless you absolutely have to have some coop dungeon-crawling on your console (or Steam) right now, you’re better off getting Torchlight and waiting until Torchlight 2 adds multiplayer to the mix.