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PSP Preview - 'Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics'

by Alicia on May 5, 2006 @ 4:34 a.m. PDT

Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics offers an original, intriguing Dungeons & Dragons storyline. Players take on the role of a mortal child caught in a conflict of two competing dragons striving for godhood. Alignment is critical, as it affects the end of the story and allows players to change from good to evil, or the other way around, depending on which quests they choose.

Genre: Tactical RPGs
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Kuju Entertainment
Release Date: Q4 2006

After the change-over to 3.5 rules, Dungeons & Dragons became a game that practically required some sort of miniatures to play it properly. There were all sorts of rules about facing and attacks of opportunity and reach that you just couldn't follow very well on paper unless your GM was willing to hand-wave through a lot of rules. As any gamer knows, of course, the problem with using tons of miniatures is the sheer cost involved. If you want really nice ones, you can expect to spend tons of money and effort on painting ones. Even if you don't mind cheap ones, you'll have a hard time finding all the right ones you need for your game. It almost seems to force the reluctant player into running a game where you're using little bits of paper marked "BEHOLDER" and "ELVEN PALADIN" to keep track of who is where. That, or you could play Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics for the PSP, which runs fully on D&D3.5 system rules and gives you all the fully detailed 3D characters you could ever want to move around a dungeon map. Play with your friends in one of several different multiplayer modes and download extra content from the developers to extend your game long after you've beaten most of the main campaigns.

D&D Tactics is remarkable for just how faithful to the original 3.5 rules it is. There are a few changes made for the sake of playability and respecting the PSP's system limits, like changing the basic movement grid from something hex-based to a more typical tile-based grid. Attacks of opportunity and other context-based mechanics still work basically the same way as their tabletop counterparts, the underlying rules just get a tweak to reflect the different grid shape. Similarly, there will be an as-yet-undetermined level cap on character advancement, and only level six and lower spells will be available in the core game (so players aren't casting unmanageable stuff like Wish or Horrid Wilting). Still, all of the basic style and strategy of D&D combat, like delaying actions and moving multiple times in a combat round, are otherwise totally intact. The approach to combat you use in D&D Tactics will be the approach you'd use in an actual game. The skills, feats, powers, spells, and magic items you use to define your character will also all be directly adapted from the tabletop version of the game. If a character dies, you'll be trekking back to the local temple to get a resurrection from a cleric instead of using a one-shot item to revive your character.

Alignment will follow the traditional D&D set-up, emphasizing the difference between good and evil, and having tangible in-game effects on gameplay. Aside from spells that only affect good or evil characters, certain sidequests can only be accessed by characters of a particular alignment. Similarly, characters of incompatible alignments (like lawful good and chaotic evil) won't be able to work together well in a party, and may cause the party to take penalties in certain situations. Which alignment you follow and which decisions you make will determine which of the game's two endings you receive upon completing the main quest.

There's also be some options available for the player that D&D players hardly ever get to pull off in a pure tabletop system. You get to control every member of the party, and can freely alter a character's class on the fly as you play. Basically, if you had a level six ranger but really needed a wizard in the party, you could drop your ranger off at a guild and have him automatically emerge from it as a level five wizard. With a one-level EXP penalty for every class change, changing too often could leave your party weak and under-level. Still, it means you can't end up the situation all too many tabletop parties do, totally cock-blocked on part of a quest for lack of a particular character of a particular class.

The bulk of the game's combat is traditional turn-based tactical combat, pitting your party against a variety of traditional D&D monsters like wolves and orcs. The interface we saw for the menu navigation was temporary, but suggested that the final product would definitely have some kind of basic menu-driven system. You won't be able to know the enemy's exact HP count, as in a properly run D&D game, but can guess how much health it has left by the kinds of damage animations it enters. Your party can include members of any of the core classes, with the optional psionic character classes and rules available as well. Characters generated in the game can be easily ported back onto paper for use in a proper 3.5E game, and you can create as many characters as you can fit onto your PSP's memory stick. Even better, you can copy and trade characters from friends' games freely, and use them in your own games. Aside from the main single-player campaign, special co-op and versus modes for up to six players will be available (sadly, only in ad-hoc mode).

The demo made much of the graphics, and especially to be such an early build of the game, D&D Tactics is indeed sharp-looking. The game's rendered 3D graphics seem to be taking the Field Commander route, emphasizing detail and clarity while sticking to PlayStation-caliber polygon counts and very simple textures on the characters and enemies. The backgrounds in D&D Tactics are a bit more sophisticated, using a complex lighting model that will eventually let light from your characters' torches cast realistic shadows on dungeon walls. This lighting model is to be used in tandem with a "fog of war" effect that makes it impossible to know what is waiting for you in dungeon areas you haven't personally explored yet. So, in the spirit of a tabletop D&D dungeon crawl, parties in D&D Tactics will need to progress carefully and make sure they're well-prepared before entering dungeons. Keeping characters in proper formation is also important, as spellcasters will need to rely on melee characters to keep enemies away for long enough to finish casting their spells.

D&D Tactics is shaping up to be an interesting use of the oldest name in tabletop role-playing, providing players with a blessed relief from the endless waves of Diablo-style dungeon crawlers being released for the PSP. It'll also be one of the very first tactical RPGs on the system, and introduce an entirely new setting to the extensive family of D&D worlds. Fans may be disappointed that it's not a familiar name like Forgotten Realms or Eberron, but the promise of freely playable 3.5E psionics should go a long way toward making up for that disappointment when D&D Tactics ships at the end of this year.

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