In Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale, a mysterious woman summons heroes to the Dalelands, an area in the Forgotten Realms. An evil Zhentarim named Rezlus is planning to do evil things involving the Tower of the Void, and you have to go there and stop it. It's as straightforward an adventure hook as you can get, but this is just the start of the adventure, and the story won't be wrapped up in a single game. There might be some attractive nuggets of plot for die-hard Dungeons and Dragons fans, but anyone who can't tell a Zhentarim from a Dryad will probably be quickly bored by goofily named characters like Gavin Silvertongue. Fortunately, the plot isn't the most important part of Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale.
Players can choose from four different classes: Dwarven Cleric, Elvish Rogue, Halfling Wizard and Human Fighter. As you'd roughly expect, the four classes correspond to four broad archetypes. Dwarven Clerics are good at melee combat, but where they shine is in multiplayer. Clerics can heal and buff their allies while attacking, and that makes them a great party member. I joined a game with another Cleric, and between the two of us, our party felt almost invincible at times. An Elvish Rogue fights best at long range and depends on agility to stay alive. They can dodge and are generally a good support class. The Halfling Wizard is the hardest hitter in the game. He can blast opponents from a distance with powerful magic, but is weaker in close-range combat than the other classes. He's probably the hardest to play solo, but works best when teamed up with other characters. Like the Cleric, a Human Fighter is a melee specialist who can equip powerful close-range weapons and block to reduce damage from attacks.
You have a lot of freedom in customizing each character's attack powers, feats and stat upgrades. Each character begins with a default loadout of stats, so as an example, you'll always have an 18 in Int as a Halfling Wizard. From there, you can customize to better fit your play style. A solo Wizard might be better off boosting his Constitution or Strength so he can do better in solo combat, while a multiplayer-focused Wizard can continue to boost his Int for even better damage.
Each attack power is bound to a different face button and functions on a cooldown system. Use them wisely, and you can constantly cast spells. Use them poorly, and your best attack will be unavailable when you need it the most. Feats grant passive bonuses to your characters and will probably be the biggest difference between higher-level characters. The Cleric, for example, can upgrade his healing ability so it also grants a defense buff. A Wizard who chooses to focus on melee training is going to be more useful in close-quarters combat than one who isn't, but it occurs at a trade-off to some other kind of ability.
The big thing to do in Daggerdale is find loot. You get loot from merchants, for finishing quests or opening chests, and it's even dropped by enemies. Loot tends to be character-specific, but you can slightly customize your characters to use weapons or armor that they normally couldn't. Regardless, finding the best equipment is required to succeed. Good weapons or solid armor can be far more important than a few levels of experience. I briefly jumped into a higher-level multiplayer game, and using the armor and equipment I found, I was capable of helping out characters who were five levels higher than me. Of course, I would have been even more useful if I had a higher level character, but equipment is a big deal in Daggerdale.
The gameplay in Daggerdale is extremely simple. After a short introductory cut scene, you're thrown into a cave full of nasty goblins and captured dwarves … and that sums up a big chunk of the game. You move around with the analog stick, and all the actions you need in the game are bound to one of the face buttons. The X button performs a ranged attack, the A button does a melee attack and B uses a healing potion. The Y button activates switches, opens doors and anything else you might need. The right bumper is used for your class' special ability, which is usually some form of defensive power. Holding down the shoulder button allows you to access your character's special abilities. From there, combat is straightforward. Pound the A button and use your special abilities to slay your opponents. Death returns you back to the closest town with a slight penalty. The exception is that in multiplayer, where death causes you to be "downed" and gives an ally a brief chance to revive you. If they fail, the entire party is sent back to town.
As you'd expect, the game shines in multiplayer. Up to four characters can play together online or up to two in local co-op. The multiplayer is where the best moments come into play. Working together with three other characters is a lot more fun than simply going through it on your own. The single-player portion gets repetitive and button-mashy, while multiplayer allows for substantially more enjoyable gameplay.
However, that isn't to say that multiplayer is flawless. The biggest flaw in multiplayer is that it depends so heavily on other people. If you have a good group of folks to play with, then the multiplayer works fine. If you don't, there are a lot of things in multiplayer that can be frustrating. The host can skip through the dialogue so quickly that it's impossible to read it, or various members of the party can lag behind while adjusting their gear to dramatically slow down things for other players. Loot is exclusive to whoever picks it up, so a bad player can run through and grab valuable items before you can, and that can be very frustrating in a loot-gathering game.
Really, Daggerdale's biggest problem is that it's fairly bland. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but nothing really stands out, either. It's one of the most generic loot-hunting, dungeon-crawling games on the market. You kill enemies, hope for good item drops and level up your characters. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's a good timewaster for the price. It's just that it's also extremely forgettable; I'd be hard-pressed to remember any of the characters, enemies, dungeons — or really anything about the game. I picked up a lot of cool loot, blew up a lot of bad guys and had an enjoyable experience, but I can't point to anything that specifically stood out. Considering how rare dungeon-crawler games are these days, that's not necessarily a bad thing. A good co-op, loot-collecting game is rare for console players, and Daggerdale manages to fit that niche reasonably well.
One thing that makes Daggerdale feel so bland is the visuals. It's not a very good-looking game; the art design is rather boring, and most areas don't stand out very well. It's not a problem when it comes to the gameplay, but more distinctiveness would've been nice. Dungeons and Dragons is obviously the cliché generic fantasy template, but on a system where you can even see truly phenomenal designs in XBLA titles, generic goblins and orcs feel a lot less interesting. The sound effects are also pretty dull. There's very little voice acting in the game, and most of the quest-givers are silent. It leaves everything feeling weirdly dated and simplistic, and it doesn't help that the music is almost nonexistent.
Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale is a fine, if unexceptional, game. It mostly stands out for being a reasonably solid loot-collecting game on a console where those are few and far between. The plot, characters and setting are completely forgettable, and the visuals are unimpressive at best. Despite this, there's still something addictive about the game. It's undeniably fun to build and customize your characters and dive into the depths of dark caves and nasty dungeons to find rare items and neat gear. For 1,200 Microsoft points ($15), you could do a lot worse than Daggerdale. However, if you're not a fan of collecting loot or just plan to play the single-player portion, you may want to reconsider. This is a multiplayer game through and through, and it's best if you have friends along for the ride.
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